Will IBM i Access for Windows Support Windows 7?

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Users who jumped in and upgraded to Vista may now have a leg up on those who held off and relied so long on XP. 

Oh my gosh—people are starting to get the itch. They're starting to get the Windows 7 itch as the October 22 date approaches for the release of Windows 7 on new computers and in shrink-wrapped boxes. The anxiety is starting to ripple through the IBM i world. What everyone is starting to ask is—will Client Access work with Windows 7 or are users going to be locked out of their System i data? The answer, of course, is another question: Did you really think IBM i Access for Windows wouldn't work with Windows 7?


For the past month, a team of software engineers in Rochester, MN, have been doing regression testing to see what happens when Client Access runs on Windows 7. What they have been trying to determine is if a user upgrades to Windows 7, will she still be able to log onto the System i, access its data, use all the features, and get her work done. To learn more about this, MC Press Online spoke with the lead engineers and managers working on the project. We wanted to know what users can expect from IBM i Access for Windows when they satisfy the itch to upgrade their PCs to Windows 7.


Craig Johnson, Power Systems product manager, and Systems Software Engineers Linda Hirsch and Bob Seemann have roots in Client Access and explained what has been going on in the lab, and what Client Access users can expect when they move to Windows 7.


The first thing they told us is that the only version of IBM i Access for Windows that will be supported under Windows 7 is V6.1. You can try an earlier version--and it very well could work--but if you run into a problem, and you call IBM support, the first thing they will tell you is to upgrade to V6.1. This could be a no-charge upgrade, by the way, if you are a current 5722-XW1 IBM i Access Family customer with a software maintenance contract.


The second thing they told us is that support will not begin with the release of Windows 7 on October 22 but a bit later—actually with the release of the next Client Access service pack for V6.1 scheduled to go out on December 1. We are talking about IBM i Access for Windows V6.1, by the way—not IBM i OS V6.1. Client Access supports two operating system versions back, so you can upgrade to V6.1 of Client Access and connect to i5 OS V5R3 or later. If you're on V5R4, you can upgrade to IBM i Access for Windows V6.1 by ordering IBM i Access Family 5722XW1 refresh feature 2649. Note I'm using IBM i Access for Windows and Client Access synonymously, the latter being the traditional name by which most people know the product.


There are a couple of "gotchas" in the Windows upgrade, and IBM wants to make it clear what they are before anyone installs Windows 7 and later finds out that something doesn't work. Specifically, it will be later in 2010—no one knows exactly when—before the AFP print driver and viewer components of IBM i Access for Windows 6.1 are supported on Windows 7. So, if you use the AFP Driver and AFP Viewer, well, you might want to wait a few months before jumping into Windows 7. Go ahead and buy the package, store the box on your desk (could make a good conversation piece)—just don't install it quite yet. Sorry.


There is an issue that could keep people from seamlessly moving to Windows 7 if they want to use their PCs to access IBM i files, and it has to do with security. For users who installed Windows Vista and wrestled with this, it has to do with authorities, and the issue is essentially the same with Windows 7 as it was with Vista. When you sign in as an administrator on Windows 7, you aren't recognized as having the highest level of authority. There's administrator—then there's you, a virtual nobody! You need to be a super administrator to install Client Access under Windows 7, which has not one, but four administrator levels to confound people. As Linda Hirsch so nicely put it in her handy Q&A for users: "Windows 7 has a similar security model as Windows Vista and therefore some IBM i Access for Windows functions require elevated authority. Refer to Information APAR II14338 for details on elevated authority aspects of IBM i Access for Windows with Vista."


Johnson explained that users must plan the Client Access installation after addressing the security issues because, "a company has to set up which one of the administrators can have the elevated authority." Seemann added that not every application will require elevated authority and the question of setting up authorities (providing this Windows 7 feature is turned on), and whether any authority changes will be needed, will apply to all applications, not just IBM i Access for Windows.


"One thing that comes to mind is the install part of it," said Seemann when asked where elevated authorities considerations might slow people down. "But after you get it installed, the goal is for things to run the way they ran before.  There may be one or two other functions that require elevated authority after the install but the installation is the primary thing." He surmised that the individual doing the installation likely would have administrator authority regardless and would qualify for the Windows elevated authority.


The IBM team also said that the IBM NetServer and QNTC components will support Windows 7 as of December 1, for i5 OS V5R4 and later. Updates will be by PTF. Johnson explained that the IBM NetServer allows the IBM i to be a file server to a Windows 7 client. The QNTC is a file system and subsection of the IFS and provides access to data and objects on a Windows server. Commands and applications on the IBM i can read and write data to a Windows server as if the data resided on the System i. The catch here is that it may be necessary to change a policy on the Windows 7 machine to allow QNTC access. Hirsch noted that the Windows 7 default authentication method is NTLMv2, which is not supported by QNTC, and there already currently are a handful of PTFs to fix known NetServer problems with NTLMv2 authentication.


"You may need to change the 'Network Security: LAN Manager Authentication Level' policy to 'Send LM & NTLM – use NTLMv2 session security if negotiated' to allow QNTC to connect to a share provided by Windows 7," Hirsch notes in her Q&A.


The bottom line? If you have already upgraded to Windows Vista, Windows 7 won't be much different when it comes to interfacing with IBM i Access for Windows. If you are upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7, the main issue will be the question of elevated authorities. Otherwise, Client Access is going to support just about everything else on the System i including System Navigator, the 5250 components, the database components etc.


For additional information on IBM i Access for Windows running on Windows 7, click on the following IBM Web pages: http://www.ibm.com/eserver/iseries/access/supportedos.html and http://www.ibm.com/systems/i/software/access/planning.html.