|Product Review: ADVANCED BusinessLink's Strategi mobileACCESS|
|Buyer's Guide - Product Reviews|
|Written by Joel Klebanoff|
|Wednesday, 09 May 2007 18:00|
Businesses run System i green-screen applications. Employees use wireless-enabled PDAs and smart phones. It stands to reason that productivity could be enhanced by linking the two to turn handheld devices into System i clientsassuming it can be done in a way that overcomes the screen and keyboard limitations of mobile devices. That's the premise underlying Strategi mobileACCESS from ADVANCED BusinessLink. It easily allows users and system administrators to access 5250 applications on many mobile devices sporting WiFi or cellular wide area network (WAN) connectivity.
On the client side, mobileACCESS runs as a Java program. Consequently, a good Java Virtual Machine (JVM) is a requirement for the mobile device. This is available in Windows CE or Windows Mobile 5 or higher, as well as in a few other operating systems, such as Linux, that are found on handheld devices. Apart from the need for a JVM, mobileACCESS is platform-independent. Any operating system that doesn't currently include an adequate JVM will immediately become compatible with mobileACCESS should the OS incorporate a JVM in a future release.
One additional requirement for the mobile device is a link, such as a USB port or one of the industry-standard wireless connectivity alternatives that can be used to load the Java program. At least one usable link is standard on most current mobile devices, so this is rarely a limiting factor.
Screen size is not an issue. The mobileACCESS product supports anything from the smallest to the largest of screens.
On the host side, mobileACCESS does not use any interactive processing, so, no matter how widely it's deployed throughout the enterprise, there is no need to upgrade the System i processor group in order to run mobileACCESS under your existing System i license.
With mobileACCESS, administration can be centralized, as it is entirely host-based. Furthermore, because there is no need to install and support host access software on mobile devices, it's easy and cost-effective to support a large number of remote users. In addition, because mobileACCESS loads natively on System i, it avoids the security threats of gateways and front-end processors.
Traditionally, the biggest impediment to using handheld devices as clients for System i applications has been the limited screen real estate on these devices. Even when the necessary connectivity was available, such as through a built-in Web browser and browser-based green-screen emulation, the small screen size meant that maneuvering through a 5250 application was too cumbersome to be practical unless the application was specially designed for that purpose. Yet custom-designing applications for mobile devices requires costly coding that may make this an unaffordable option.
With mobileACCESS, a couple of novel techniques overcome the screen-size dilemma, without the need for custom development. SmartPanning automatically shifts the displayed text and fields to keep the data entry position on the screen as a user enters data and navigates through the application. Screen Compaction manages the display output to take actions such as eliminating excessive white space to make more productive use of the limited screen size. The use of these techniques makes it possible for mobileACCESS to employ readable font sizes, without diminishing the usability of the application even on a small display. And, if something isn't easily readable, a simple zoom function allows users to take a closer look.
The nature of cellular networks presents an additional problem when accessing applications over a smart phone. Connections occasionally drop. But mobileACCESS deals with this by putting users back to the cursor position they left off on when they sign back in after a dropped connection, thereby preventing any aggravating loss of work and eliminating the need to manually pan through screens in order find where they left off.
Function keys present another challenge. Green-screen applications use them. Few mobile devices have them. To address this issue, mobileACCESS generates icons to represent an application's function keys. This is done automatically, without the need for any programming. Users can use their normal mobile device input method—typically a fingertip or stylus—to select the appropriate icon and simulate the pressing of the function key. Similarly, when a green-screen application displays a menu, hotspots are automatically created. Users can touch those hotspots to navigate through the application.
Green-screen applications often send reports to printers. This is an obvious dilemma for a wireless device that is usually used away from the office. By making spooled reports available on mobile devices, mobileACCESS solves this problem. Each Strategi user has an out queue assigned to him or her. When a spool file is sent to a user's out queue, it appears in his or her Strategi mobileACCESS browser as an HTML document.
According to Sherry Toly, director of marketing at ADVANCED BusinessLink, ''The wow factor of mobileAccess is that productivity is amazing. When you try to make applications work well on a small device, you have a lot of challenges to overcome. Just managing and maintaining connectivity in a wireless world can be difficult. We pull all of the components together to create a high-performance environment.''
ADVANCED BusinessLink's mobileACCESS is a member of the company's Strategi suite of products, which includes solutions for Web-enablement, mobility, and service-oriented architectures (SOA). Founded in 1987 in Sydney, Australia, ADVANCED BusinessLink is now headquartered in the Seattle, Washington, area, but it maintains a sales and support office in Sydney, as well as in Paris, London, and Kuala Lumpur. The company has more than 500 customers in 22 countries. For more information, contact ADVANCED BusinessLink. Contact information is provided below.
Joel Klebanoff is a consultant, a writer, and president of Klebanoff Associates, Inc., a Toronto, Canada-based marketing communications firm, and author of BYTE-ing Satire. Joel has 25 years experience working in IT, first as a programmer/analyst and then as a marketer. He holds a Bachelor of Science in computer science and an MBA, both from the University of Toronto. Contact Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org.