Want to create an app that’s a hash of custom transactions for your enterprise? Or an elegant amuse-bouche of a tailored customer-lookup app? You’ll find more than “just desserts” in today’s app tools market.
As varied and comprehensive as today’s off-the-shelf software applications are, it’s hard to find any that seem tailor-made for any enterprise. Unless you pay for custom adaptations, the need for building at least some apps in-house, at least so far, hasn’t gone away. And with the needed deadline for many software projects already being “yesterday” from day one, few shops have the time luxury of letting their developers hand-code new software. Hence, the need for software development tools remains constant.
Although there are many software tools for modernizing existing apps, converting them to service-oriented architectures (SOA), and translating code from one language to another, this article will focus primarily on tools that help developers build server apps—although many of them have other uses.
Following the Recipe
Today’s apps seem to need more ingredients than in days past. It’s not just delivering green-screens or GUIs to client workstations; in 2014 applications may need some or all of Web availability, access by mobile devices, compatibility with apps on other platforms, agreeability with e-commerce and cloud operations, and other abilities as well. The spice rack of capabilities a typical developer might require to cook up apps—with or without an attractive menu—is becoming large and robust.
In fact, in some ways building apps for servers is actually losing importance. No one is more aware of this than some of the software tool vendors in the IBM i market.
“We’re seeing a wide range of development needs among our customers,” observes Sal Stangarone, senior product consultant at mrc. “We always see a steady stream of companies building brand-new web apps, and more are certainly extending their current apps to mobile devices. We’re also seeing an uptick in companies bringing their current applications and processes to the web. For example, we’re seeing more companies trying to get away from client-based products, like MS Access or Excel. Many businesses have built these spreadsheets and Access-based applications that they rely upon every day. We’re definitely seeing a greater push away from these legacy applications and client-based products, as companies move their applications to the web.”
“We are seeing movement on a number of fronts,” agrees Glenn Johnson, senior vice president at Magic Software Americas. “Our IBM i customers [seek] to modernize their legacy System i applications and extend them to all leading mobile operating systems and devices quickly and cost-effectively. In addition, we are seeing our IBM i customers create new mobile and desktop apps that involve integration with backend applications, such as CRM and ERP systems.”
“The largest group [of our customers] is modernizing existing applications,” reports Marcel Sarrasin, product manager at BCD International. “Most of them are giving a web GUI to their existing green-screens, and a smaller group is building new applications while leveraging existing RPG code. We do expect there to be a lot of growth in the mobile development area, which increased for us throughout 2013.”
“Our new and existing i system customers are [converting] their existing server apps to Web and mobile-business apps,” concurs Dane Drotts, CEO and co-founder of GeneXus USA. “The majority of our customers are using [our product] to integrate and convert legacy, data-driven applications…to Web and mobile applications.”
All four vendors agree that what’s driving this change is a need for flexibility. GeneXus’ Drotts cites the need of enterprises to extend their application functions without the cost of scrapping what they already have. BCD’s Sarrasin also points to modernization of apps as driving much of software development today. Magic’s Johnson particularly notes “the need to respond to the enterprise mobility movement,” and mrc’s Stangarone puts it in terms of “the growing need for a flexible architecture.”
In short, the needs of the IBM i market are starting to change, and for the moment these needs actually seem to be pointing away from direct server development.
Cooking Up Apps in the Cloud
Another aspect of this change is the growing movement toward outsourcing IT operations to the cloud. Going hand in hand with that is the fact that cloud providers are also offering application modification, modernization, and customization as part of their services. When asked if the trend toward relying on cloud services companies to provide application-development help was minor or significant, the four vendors interviewed offered some differing opinions.
“I’d say it’s significant and growing,” opines Stangarone. “Modern web application development requires a growing number of skills. You need back-end developers, security experts, people who understand modern architecture, front-end developers who understand responsive design (for mobile), integration experts, and more. The fact is, many companies just don’t have the in-house skills to build modern web applications.”
“We see it as minor—most cloud services companies cannot compete with software development companies, as the latter has the experience necessary to create business and enterprise applications,” disagrees Drotts. “Moreover, keeping a diverse portfolio of service providers is considered a ‘best practice’ among IT leaders, who view separate providers for separate services as a means of mitigating risk.”
“Cloud is a growing trend for sure, but there are still many conservative enterprises that prefer to rely on on-premise solutions and the proven security and reliability of IBM i platform,” Johnson offers.
“I don’t think many IBM i shops use cloud services companies for application development, so I’d see that as very minor,” observes Sarrasin. “However, if your question is more about deployment than development help, I’d see it as still relatively minor but growing a bit. We have some ISVs who use our products to offer web applications to their clients. Many of them offer both a private solution to be hosted on their clients’ system, and a cloud solution that they host on their own servers or on a cloud provider’s system.”
Finding Development Tools for Your Enterprise
Whether your enterprise’s application developers are viewed as “Top Chefs” or mere line cooks, the products below offer varying levels of help for concocting software that will satisfy your users’ appetites. Please be aware that the descriptions provided are general. You can access more complete information by using the links provided with each product name or by contacting the vendors of different tools directly.
Development Tools for Building New IBM i Applications
Apache Software Foundation (ASF)
Apache Wicket is an open-source application framework that lets users build new apps using Java and HTML. Wicket is supported by a community of developers and a growing set of open-source programming tools. To operate, it requires a Java compiler and the Apache Tomcat server on the System i. (Note that ASF is a membership community of individuals rather than corporations.)
THE Editor’s Choice
THE Editor’s Choice is a source-code editor for RPG that helps developers build, format, navigate, and comprehend code in both new and old applications.
Applied Logic Corporation
Originally a change-management solution, PDE/400 has grown to include application-development and documentation features. PDE also offers project-management, application-testing, and project-history reporting capabilities.
ASNA Visual RPG (AVR) Classic
ASNA’s AVR Classic lets developers build new RPG applications for Web or server that are also deployable to Windows 7 or 8 systems. AVR Classic provides an IDE with an editor, a debugger, Windows forms designer, and Windows custom controls. Apps built with AVR Classic can connect to IBM i, MS SQL, and ASNA local databases.
ASNA Visual RPG (AVR) for Microsoft Visual Studio .NET
AVR for .NET is an RPG compiler for Microsoft’s .NET framework that integrates with Microsoft Visual Studio and lets developers build new RPG or Windows apps, as well as modernize existing apps to accommodate Web services, provide data transparency between Windows and System i databases, and extend RPG source to be compatible with industry standards (e.g., XML, SOAP, RIA).
Business Computer Design International (BCD)
WebSmart ILE is a rapid Web application design tool for building CGI-based software that accesses DB2/400, SQL, and MySQL databases. Applications run under the basic Apache HTTP Web server.
WebSmart PHP functions similarly, generating applications in the PHP language, but generated apps can access a wider range of databases on multiple platforms.
Both WebSmart tools offer highlights such as support for Web 2.0 features, an interactive debugger, visual HTML editing, and change-management tools. Developers can use both products to either generate new software or enhance and Web-enable legacy apps.
CA’s 2E provides an IDE for System i apps, as well as modernization options for existing apps. It generates source code in RPG, COBOL, RPG ILE, and COBOL ILE. It features model-based development, relational database design to support apps, reusable objects, direct-to-Web deployment options, and full lifecycle support tools for developed apps.
CA Plex is a multiplatform RAD tool that helps programmers build apps for server, Web, and SOA environments. Features include a language editor, GUI screen designers, a diagrammer, drag-and-drop business objects, and impact-analysis tools.
CoralTree Systems Ltd.
The Renaissance Framework
The Renaissance Framework is an open-source platform for building CGI-based applications that run on IBM i. The framework includes reusable RPG ILE programs, service programs, Java scripts, and HTML code blocks that can serve as components for new software. Applications built using the framework require the System i Apache HTTP Server active on the host system to operate. Other framework features include tools for session management, user security, audit trails, performance monitoring, and application-resource locking controls.
Valence offers an application framework for building RPG-based Web apps that run on IBM i or retrofitting IBM i apps to run in a Web 2.0 environment. It includes a library of Java scripts that work with RPG, Web 2.0 browser components, a Web portal, integrated email support, an integrated PDF generator, and utility procedures for working with IFS paths.
GeneXus X Evolution 2
GeneXus is an application generator for IBM i and other platforms that creates code for Web 2.0 and server apps. GeneXus generates normalized databases to support applications and automatically creates new code to update app functions when users make changes to generated-application knowledge bases. It also includes support for impact analysis, Web services use, code reuse, team development, and workflow features.
Rational Developer Family
Visual LANSA is an IDE that includes a business rules repository, an agile development language linked to the repository, a prototyping wizard, a user interface framework, a visual data modeler, a component-based architecture that enables code-sharing between projects, a library of more than 100 application templates, self-documentation and impact analysis tools, and project-tracking and version-control tools that support team programming.
RPG Toolbox is a set of productivity tools for working with RPG source code. Although mainly designed for modernizing existing applications, RPG Toolbox’s extensive feature set makes it useful for working with newly written RPG application code as well.
A modification of IBM’s RPG Open Access, openlook is a tool for both building new RPG applications and modernizing older apps. Features include retention of business logic in modified code, image embedment, application access via browser and mobile devices, and support of the Open Standard for RPG.
re:new is a Microsoft .NET development system for building apps that run on IBM i and Windows systems. It works with existing business logic and lets developers transform existing apps to more modern forms, as well as build new modules and interfaces. By generating apps in .NET code, applications remain flexible enough to adapt to future changes in technology.
EngInSite Editor for PHP
EngInSite Editor for PHP provides an IDE that helps developers create, edit, run, and debug application code written in the PHP language. It provides a code auto-complete function, an HTTP server emulation environment, debugging tools, code navigator, color-coding of source, and a code-performance analyzer.
Magic Software Enterprises
AppBuilder is a Windows-based IDE that helps accelerate the creation, deployment, and maintenance of large-scale, multiplatform business applications across the enterprise environment. AppBuilder lets developers create an application once and deploy it to multiple environments.
Enterprise Mobility provides development and integration tools that help users create new mobile and desktop applications that integrate with back-end apps such as CRM and ERP systems.
Magic xpa Application Platform
Magic xpa Application Platform provides a code-free development and deployment environment that lets organizations and ISVs create user-friendly, enterprise-grade, multi-channel mobile and desktop business apps. Available in three versions with varying features, xpa-generated code can be used for classic web, desktop, RIA, hybrid mobile, XML Direct Access, and other application types.
m-Power is a Web application development environment that generates new apps in Java. It incorporates a model-based design approach, automatic code generation, a point-and-click developer interface, and tutorials for new users.
Web Object Wizard (WOW)
WOW is a RAD tool and runtime engine designed to provide Web applications for the System i and other platforms. It runs on top of the IBM WebSphere server or Apache Tomcat, can access database systems of multiple vendors concurrently within generated apps, and lets developers build apps with just a browser by specifying JDBC/SQL operations and configuring metadata.
PGM’s iStart is a web application generator that can build Java-based software from new and existing databases. The product’s framework controls user interaction, database access, security, and error handling.
ProData Computer Services
ProData’s RPGIV Templates are a library of 15 basic programs for common application functions such as database inquiries, file maintenance, report generation, subfile selection and maintenance, and other database functions, each of which can be useful as components of custom-created applications of many kinds.
Profound Logic Software
RPG-Alive helps developers edit and analyze RPG code when building new applications or updating old ones. Available in two versions, one that augments IBM’s SEU edit on the IBM i and a second GUI version that runs on PCs, RPG-Alive helps programmers with numerous editing features. These include code outlining, delimited subroutines, source color-coding, op code selection via scrolling, and highlighted comments.
RPG Smart Pages (RPGsp)
RPG Smart Pages is a web application IDE that includes an integrated visual debugger, code-editing and design tools, built-in charting, integrated source-control and change-management options, and wizards, templates, and code-snippet components that can form the building blocks of new software.
Solutions for LANSA
Surround’s Solutions for LANSA are a family of products and services that help developers build new applications using LANSA software tools. Surround’s offerings include a customizable development framework, a structured methodology and architecture for building new apps, Accelerator tools that shorten development time for producing new application interfaces, and a .NET service agent that helps integrate new applications into server and Web environments.
The Accelerator Development Solutions
Surround’s Accelerator suite helps developers build prototypes and applications that use the Windows .NET framework to create software that runs on IBM i servers, Windows, mobile devices, and the web. It also facilitates app modernization and integration of existing apps with Windows Azure and IBM z servers.
JACi400 is a suite of software tools that helps developers build new server-based applications, modernize existing applications, and build new (or convert older) applications that run over the web. It generates source in COBOL and all versions of RPG, generates HTML for web apps, includes new-app deployment tools, and includes HTML objects such as check boxes and radio buttons.
QuestView is tailored to producing data-related applications, such as inquiry or database maintenance programs. QuestView apps can be integrated with other software written in RPG or COBOL. It can help designers define external calls and restructure database fields and allows them to view underlying hexadecimal code to fix problems with zoned and packed fields.
Zend Studio is an IDE specifically designed for developing new web and server applications in the PHP language, which run on System i servers using a PHP compiler. Zend Studio uses the Zend Framework, which offers a wide assortment of tools and resources that support application development, including enhanced source-code editing, refactoring, code assist and generation, and semantic analysis.
By Victoria Mack
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