What would you like to see in RPG and on the IBM i?
I don't know about you, but I am very curious to see the new capabilities that will be available with the latest enhancements that will be coming on the IBM i. Here is my top 10 list of things that I would like to see in a new RPG and on the IBM i in general.
#1: An IBM-Provided RPG Prototype File Matching the C Resources
There are a lot of great APIs out there, but many of them are not being used, because either they are unknown or the effort involved in getting them to work discourages their use. Great resources are out there already for C programmers. Why shouldn't the same resources be provided for RPG programmers?
If you look at other successful languages, libraries of functionality are easily accessible and allow developers to provide powerful applications with expansive resources. I would think it would be beneficial to provide an easier way for RPG programmers to easily access the resources that we have available. Why not create a COPY file in QRPGLESRC that would implement best practices by the IBM designers to provide prototypes for these APIs?
For example, what if you wanted to use APIs to work with text files in the IFS? C programmers have it easy with the QSYSINC/H, FCNTL file. Just put the #include fcntl.h in the code, and the prototypes are all set to go. It sure would be nice to put a /COPY QSYSINC/QRPGLESRC, FCNTL into our RPG code and be ready to go. Instead, what would we have to do? Take the C prototype and map it to an RPG prototype, which means you have to translate the C parameter types to RPG, and that isn't much fun. My point is that it would be nice if IBM would provide RPG programmers with the same resources that are provided to C programmers.
#2: APIs That Are Easier to Work With
I don't mean to be oversimplifying things, but is our goal as programmers supposed to be spending way too much time trying to figure out how to get an API to work, or is it to provide amazing software in record time?
I'm not one to be negative and just complain. I like to provide possible solutions as well, like maybe having some common-sense defaults and maybe some more human-friendly values, instead of having to reset the values to hexadecimal zeros and having to flip the appropriate bits. I have to admit that I come from an engineering background, and I found it entertaining at first. But you can't spend all of your time playing with low-level details. It would be nice to look at a prototype and have it just be intuitive, without having to research all of the inner workings of the API to figure out how it works.
#3: Overloaded Prototypes
OK, let's look at my previous statement about making APIs easier to work with. You may be thinking to yourself that all of the interfaces would have to change, therefore breaking backward-compatibility. That's just not the IBM way. Our code just keeps on running forever, and we like it this way. So what if overloaded prototypes were allowed? And what the heck is an overloaded prototype anyway?
An overloaded prototype means that the prototype would identify the API to use, not only by the name of the API that is being called, but also by the parameters that are being passed to it, which is called a signature. This is common in object-oriented programming.
If overloaded prototypes were available, then the old version of the API could be available with the same default parameter settings that are currently in use. And you could also have a new version available that would be recognized with a different prototype signature. This way, you have both the new and the old capabilities easily accessible.
And you know what else overloaded prototypes would do? They would allow you to easily prototype Java classes that are being used from within RPG, instead of having to create differently named RPG prototypes for each overloaded Java method, and the RPG program would be smart enough to know how to call the Java method.
#4: RPG Java Capabilities for Public Variables and Object Arrays
While we're on the topic of Java, it would be nice to be able to perform some of the most basic Java tasks—such as accessing public variables and object arrays—without having to go down to the JNI level to do it.
This may not happen too often. But it happens enough to make you want to make that part of the project the last part you deal with.
#5: RPG Graphical User Interface
This one is a gimme. Every RPG programmer has been hoping for that GUI capability that would literally improve the image of RPG. With all the capabilities and reliability of RPG, how could the user interface have gone unanswered for so long? We have simple processing of text, the activation of hotspots, and the translation of subfiles to tables. I would like to see a simple solution that could provide a responsive user interface in a desirable manner that requires minimal coding modifications by the RPG programmer.
#6: RPG Framework
Now this is where you may think I am off my rocker. Why not have RPG made over to support a framework? Make RPG become a language that will compile down into a common run-time environment, just like .NET does. Or maybe have an additional option in CRTPGM that would specify the output to be RPG *PGM object, PHP, or Java byte code.
Instead of stacking another language on top of the technologies, enhance the compiler to generate Internet applications from the RPG code. Maybe have an XML file option that contains additional information on how and where to compile the results. Have your Apache Web server standing by and implementing your newly compiled code. Hit the Refresh key on your browser or restart your application, and the new changes are in place. Extend the DDS to support some Web design possibilities and have the compiler do the rest. Hey, there's your GUI!
#7: Automated Document Generator
With the modernization of code and the use of service programs with prototyped procedures, it would be nice to have an option during compile time to generate HTML-formatted documentation to show all of the procedures and their parameters, with some optional comments for easy identification of the resources available and how to use them. Run that puppy over the new RPG prototypes in QRPGLESRC and that would give you up-to-date documentation after every OS upgrade!
This pretty much ties in with the rest of the suggestions to provide easy access to the resources available in an easy-to-read, human-friendly format that promotes optimized code development with the maximum amount of possible resources.
#8: IDE with the Operating System
Why do a lot of shops still use PDM? Do you think it's because we just love the green-screen and the functionality of PDM? Well, yeah, that's part of it. Do you think it's because we are too busy coding to learn a whole new way of doing it? Yeah, I guess that's part of it, too. But another part of it is the cost! Do we have to pay extra for PDM? No. That's why we're still using it...that and a few other things that could be overcome if the development tool wasn't so expensive.
This is actually a minor topic. I am sure we are paying for PDM with the operating system. But if it were an option to buy either PDM or IBM Rational Developer for i, maybe more shops would choose IBM Rational Developer for i over PDM and change over. It would be nice to have a customized developer kit packaged with the iSeries Access software that includes IBM Rational Developer for i preconfigured with a built-in 5250 emulator and an SQL graphical administration tool.
We'd be able to code in RPG, Java, PHP, Python, and everything in between, thereby switching over to a 5250 emulator and running SQL statements with syntax checking in a single bound.
#9: A Command-Line Interface to the Linux Partition
The Linux operating system is running on top of the OS. Why do I have to go to an external machine to access my Linux partition? I should be able to access it the way I access Qshell: by typing a command and getting a command line in the Linux partition. I know I am oversimplifying things, but I want it.
About the only thing I could do with Linux from the IBM i command line is reboot it and back it up as a big blob.
And finally, when all of the changes have been put in place, promote it! Advertise it! With a great new graphical development tool and new capabilities, lure in some fresh blood to take advantage of the solid iron that the new stuff is running on. When RPG is easy to integrate with Java, PHP, Linux, and Apache and is running on a solid box and handling multiple tasks without skipping a beat, then you have yourself the IBM i of tomorrow!