A Profound Replacement For My VisualAge For RPG Applications
December 6, 2017 Dan Devoe
In January 2016, I wrote an IT Jungle article outlining how my company, Boston Warehouse Trading Corporation, prolonged the life of our VisualAge for RPG (VaRPG) applications by getting them to work on 64-bit versions of Windows. And I’m pleased to say, that as of Windows 10 Creator’s Edition, they still work. However, the applications are on life support, and we needed to act sooner rather than later to begin the process of replacing the apps whose SDK and support died a premature and painful death.
We have researched a few application modernization solutions. But it seemed that, when all things were considered, the best choice for our environment was the Profound Logic Visual Designer and RPG OpenAccess Handler. Before we purchased, we obtained a trial license, to confirm our suspicions that this was the path we should venture.
One very nice feature of the VisualDesigner is that there is no PC-based client to install. All design work is done right within your favorite web browser. This makes it exceptionally easy to do design work from any PC (or Mac) within our organization, and when working off-site utilizing VPN.
We decided on a “Proof-of-Concept” project, and began our course of action to rewrite one of our VaRPG applications. Where to begin?
I had a shiny new tool available for my disposal, which I needed to learn not only its ins and outs, but also its fundamentals. Whatever tool we ultimately ended up purchasing would be used as a cornerstone to rewrite existing VaRPG applications, and build new ones from the ground-up. More on that in a moment.
Almost right from the beginning, I needed to utilize the technical support services of Profound Logic – to my delight, many times they provided me with a satisfactory solution within a few hours. And they have made some enhancements to the base product based on suggestions that I provided — such as the ability to easily hide tabs on a notebook.
However, I was still skeptical. Was their support staff going out of their way to provide exceptional service, because they were trying to win us over as a customer? And if they gained our business, would that same level of support continue?
Unlike VaRPG, which is an event-driven GUI, Profound Logic utilizes the 5250 data stream.
Fortunately, since many of our VaRPG apps are written in mostly free-form, for various “events,” certain code snippets from the VaRPG source were simply copied and pasted into the new code. It was then just a matter of modifying any variable names, and replace the VaRPG-specific logic (such as setting a background color).
Factors to consider:
- From the development perspective, is the Visual Designer easy to use and fairly stable, meaning no lock-ups, crashes, etc.? Is it intuitive? What is its likelihood of being supported in the long-term – and would Profound Logic itself be around?
- From the business perspective, what are the benefits of rewriting our existing applications? What are its limitations? How long will it take to rewrite the applications? Instant gratification is key.
- From the end-users’ perspective, the ability to perform their job quickly is key – and with more people working off-site from satellite offices or traveling, it is quite frustrating to need to wait several minutes for an application to launch, and to subsequently respond during a user-initiated event. Was Profound Logic’s handler up to the challenge of significantly reducing – or eliminating – this remote response time? Is it intuitive? Can it be used on a Mac?
The proof of concept project needed to be much more complex than a simple “Hello World” program – but aiming for the stars would also be foolhardy.
There is an existing inquiry program that is key to many people within our organization. Because it is non-transactional based and provides the end-user with a plethora of information, this program was chosen as the target. But the existing program contained many bells and whistles – such as an item lookup, and a drilldown into an order inquiry application.
This reminded me of Dr. Leo Marvin’s book “Baby Steps” in the 1991 movie “What About Bob.” Keep the long-term objective in sight, but take things one step at a time. After all, you need to learn to walk before you can run.
After an initial layout was conceived, I began asking for input from a few people within the company. And there was one specific user who seemed quite excited about the project. I asked her if she would assist me with the design and testing of the program. She was more than happy to undertake this role.
Each time I called her in to show her what had been accomplished to that point, her reaction each time could only be described as awestruck. And when enough of the project was completed to give reliable information in one section of the inquiry, she was given access to it – and she knew not to rely on it as “The Bible” at this time – but to do side-by-side testing with the existing program. And because she was using the program as it was being developed, she was also informed that it may “blow up” from time-to-time.
I asked her to please try out the program at home as well, to check the response times. I already knew that the program worked almost as quickly off-site as in the office, but she confirmed this, and was absolutely thrilled!
Even though I had this shiny new toy to play with, I still needed to devote a good portion of my time to maintaining our existing programs, handling end-user issues, and completing other projects. Before I knew it, our evaluation license was about to expire. Fortunately, Profound Logic was willing to grant us an extension on our trial license.
As more progress was made – and as other users walked by the “beta tester’s” desk, I was getting requests from other end-users to show them this project, and if access could be granted to it.
Finally, the project progressed to the point where I was able to add in the huge bell and whistle – the order inquiry piece. And this ultimately led to other wish-list requests, many of which were included in the project. A product demo was scheduled with several end-users to show off the project – even for people who don’t use the existing program. These people were included to show them the “This is what’s possible” aspect, and to get them excited about other programs that will be rewritten. This was an overwhelming success and confirmed the proof-of-concept. We ended up purchasing a license for the Visual Designer and the OpenAccess Handler.
As more complex projects were being worked on, I found myself contacting support much more frequently. And I’m glad to say that they still take our support requests very seriously, and strive to find a solution. During our evaluation period, I mentioned that some new program features were implemented, based on my support requests. However, one of the largest enhancements to-date was the ability to export images (as long as they are in a separate grid column) directly into Excel – and this was after we had purchased their product.
There is still a long way to go in rewriting all of our VaRPG applications – and each new project brings new challenges. But the tougher the challenge, the more gratifying the reward.