BCD Presto Mobilizes Green Screen To Web App Dev
May 24, 2017 Dan Burger
Not every green-screen RPG application needs to be modernized. Some need it more than others. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. The same can be said for desktop apps. They don’t all have to be capable of rendering on mobile devices, but some need it more than others. Now BCD Software is helping in the decision making process by bringing responsive development capabilities to its version 7 release of Presto.
Presto, of course, is BCD’s most popular modernization tool, while responsive design is the capability to design Web pages that display on any device desktop or mobile with a single development effort.
Most application modernization projects are conversions of the 5250 datastream green-screen display to a graphical user interface. The underlying code remains unchanged because the applications deliver the necessary data quickly and reliably. Presto excels at the conversion by adding useful features such as drop down boxes, tabs, datepickers, images, and charts to the Web-enabled screens. It’s been doing this for years.
As mobile devices have become a necessary tool for a variety of business functions, IT staffs wrestled with the development predicament of separate efforts for mobile and desktop. Responsive design effectively solved that issue.
A year ago, BCD incorporated responsive design into its WebSmart development tool for creating RPG, PHP, and Node.js desktop and mobile web applications. The difference between WebSmart and Presto is that applications are created using WebSmart, while applications are converted using Presto.
IBM i shops looking for mobile applications integrating responsive design into the conversion of green screens to GUIs should be curious about Presto, especially those that have smartphones as their primary mobile device.
Five years ago, tablets were the mobile device that most companies were concerned about, says Marcel Sarrasin, vice president of corporate marketing and business development at Fresche Solutions, the corporate owner of the BCD brand. Many companies began their mobile efforts with a focus on internal applications displayed on tablets. Warehouse applications were particularly popular with IBM i shops.
Smartphones, with their limited screen size, present a different problem — one that calls for responsive design, Sarrasin says.
“We believe most organizations want browser-based applications, not native apps,” he says. “Executives want to be able to look up data and make comparisons with competitors using Web apps.”
Although phones have increased in size compared to five years ago, screen size still requires a process of stripping out all the unnecessary information from an application that is also being used on a desktop by a user with a different job function.
BCD uses Bootstrap, an open source framework, to build in the capability to design Web applications for mobile devices. This allows developers to convert green-screen applications and tailor them to any device by using the same underlying design effort. Examples of what can be accomplished are the capability to stack subfile columns and shrink or hide a variety of elements.
Since its introduction, Presto has helped developers design browser-based applications by providing pre-defined “skins” that simplify the design process and give modernized screens a look and feel that is consistent across multiple applications and in tune with corporate branding. Presto 7 includes a new skin that includes larger input boxes and buttons, an updated type font, and a layout that considers functionality as well as appearance.
Presto comes with a skin editor, which was added in Presto 6.5.
“It’s not the number of skins that makes a difference, it is how quickly can you customize or edit a skin to match your company colors and logos,” Sarrasin says. “We used to ship a bunch of skins, but a few skins were most popular. The evolution of skins is based on user feedback.”
There are visual cues in some Web designs that identify the graphical interface as being closely related to the green screen underneath it. Presto 7 makes it easier to hide any resemblance of the 5250.
A new API is also included that provides an option for advanced Web developers to choose their framework for designing screens. The Presto API gives them access to all the data from their green screen as JSON objects, and it also makes it possible to combine two green screens into a single web page.
“The visual editor is used by 95 percent of our customers. But a small group with advanced Web development skills have their own tools of choice to develop front end applications,” Sarrasin says. “They don’t want a visual editor. They like full control of their code and have a preferred framework. We use AngularJS to provide complete flexibility for those who want it. The API is used to get the data from the green screen.
“I think this will become a growing trend. Newer developers will not have strength in RPG. They will have strength in Web skills. This will allow those developers to use their best skills. As more shops struggle to replace their RPG staff, or they have a blended environment, the Web people will be part of the IBM i team and they will just want the data.”
BCD expects Presto 7 to be generally available June 14.