Product Review: Host On-Demand delivers flexibility

Generally, Web-to-host products function in a similar manner -- clients visit a Web site to which they can establish a host session by way of a Java-based applet. But each of the products reviewed on these pages manages this operation in a different way. Due to its flexible pricing, IBM's eNetwork Host On-Demand 3.0 is a safe bet. It offers easy deployment and easily keeps pace with some stiff competition. Although it offers no ActiveX-based emulator viewer, Host On-Demand does offer multiple Java-based clients to choose from, each suited for a specific type of user.

Host On-Demand works with a variety of Web servers on multiple platforms and delivers Java-based emulators for mainframe, AS/400, and VT display sessions. Version 3.0 now offers 3270 Host Printing to workgroup printers across a LAN. Other enhancements include improved administration functions via a redesigned interface; a choice of multiple Java-based emulator viewers ranging in footprint size and functionality; application development via the Host Access Class Library API and Host Access Beans for Java functionality; and AS/400 database access support.

Flexible pricing makes this solution appealing: you purchase concurrent client licenses rather than a server and separate clients. You can also purchase Host On-Demand separately or as part of IBM's Host Integration Solution.

Also, IBM's solution is more affordable than other solutions. For example, Attachmate's solution is priced at $US4,995 per server, with client costs ranging from $65 to $425 per concurrent license. By contrast, Host On-Demand does not charge for the server -- only per concurrent licence.

Overall performance was much faster using Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.01 (with Service Pack 1); Netscape Communicator 4.5 took a bit more time to process the Java components. Performance varies depending on which client you use; Java applets can persist locally once downloaded (unless you opt to have the client download the component each time). In all, however, Internet Explorer 4.01 (Service Pack 1) outperformed Communicator 4.5, as was the case with the other products reviewed in these pages.

Specific emulator enhancements now include the capability to show a host screen much like a GUI, using ResQ!Net/LE. Those unaccustomed to "green screens" will like this feature. Other cosmetic improvements include the capability to easily change screen colors using the new Color Remapping feature.

Unlike many of its competitors, such as WRQ's EnterView, Host On-Demand now includes macro recording, saving, editing, and playing capabilities, which come in handy for a variety of tasks. For example, just as you can automatically launch an applet at start-up, you can have a macro automatically run when launching a session.

For developers, the new JavaBeans and enhanced Java-based API will be particularly helpful when creating Web applications that offer a GUI front end to legacy data. Like Version 2.0, online help is included, but unfortunately, samples are limited.

Although the CD-ROM I received included no support for centralised management, by the time this is printed you should be able to download a Corrective Service Diskette that will offer a feature that tracks concurrent licences.

Implementing Host On-Demand took minimal effort. I was able to complete its simple installation without rebooting, making it possible to begin administering the system immediately.

With the addition of User Groups support, I saved considerable time configuring sessions for multiple users. Rather than associating sessions with each user, I simply created groups, defined default host sessions, and then associated them with selected groups, a feature that Version 2.0 did not have. Located on the Getting Started page are links to the three primary Java-based emulator viewers: Cache client, Download client, and Function On-Demand client. Each is suited for a specific type of user.

You can also install the local Windows client, which, though Java-based, works much like a standard emulator.

With excellent pricing, security, and extensibility, as well as easy deployment, Version 3.0 is well-suited for any company that wants to roll out a Web-to-host solution.

Jeff Senna (jeff_senna@infoworld.com) is a technology analyst at the InfoWorld Test Center.

The bottom line: very good

eNetwork Host On-Demand, Version 3.0

This impressive Web-to-host solution offers many top-notch features at an excellent price.

Pros: Enhanced administration and application development; macros; GUI-based display; 3270 host printing; AS/400 database connectivity; multiple clients.

Cons: Lackluster JavaBean samples; saving preset SQL queries is cumbersome; no centralised management.

Platforms: Server: All major Web servers. Client: Any Java Development Kit 1.1-compliant Web browser (not including Mac OS).

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