By now, youre probably aware that IBM has created a new package offering for their many development tools. What used to be a series of unrelated toolsVisualAge for Java (VAJ)Professional Edition, Visual RPG, Code/400, and SEUis now being packaged as a single offering. In addition to the standard tools, IBM is including in this package the Enterprise Toolkit/400 (ET/400) for VAJ (which was previously available only as part of the $2,500 Enterprise Edition of VAJ), the Affinity/400, and a new Web-facing tool. All of these are designed to help you very rapidly Web-enable your applications. The release of all these development tools in a single offering is only phase one of a three-phase plan from IBM.
Phase two, which should be announced in early 2001, will see IBM adding the RPG, COBOL, C, and C++ compilers to the phase one grouping. In addition, IBM will be offering a new common integrated development environment (IDE) from which the developer will be able to launch any of these tools. That is, from a single IDE parent, you will be able to launch an SEU session where you can edit RPG or COBOL, launch a new VAJ or Visual RPG session, and so on. This should make application development much smoother as well as assist in familiarizing your programming staff with the other development tools that are available to them. For example, if you are an RPG programmer who has never been exposed to programming tools such as VAJ, CODE/400, or C++, it should be fairly easy to find a few hours a week to experiment with the other development tools and learn how to use them. This approach to a common development environment will also take advantage of some new features of RPG coming in the next release of OS/400 (according to IBM, the biggest enhancement to RPG since RPG IV!).
In phase three, IBM has plans to rewrite all the development tools and package them into a single IDE. That is, regardless of whether you are editing a Visual Age for Java source member, a C++ source member, or an RPG IV source member, youll be working from the same interface. This is a major step toward application homogenization,
whichin my opinion, anywayis the best way to resolve all of the time-wasting issues of which language is best. With a single development environment, picking the right tool for the right job will be a piece of cake.
For example, if you are writing legacy or core types of applications such as a bill of materials (BOM) program for a manufacturing company, you can switch to the RPG workbench in the IDE and develop your app. If you then need to create a front-end reporting tool for the BOM program and you want to present it to the user in a browser, just switch to the VAJ workbench and create the GUI. Now, combining the data from the
RPG BOM with the VAJ GUI is trivial, since both projects were developed from the same platform and share the same set of objects. Whats even better, developing applications for other platforms, such as Windows NT and Linux, will be easier for AS/400 programmers, too, since they will be working with tools that are designed with cross-platform development in mind.
I dont know about you, but to me, all of this sounds very cool and exciting. However, this also means some major changes are coming down the road for your shop. If you havent caught on yet, SEU, that old and faithful source editor that programmers have grown to know and love, is no longer going to be enhanced. In fact, Im not even sure if it will continue to be supported by the time phase three rolls around, and that, potentially, means change for your shop. It used to be that when you hired someone new and inexperienced in the AS/400 world, youd set him down with an experienced AS/400 programmer who would then teach him all the mysteries of SEU, RPG, DDS, CL, and so on. With the phase three version of the development tool set, there arent going to be many old hands around who are experienced in the new tools. In fact, most old timers will be learning right alongside the new kids.
So, what does this mean for programmers and IS managers? For the programmer, it means that you should start learning about the new IBM development environment coming your way and how to use it. Youll still be able to use your RPG and COBOL skills, but the way you go about creating traditional applications is going to change.
As an IS manager, you are going to have to find the time to get your staff trained in the use of these new development tools. This means sending them to classes conducted by IBM Business Partners and other groups that provide the training your staff will need to quickly come up to speed on these new tools. This also means that the best way to ease both you and your staff into the new application paradigm will be by following the phased approach offered by IBM. Purchase the phase one grouping of tools, which lets you buy all the visual and traditional application-development tool sets for one very low price. When phase two, with its single launch platform for each of the individual tools, becomes available, purchase it also. This will allow your staff to experiment with all the tools from a single, easy-to-use platform. By the time the phase three products become available, youll find that the experience youve gained from the previous packages will put you in good standing for the single IDE interface.
Great things are in the works for AS/400 development, and great changes are coming for your shop. While change is never easy, you can minimize the potential hardships coming your way by preparing for them now. Once you get past the initial learning curve, youll find that you are in a whole new arena of application developmentone that lets you and your developers speak to the entire wired world.