Hot Chocolate's back in the charts. Flairs are in - again. Six-inch platform heels are spotted in Piccadilly Circus. As everything comes back into fashion eventually, today it's the mainframe's turn to come back in vogue and technology once again seems to be flirting with business process re-engineering. Having fended off treacherous client/server computing, which promised to banish mainframe computing to the history books, it's back in fashion. Bring out the nostalgic black and white prints of bald men in white lab coats tinkering with the knobs on hulking boxes with flashing lights. Playing no small part in this turnaround is IBM, which practically reinvented itself as a hip Internet company and dubiously tweaked the naming of its current mainframe family. The IBM System/390 is not a mainframe any more: its a server. Last Thursday, SCO launched Tarantella, an application server which, among other things, provides access to legacy mainframe applications across the web. A few weeks ago, Micro Focus gave developers a way to access legacy mainframe applications from a web browser. Such tools are destined to put a new face on the green-screen terminal application of yester-year. More is around the corner, particularly with the renewed interest in middleware. Among the companies breaking new ground in middleware is Borland, which, later this month, launches the enterprise edition of its award-winning Delphi rapid application development (RAD) tool. A key part of the Delphi Enterprise Edition is the inclusion of Borland's Entera middleware product. Borland acquired Entera when it merged with Open Environment in November 1996. According to Borland, Entera is designed to provide an easy interface to functions such as naming services and remote procedure calls. Brian Ledbetter, product manager for Western Europe at Borland, said that reusing legacy applications is intricately tied to middleware technology. With clever middleware, developers need not worry about how to communicate with legacy code. Basically, the middleware acts as a robot user, translating commands from an end-user application to keyboard commands which are transmitted up to the mainframe. Normally, the mainframe returns data from the application to an end user as a display on the green screen terminal. Where middleware is used, the robot user in the middeware reads this data and transmits it to the end-user application. However, Ledbetter believes that until now middleware has been too complex for the majority of software developers. "Previously, only hot-shot developers could use middleware. The problem (most people) had was integrating it into existing computer systems." Pointing to particular instances where middleware has been perceived as too difficult to implement, Ledbetter said: "DCE and Corba (middleware) are complex architectures. And IBM's MQ Series requires a lot of administration." Borland hopes that Delphi Enterprise Edition will bring middleware into the RAD fold. This, according to Ledbetter, is not as easy as it might seem. While RAD involves an iterative process of application development, middleware has tended to be a bottleneck since it required hand crafting the packaging of business logic. "What we want to achieve (in Delphi Enterprise Edition) is to allow developers to focus on the business logic by automatically generating this packaging," he explained. Higher up the development tools foodchain, CompuWare is about to take legacy computing seriously. With the launch of its Uniface 7.2 RAD tool later this month, CompuWare is bringing its flavour of RAD to the AS/400 and System/390 mainframe The company has developed a version of the Uniface virtual machine for these platforms, allowing developers to create AS/400 and System/390-hosted Uniface applications. Among the opportunities Uniface offers mainframe and AS/400 developers, according to Compu-Ware, is the ability to treat these platforms both as central data servers and as application servers. Having the Uniface virtual machine running on a mainframe also means developers gain access to the mainframe programming language, JCL, so that they can execute reports stored on the mainframe. Hand-in-hand with the availability of virtual machines for the AS/400 and the mainframe, CompuWare is also providing some core middleware. Uniface 7.2 will also introduce what CompuWare describes as the Universal Request Broker Architecture. This is a middeware architecture which essentially puts application code and application services in touch with other application services. What makes the Universal Request Broker stand out is that these applications services may exist as DCOM, Corba or Java components or they can be written in Uniface itself. This means that via Uniface, a mainframe can access DCOM, Corba, Java or Uniface services. Conversely, the Universal Request Broker provides a wrapper around legacy mainframe code which enables DCOM, Corba, Java and Uniface code to gain access to services which reside on the mainframe. To help developers track down these services, Uniface 7.2 includes the Assembly Workbench. Magic, which announced its Magic 8 RAD tool last week, is one company which has had some degree of success with platforms other than trendy NT or Unix. A year ago, Magic introduced a version of the Magic RAD tool for the AS/400 platform. According to Graham Young, UK marketing manager at Magic, "before (Magic) there was no RAD tool for the AS/400." Young believes that one of the big attractions to developers of Magic on the AS/400 is that it enables the platform to be integrated into existing enterprise systems. "Historically, the AS/400 was purchased to run applications standalone," he argued. "We are seeing developers using Magic to integrate AS/400s with the rest of the business." This is also true on mainframes. Speaking of the recent renewed interest in mainframes, Beth Woolfe, EMEA marketing manager for VisualAge at IBM, said that rather than developing applications to replace the old mainframe code, "development managers want to concentrate on better customer service by adapting existing systems". Among the situations where IBM is seeing this take place is where developers pull together a number of legacy systems on to the desktop. As an example she said that a company may wish to adapt its business to sell insurance or pensions over the telephone. "What's needed is an easy to use application that integrates well with other applications for performing tasks such as customer credit checks," she commented. Woolfe added that in VisualAge, developers can take pre-built components to access the CICS transactions or DB/2 databases on which the legacy applications are built. One buzzword which seems to be coming back into fashion is business process re-engineering. It was the magic bullet of the recession-hit early 1990s when companies attempted to cut costs dramatically by slicing out middle management and creating virtual organisations. The problem with BPR in the past, according to Mike Pryke-Smith Internet and Development tool product manager at Microsoft, was that it was too difficult to do. But that situation has changed. "No one disputes that multi-tier development which separates out business processes provides scalability and manageability," Pryke-Smith observed. "But up until recently, it was very difficult to create these structures." In September, Microsoft introduced its Distributed interNet Architecture which builds core application services into the operating system. Using DNA, Pryke-Smith claimed, "developers can concentrate on writing business logic and not have to worry about being system integrators". BPR covers many areas but one of its goals is to make technology more useful to business. Among the technologies CompuWare is working on for the next major release of Uniface is a business paradigm geared towards business processes. "In traditional application development, developers attempt to capture the processes by asking the user what they are doing," explained Frank Slootman, vice president and general manager of Uniface. "Really, user interaction should be by exception," he said, "such as when the application cannot continue running on its own because it needs more information or authority." Slootman concluded that developers should ask themselves three questions: why do we have this input screen, what is the value of this process, and how can we add value?
Cotton seedling freezes to death as Chang'e-4 shuts down for the Moon's 14-day lunar night
Fortnite easily out-earns PUBG, Assassin's Creed Odyssey and Red Dead Redemption 2 in 2018
Meteor showers as a service will be visible for about 100 kilometres in all directions
Saturn's rings only formed in the past 100 million years, suggests analysis of Cassini space probe data
New findings contradict conventional belief that Saturn's rings were formed along with the planet about 4.5 billion years ago