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Is Java in Your AS/400's Near Future?

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IBM couldn’t make itself clearer: It wants you to use Java in your shop to build and deploy Internet applications. The AS/400 port may be the most robust port of both the language and the server available on any platform. Performance of the Java language with the Just- In-Time (JIT) compiler is superb on small and large AS/400s. WebSphere now supports Enterprise JavaBeans (EJBs).

So should you drop your current language for development and begin using Java? How would you do that? This is where IBM drops the ball. IBM has focused on its VisualAge for Java (VAJ) product. WebSphere Studio facilitates WebSphere application development.

The issue is where you get the programmers. You have three choices: Hire new experienced Java programmers; train your existing staff; or hire experienced C++ programmers and train them.

Each of these choices is fraught with problems. If you can find experienced Java programmers, let me know where they are! The truth is that, if they exist, they are working for major software vendors. Entry-level salaries are $100,000 plus! Most college graduates are going to work for software companies or, more likely, for startup companies that offer stock options so they can be rich by the age of

You can train your existing staff. There can be no doubt that good people can learn Java. The language is relatively simple if you look at just the language. Unfortunately, Java is more than a language; it has prewritten routines that you must learn. You must know what routines exist in these libraries; you can’t do anything without these routines. There are no native I/O functions in the language; you must use the library-based I/O functions. When you add the Java Toolbox for AS/400 or WebSphere, you get more functions that you must learn. Then, if you choose VAJ, you must learn VisualAge. This is no easy task. IBM offers one-week training on the use of the tool.

WebSphere Studio is at best primitive. I’ve downloaded and tried to run several versions of it. (IBM has free trials.) The generic parts that do run on my PC lack documentation and adequate help text and are not intuitive. These are the obvious results of system programmers who develop great operating system software trying to build a user interface.

Look at IBM’s documentation for Java-based products. Java is the only language IBM has ever delivered on the AS/400 that does not have an IBM language reference and

programmer’s guide. IBM has written several Redbooks on Java, WebSphere, and related technology, including some that specifically target the AS/400. One of the best is Building AS/400 Applications for IBM WebSphere Standard Edition 2.0 (SG24-5635-00). I commented to IBM that this book seems to be written for experienced Java programmers. One of the authors responded that, indeed, this is true. So, how do customers get started?

If you examine IBM’s implementation of Java, JavaBeans, and EJBs, you see raw technology. For those of us who are used to working in high-level languages like RPG or COBOL, this is akin to being asked to go back and write applications in assembler language.

I mentioned training C++ programmers to write in Java. Java is actually a subset of C++ from the language perspective.

Now, assume you have managed to hire or train a team of programmers. Java, with its object-oriented approach to systems development, is supposed to reduce the development time. In reality, I think it increases the development time.

What about tools? Well, VAJ is overkill with its GUI-based metaphors. I’ve spoken to “expert” C++ and Java programmers who use it. They use the text editor and the debugger and totally ignore the GUI, which they consider a marketing check box!

So where are we, and what do we do? I think IBM or someone will eventually figure out that we need tools to provide a rapid or zero learning curve. In the meantime, IBM offers many alternatives to Java for Internet application development. These include native language Common Gateway Interface (CGI), Net.Data, and a wealth of third-party development products.

The message here is that IBM has once again provided superb system software but failed to understand the user requirements for deploying and using this technology. If IBM really wants Java to succeed, it will fix these problems—and do so quickly.

Bob Cancilla

Bob Cancilla is the IBM Rational System i Software evangelist helping to set strategy and adoption of IBM Rational application development and life cycle management software for System i customers. Bob joined IBM after over 30 years as an IT executive in the insurance industry. He was the founder of the System i eBusiness electronic user group www.ignite400.org, is the author of four books, and is an industry leader in the areas of application architecture, methodology, and large-scale integrated systems development.


MC Press books written by Bob Cancilla available now on the MC Press Bookstore.


Getting Down to e-business with AS/400 Getting Down to e-business with AS/400

Explains the major issues, concepts, and technologies necessary to implement an AS/400-based e-business solution—from planning for e-business to selecting an ISP.

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