Original Testing Pure HTML5 Emulator For 5250
March 29, 2017 Alex Woodie
Test automation specialist Original Software is developing a 5250 emulator that’s based entirely in HTML5 code, which enables it to run in the Web browser of any modern device. Prospective users are those IBM i shops who are frustrated with the emulator in IBM’s new Java-based ACS product, which Original says is difficult to test.
When you think of the words “HTML5 and IBM i application development,” chances are good that what popped into your mind was an image of shiny new Web apps with all the latest screen widgets and UX gadgets designed to deliver a downright transformative – if not spiritually uplifting – experience for savvy modern business users.
But what if we told you that HTML5 was for green screens too, that grandpa’s old 5250-based IBM i screens also have a place in our modern HTTP-connected world? Before you shout “blasphemy!” consider the reality that many of the biggest hotels, banks, and hospitals are still presenting 5250-based green-screen interfaces to their employees. (Don’t be afraid to sneak a peek at the screen – just don’t be too aggressive about it.)
While Web and mobile interfaces are definitely the future of IBM i application development, in the meantime, IBM i professionals must deal with the current reality, which means supporting 5250 screens. The technology that underpins these emulators matters, because it determines where it can run.
IBM used Microsoft technology to develop its popular IBM i Access for Windows package, which included the Personal Communications (PCOM) emulator. But IBM stopped development of IBM i Access for Windows, and won’t support any versions of Windows above version 8.1.
IBM’s replacement for i Access for Windows is Access Client Solutions (ACS), which is based in Java technology and therefore can run wherever a Java runtime can be installed. This makes it possible to run ACS on Windows, Linux, and Mac PCs, and possibly Google Android devices, but it leaves out Apple iOS devices, which cannot run a Java runtime.
So Original Software developed its own 5250 emulator using HTML5. The UK-based firm first created its HTML5 emulator more than a year ago, with the goal of assisting its IBM i client base who were having trouble testing 5250-based applications via the emulator in IBM’s new flagship ACS product.
Larisa Lucaciu, head of marketing for Original Software, explains why an HTML5 emulator is so important, and why the company decided to take on this particular development challenge.
“I wouldn’t say that we are looking to get into the emulator market,” she tells IT Jungle, “but from a testing point of view and knowing that IBM i Access [is end of life] and because the Java replacement was not testable, we wanted to give our possible clients an opportunity to test their applications. This is why not only do we provide full test automation tools for them to access, we also enable the testing through an HTML5 emulator.”
Original says the HTML5 emulator–which is still in beta–does not require downloading any software to the client device. All a user has to do is install one library on the IBM i server and complete the IBM setup wizard, the company says. The emulator supports all 5250 data streams, with the exception of Enhanced Non-Programmable Terminal User Interface (ENPTUI) controls, which IBM developed years ago to provide an enhanced user experience in the Host On-Demand product.
The product offers some of what you would expect in a full-blown, production-ready 5250 emulator, including support for running multiple sessions simultaneously and support for encrypted connections. The emulator also includes accessibility features designed to help visually impaired users.
However, the emulator also lacks some key features that can be found in more mature 5250 emulator offerings from IBM and other providers, including Micro Focus (which owns the Attachmate and RUMBA products), Rocket Software (owner of BlueZone and Zephyr), and Open Text (owner of the HostExplorer product), not to mention a collection of open source offering others.
The list of unsupported features in the HTML5 emulator includes support for printer emulation, macros, and hot keys, as well as High Level Language Application Program Interface (HLLAPI) support, which is often used to integrate emulator-based 5250 apps into other software running on a PC. (Much of this will eventually be transitioned to Web services or micro services, but we’re not there yet.)
According to Original’s user forums, the company introduced the HTML5 emulator more than a year ago with the hope of attracting enough users to the beta program to hash out the most important features that clients wanted and to see if actually developing and supporting a 5250 emulator was something that a test-automation specialist wanted to do on a long-term basis. Original originally planned the beta program to last two months, but it’s now lasted more than a year.
Even though the beta program has gone longer than expected, the company is adamant that this is a good long-term solution for companies’ needs, and is actively seeking more beta testers.
“It’s not our main product focus, but we have a dedicated team in house looking after the iSeries solution and HTML5 emulator development is on their agenda,” Lucaciu says. “Once people are exploring using it on a more general scale, we wouldn’t be afraid to fully launch it and make it generally available. But for safety reasons, we’d like to keep it in beta.”
To check out the beta of Original Software’s HTML5 editor, see www.origsoft.com/products/html5-emulator-for-ibm-i.