ASNA Charts a Course to Microsoft's .NET

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As Microsoft's .NET component model finds its way into companies that use IBM's iSeries, there will be a growing need for tools that help developers integrate and work across both technology platforms. That's why ASNA, the developer of Visual RPG, is hard at work developing a .NET-compliant version of the product that could become generally available as early as this September.

As I discussed in my recent article about Microsoft's Visual Studio.NET (VS.NET) announcement, there's a strong probability that Windows-based .NET applications will eventually find their way into most iSeries shops. If you don't believe me, look around your own company at the Windows-based operating systems, middleware, and applications that you already support. Unless your company is committed to migrating off Windows, those systems (and the staff who supports them) will become vehicles for bringing .NET into your organization. That's not a bad thing as long as you have tools that can leverage both iSeries- and Windows-based information assets.

These are the kind of tools that ASNA has been developing since the mid-1990s. Its flagship product, ASNA Visual RPG (AVR), provides a Windows-based RPG development environment and compiler that lets developers create native Windows executables (both EXEs and DLLs) from existing RPG code. Those executables can access both DB2/400 and SQL Server databases residing on iSeries or Windows servers via ASNA's Acceler8DB. In addition, AVR can generate Web-based applications that run on Windows-based Web servers utilizing Microsoft's Active Server Pages (ASP) technology.

ASNA prides itself on offering a product that is familiar to RPG programmers, yet capable of creating executables that are fully compliant with Microsoft's Common Object Model (COM). As such, it's no surprise that ASNA is embracing .NET. What's equally important to know, however, is that Microsoft is actively supporting ASNA's effort to deliver a .NET-compatible version of AVR that ASNA will ship with VS.NET as a complete .NET development environment for RPG developers.

According to my sources inside ASNA, an alpha version of what it calls "AVR.NET" is already running in their development lab. Sometime this month, the company plans to deliver its first beta version to external test teams. While the first beta will offer the ability to generate Web-based .NET applications, future beta releases will include the ability to generate Windows-based .NET applications as well.

After a series of closed beta tests, ASNA hopes to offer a public beta of AVR.NET late this summer. If all goes well, this beta version will pave the way for the shipment of the official Release 1.0 "gold code" in the September time frame. By the way, if you're wondering what will happen to ASNA's existing AVR product, rest assured that the company will continue selling and supporting it. ASNA representatives are also indicating that the company could offer a "conversion module" that imports existing AVR code to the new tool suite. Initially, however, ASNA will focus on making AVR.NET a quality product for developing new applications versus converting existing ones.

With its familiar RPG-based development interface and integration with Microsoft's VS.NET, AVR.NET will likely become the easiest way for many iSeries programmers to learn about and leverage .NET technologies. The development environment will also simplify and rationalize the entire process of developing ASPs, as developers will only need AVR.NET and VS.NET to develop and integrate the numerous components of an ASP. Moreover, since AVR.NET will support Web services standards such as XML and SOAP, it will let companies explore the potential of Web services to integrate applications running on their own systems and those of their business partners.

If you want to learn more about AVR and ASNA's .NET strategy, check out ASNA's Web site for further information. Keep your eye on this Web site as well, as I'll be reporting in future issues on other vendors whose products can help you integrate your iSeries with various server and operating system platforms.

Lee Kroon is a Senior Industry Analyst for Andrews Consulting Group, a firm that helps mid-sized companies manage business transformation through technology. You can reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
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