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TechTip: Java-Based Client Access for the IBM i

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Finally, a decent client is available from IBM for non-Windows platforms!

 

In my recent article "Is IBM i Access for Linux Right for Your Shop?", I reviewed IBM's Linux offering for accessing the IBM i's database and for providing 5250 emulation. The executive summary of that article is simply, "It's great for ODBC connectivity, but the emulator is best replaced by one of the open-source emulators or commercial alternatives." Shortly after the article was published, I received two emails from readers (Thanks to both Bobs!) recommending that I give IBM's Java-based offering a try.

 

The IBM i Access package (5733-XJ1) is built to provide non-Windows users the most frequently used features from the Windows product. While Linux, Mac, and Windows are platforms specifically mentioned in the documentation, I suspect that any platform that can provide Java 6 or higher and a graphical environment will be able to successfully run the program. Taken directly from the "getting started" document, the features include:

 

  • A full-featured 5250 display emulator based on IBM Rational Host-on-Demand. In addition to all the 5250 display features you are accustomed to when using IBM i Access for Windows, you may now switch your 5250 display emulator between languages without rebooting your workstation. In addition, you may have multiple concurrent sessions with different host code pages. This allows separate languages to be displayed within different emulator sessions. Printer emulation is also supported.

 

  • A 5250 Session Manager modeled after IBM Personal Communications Session Manager, which can be used for managing all of your 5250 emulator sessions.

 

  • Data Transfer, which provides the ability to transfer data from/to your IBM i database to/from various file types on your workstation such as OpenDocument spreadsheet (*.ods), Excel Workbook (*.xlsx), and other file formats.

 

  • A Data Transfer extension for OpenOffice, which provides the ability to transfer data from/to your IBM i directly to/from an OpenOffice spreadsheet.

 

  • A Virtual Control Panel with a graphical interface to the IBM i operation panel.

 

  • 5250 emulation for LAN Console.

 

  • Consolidation for hardware management interface configurations, including ASMI, IVM, and HMC.

 

  • Launch capability to IBM Navigator for i using your default browser.

 

 

One thing that one of the Bobs (an IBM employee) added to his email was this caveat: "You may not want to highlight the Data Transfer extension for OpenOffice. That feature will be removed and replaced with something a little easier to set up and use." "Easier to set up and use" is always a good thing, so I'll consider that feature to be not-ready-for-prime-time and ignore it. It is intriguing and will be a nice feature when they do get the improved version rolled into the product.

Installation

Assuming that your workstation has the requisite Java environment properly installed, then installation couldn't be easier, requiring only three steps: 1) Download the zip file from IBM's site, 2) make a directory to contain the package, and 3) unzip the package into that directory. Be aware that the zip file does not provide a container directory; thus you will want to ensure that you do so manually. For my Linux box, I issued the commands: mkdir ~/IBMiAccess; cd ~/IBMiAccess; unzip ~/Desktop/IBMiAccess_v1r1.zip, ensuring that my home directory didn't get littered with iAccess software.

Running the Software

If you're expecting a menu item or desktop icon to start the program, you'll be disappointed. The simplicity of the installation and the complexity of writing a good installation script for just one operating system, let alone multiple systems, has put that task into the future. IBM does provide a number of startup scripts and good documentation for rolling your own, so in my case it was a trivial exercise to create a desktop icon that launches ~/IBMiAccess/Start_Scripts/Linux_Mac_Other/acslaunch.

How Does It Look?

Upon startup, you'll be greeted with the window shown in Figure 1. This central launch pad shows the functionality available within the package. Under the "General" tab you'll find four of the most commonly used features.

 

051013KlineFigure1                  

Figure 1: The startup screen shows the central launch pad and the functionality available.

 

The most commonly used function, 5250 Emulator (shown in Figure 2), looks like the version available on the Windows version. It has an icon bar for accessing other functions, like its Windows brethren, and works exactly as you'd expect. I realize that there is nothing particularly sexy about a 5250 screen, but to see one on a Linux machine that comes from IBM, and actually looks nice, is refreshing. The keys can be remapped and the screen resized. From my couple of days of use, it appears to me that the functionality is identical to the Windows equivalent. This one is a winner!

 

051013KlineFigure2

Figure 2: The 5250 Emulator looks just like IBM's!

 

The data transfer function, shown in Figure 3, allows for data transfer to and from the i5/OS. Multiple output and input formats are available (Figure 4), and during my tests I found it quite functional. You can do simple queries to get subsets of the file. Bottom line? I can finally get data to my system (Figure 5) without having to resort to a CPYTOIMPF and FTP. This is another winner for me!

 

051013KlineFigure3

Figure 3: Transfer data to and from the i5/OS.

 

051013KlineFigure4

Figure 4: Take advantage of the multiple output and input formats.

 

051013KlineFigure5

Figure 5: Change your data options.

 

The Navigator for i option is somewhat of a cheat as it launches your web browser and sends you to the i5/OS Tasks screen. I can accept that, but I was hoping for more parity between this client and the Windows version. Perhaps that's something that will be addressed in the future.

 

Of the four General options, I was most excited to try out the "Printer Output" option. And it provided the greatest disappointment for me. Why? Because if you are looking at a standard i5/OS report, then things work fine. The spool file is sent to the client and then opened with a local text editor. If you wish to look at an AFP printer file, then you're out of luck. You'll get essentially the same view you'd get as if you'd look at the file via the green-screen DSPSPLF command. There is no graphic information, like PAGSEG data, and the text tends to be skewed, since you're trying to display data that can be placed to a micro precision on a record-oriented medium. If anyone can tell me that I missed something, then please enlighten me. I'd be happy to report my error.

In Summary

The IBM i Access Client technology preview is definitely a step in the right direction. Finally, a decent client is available from IBM for non-Windows platforms, including my preferred Linux. I'm happy that IBM is finally recognizing that there are other platforms out there besides Windows. I hope that they continue to improve this product so that when it's finally released it's as feature-complete as possible.

Barry Kline

Barry L. Kline is a consultant and has been developing software on various DEC and IBM midrange platforms since the early 1980s. Barry discovered Linux back in the days when it was necessary to download diskette images and source code from the Internet. Since then, he has installed Linux on hundreds of machines, where it functions as servers and workstations in iSeries and Windows networks. He co-authored the book Understanding Web Hosting on Linux with Don Denoncourt. Barry can be reached at barry@blkline.com.

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    Make sure your data survives when catastrophe hits. Try the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Manage IBM i Messages by Exception with Robot

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Managing messages on your IBM i can be more than a full-time job if you have to do it manually. How can you be sure you won’t miss important system events?
    Automate your message center with the Robot Message Management Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated message management
    - Tailored notifications and automatic escalation
    - System-wide control of your IBM i partitions
    - Two-way system notifications from your mobile device
    - Seamless product integration
    Try the Robot Message Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Easiest Way to Save Money? Stop Printing IBM i Reports

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates report bursting, distribution, bundling, and archiving, and offers secure, selective online report viewing.
    Manage your reports with the Robot Report Management Solution. Key features include:

    - Automated report distribution
    - View online without delay
    - Browser interface to make notes
    - Custom retention capabilities
    - Seamless product integration
    Rerun another report? Never again. Try the Robot Report Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Hassle-Free IBM i Operations around the Clock

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413For over 30 years, Robot has been a leader in systems management for IBM i.
    Manage your job schedule with the Robot Job Scheduling Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated batch, interactive, and cross-platform scheduling
    - Event-driven dependency processing
    - Centralized monitoring and reporting
    - Audit log and ready-to-use reports
    - Seamless product integration
    Scale your software, not your staff. Try the Robot Job Scheduling Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • ACO MONITOR Manages your IBM i 24/7 and Notifies You When Your IBM i Needs Assistance!

    SB DDL Systems 5429More than a paging system - ACO MONITOR is a complete systems management solution for your Power Systems running IBM i. ACO MONITOR manages your Power System 24/7, uses advanced technology (like two-way messaging) to notify on-duty support personnel, and responds to complex problems before they reach critical status.

    ACO MONITOR is proven technology and is capable of processing thousands of mission-critical events daily. The software is pre-configured, easy to install, scalable, and greatly improves data center efficiency.