Don't Think About Whom You Have Been. Who Are You Now?

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OCEAN members get briefing on AJAX technologies by author Jeff Olen; board sets date for this summer's technical conference.


The room was filled with RPG programmers, and the question on the minds of many was: Where do we go from here?


I attended the OCEAN User Group monthly meeting on March 16, and the nearly filled room in the newly redecorated IBM offices in Costa Mesa, California, heard a presentation by author Jeff Olen speaking on AJAX and the IBM i.


Olen is the co-author, along with Kevin Schroeder, of one of the most popular books in the MC Press library, The IBM i Programmer's Guide to PHP. Co-founder of Olen Business Consulting, Olen has more than 20 years of experience working with IBM midrange systems, including all models of the System i. In addition to extensive development experience with RPG, Olen is knowledgeable in PHP, JavaScript, C, C++, MySQL, and HTML. So discussing AJAX with RPG programmers was an uplifting experience for him, and he reinforced the fact that you can do practically whatever you want to on the IBM Power Systems and IBM i if you just take time to learn.


Olen gets into the nitty gritty when he gives a talk and shows the code that solves the problem the customer had that required bringing in a programmer. In last night's demo, it was a project for a call center that wanted to display the cities next to a series of rolling phone numbers. He solved the problem with AJAX and gave attendees some insight into what AJAX is and why you might want to become familiar with it.


AJAX stands for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML. The term was first conceived by Jesse James Garrett, a user-experience designer, who was awarded Wired magazine's Rave Award for technology in 2006. Garrett wrote a paper the prior year proposing real-time Web software systems, which in turn led to AJAX. Garrett apparently thought up the term while in the shower, which shows you the guy must be always on!


As Jeff pointed out last night, AJAX is not a language. It is a collection of interrelated Web development techniques used to create interactive Web applications. The basic premise behind AJAX is that you can reduce bandwidth and the time it takes to load new information from a Web site into a browser if you update only the new content, not the entire page. Using asynchronous requests in the background lets the browser respond quicker to inputs without changing the display of an existing page. (Requests do not have to be asynchronous, however.) AJAX allows individual sections of a page to reload, giving users the impression that an application is running faster even if little has actually happened on the server.


AJAX is not a technology but a group of technologies that use HTML and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to manipulate information and the styles governing how it's presented. The programmer uses JavaScript to access the Document Object Model (DOM) to interact with and display the information. While there are various frameworks, basic AJAX involves writing JavaScript on the client.


A new, related development that was just announced last December is V2.0 of the Google Web Toolkit (GWT) that allows Web developers to create and maintain JavaScript front-end applications. GWT is open source licensed under the Apache license V2.0. GWT focuses on reusable solutions to address recurring AJAX problems generally involving procedure calls, bookmarking, and cross-browser portability. Developers can build and debug AJAX applications using the tool of their choice. There is even a GWT plug-in for Eclipse that handles most tasks in the IDE. The developer's application is created in Java, but when it's deployed, GWT uses a cross-compiler to spit out JavaScript files. The major components of GWT include the following:


  • The compiler (Java to JavaScript)
  • Hosted Web browser (allows your application to run in the Java Virtual Machine without compiling to JavaScript, making it easier to debug)
  • JRE emulation library—implementations in JavaScript of classes found in the Java standard class library
  • GWT Web UI class library—a collection of classes and custom interfaces for creating widgets


GWT is a set of tools that developers can use for any type of client-side JavaScript functions, going beyond just user interface programming.


Why would a programmer care about such things? The idea is to stay competitive with what's going on around you, but more importantly, to improve the Web experience of users. As Google says, "The experience we want to optimize is the Web experience. The Web has different DNA than desktop applications, and GWT was designed to be of the Web tradition rather than providing a way of slavishly cloning desktop idioms in a browser."


As Tony Robbins once said, "You are now at a crossroads. This is your opportunity to make the most important decision you will ever make. Forget your past. Who are you now? Who have you decided you really are now? Don't think about who you have been. Who are you now? Who have you decided to become? Make this decision consciously. Make it carefully. Make it powerfully."


He also said, "What we can or cannot do, what we consider possible or impossible, is rarely a function of our true capability. It is more likely a function of our beliefs about who we are."


RPG programmers attending the OCEAN meeting last night represented a small group of the organization's total membership; however, this is a group who has decided to embrace the future. For free training on HTML and AJAX, visit


For a short video interview with Jeff Olen at the OCEAN meeting, click here


A bit of news from the meeting: the date and location for this summer's 17th annual OCEAN Technical Conference will be Friday, July 16, at National University, 3390 Harbor Boulevard, Costa Mesa. Fees for both attendees and vendors will be kept low in line with the challenging economy: $150 for OCEAN members for a full day of training and a box lunch, and $500 per table-top booth for vendors. There will be room for only 16 vendors, so space is likely to sell out quickly. For more information, visit or email Carole Comeau, vice president of programs, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or Margaret Matthews, president, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..