Serving Up Fast, Fresche Interfaces for IBM i
October 31, 2018 Alex Woodie
“Time is money,” as Benjamin Franklin once said. With enough of either, IBM i shops could accomplish all of their modernization goals. But of course, both time and money are limited, which is why tactical tools like the Presto modernization tool from Fresche are gaining traction.
Fresche’s Presto is an IBM i modernization tool that takes 5250 output from applications and converts it on the fly into HTML that can be rendered in a standard Web browser. The software can also work with the RPG Open Access handler from IBM to power GUIs that have RPG-based back ends but do not expose a 5250 datastream to act upon.
Presto is designed to make it easy to rapidly get to a Web GUI from a green screen, which IBM i shops still have in abundant supply. But that’s really just the start of its possibilities for Presto, as Fresche (and its previous owner, BCD Software) have imbued a range of handy functions into this product, including support for modifying converted screens with elements like dropdown boxes, and even basic SQL query functions to enable some BI reporting.
The modernization tool (Fresche product managers cringe if you call it a “screen scraper”) has attracted plenty of fans over the years, including King Harrison IV, who worked with Presto to help modernize an IBM i-based supply chain software from King III Solutions. Harrison called it “fantastic” in an IT Jungle story published earlier this year. “It helped us learn what modernization is going to do,” he said.
Gene Schumacher, a systems analyst for the J.R. Simplot Company in Idaho, says Presto is a “game changer.” “Out of the box, Presto converted our existing applications and OS screens into Web applications that we can use on mobile devices, all without requiring us to change any code,” Schumacher stated in a testimonial on the BCD site. “In my opinion, Presto should be shipped with every IBM i sold.”
That is high praise for a tool that, at its core, converts a 5250 screen into an HTML screen. Fresche is hoping to keep those users happy with the latest release of the product, version 7.3, which was unveiled at the POWERUp conference earlier this year. That product followed closely on the heels of 7.1, which we’ll also cover here.
One of the biggest enhancements is a dual maintenance feature that will automatically detect and show any underlying changes in the DDS files to the developer maintaining the screens. According to Greg Patterson, a modernization specialist with Fresche, the developer is notified if the system detects any differences between a snapshot of a 5250 green screen and the Presto screen.
“It’s a very handy feature. It helps you keep track and avoid any sort of double maintenance or rework that you might have to do,” Patterson said in a webinar last week. “It works very much like a level check. It’s a reminder or a warning telling you to jump through and maybe you should double check your Presto screens.”
Developers can also now copy any transformations done in the Presto Designer environment and paste them into another Presto screen. That should help make developers more productive, Patterson says. “For instance if you have several screens where you’ve done a bunch of work to one, and you want to copy those changes directly to another screen, its’ really much more of a point and click interface that allows us to do that very quickly,” he said in the webinar.
Another new feature in version 7.3 is designed to give developers a more intuitive experience overall by allowing them to preview panel detection on various screens and adjust Presto’s auto detection settings as desired. This release also brings new color options to the buttons, function keys, and headers through the Presto skin editor.
Going back to Presto 7.1, Fresche has added even more functionality including an update to the screen rendering engine that made modernized green screens easier to navigate, according to Fresche. The updates make Presto applications “feel even more like the modern Web applications they are,” the company says.
Another 7.1 enhancements is scrolling sub-files, which allow users to navigate options with page up and down buttons. The enhancement should resonate with users, says Marcel Sarrasin, vice president of marketing and business development for Fresche.
“Using RPG Open Access, you can do real scrolling sub-files,” Sarrasin said during the webinar. “This isn’t like a fake-out paging up and down. This is a real scrolling bar. You can do sortable columns, which is what you’d expect in a standard Web application.”
There are many IBM i shops who have yet to start their modernization journeys. There are a lot of options available to IBM i customers, including some options that could gain the approval of Ben Franklin if he were a midrange modernization expert.
“It’s about how do you bring value and express that to your decision makers,” Sarrasin said. “At the end of the day, your IBM i is an amazing platform. It’s capable of amazing things and Presto is the fastest way to get some results.”