Opal ii Puts Host Apps on a Fast Track

SAN MATEO (03/13/2000) - Jasmine ii isn't the only new thing under the sun at Computer Associates International Inc. (see our Test Center Analysis). The company will also soon release a new version of its Opal host publishing solution with the "ii" moniker. Opal ii holds promise as more than just a tool for mapping and developing Web-to-host applications: It provides a complete software infrastructure for developers to work in via its tight integration with the Jasmine ii framework.

Opal has always competed with leaders in the host publishing space, notably IBM's SecureWay Host Publisher and Attachmate's e-Vantage Host Publishing System. Nevertheless, Opal has never been particularly strong in shops where prior CA presence did not exist. But Web-to-host consumers will face a very different product when Opal ii makes its debut. CA has reinvented the Opal product, piggybacking it on the new Jasmine ii framework and making Opal a "Provider" to the Jasmine architecture.

Our exclusive early beta look at Opal reveals a product that has a wealth of development capabilities but a long way to go before it's production-ready. To perform our evaluation required the on-site assistance of CA, who helped us install, configure, and use the framework and its tools. Rather than hand over a full build for our use, CA brought us workstations with the Opal and Jasmine code preinstalled, as well as some prebuilt applications to demonstrate functionality.

Although pricing information was not available at press time, Opal will be an optional Provider to Jasmine ii, meaning it will have its own price tag on top of what companies must pay to acquire Jasmine ii. Currently, Opal ii is limited to the Windows platform, but CA officials say ports to Solaris and other Unix flavors are in the works.

The Jasmine ii framework provides a uniform interface for working with heterogeneous or distributed information sources. Providers such as COM (Component Object Model), CORBA (Common Object Request Broker Architecture), and Opal plug in to this framework enabling specific details such as name spaces, classes, properties, methods, and associated objects to be exposed and represented as components.

In the case of Opal, this framework will speed developers along as they build new applications using data and logic from existing host-based systems, thus improving developer productivity. Developers can also leverage their skills with third-party development tools, such as IBM's VisualAge for Java and Microsoft's Visual Studio, via Jasmine ii's application integration kits .

Companies need to be prepared for the hefty system requirements of this pluggable architecture. You'll need at least 256MB for memory and 400MB for storage.

Opal supports most host types such as IBM mainframes via TN3270 /TN3270E and IBM AS/400s via TN5250. Unix sites that require VT support should be forewarned that only VT100 and VT220 terminal types are currently supported. We could find no evidence of print support.

Using a simple 3270-based application we found at a local university for performing student directory lookups, we put Opal ii to the test by creating a Web page from which we would perform lookup and also update operations on the host's data. To do this, we created an HSD (Host Screen Definition) file via Opal's Host Mapper application. The file, which contains all of the host connection, navigation, screen, and field information, records the interactions with the legacy application and is used later to define and utilize specific parts of the application.

Once we saved our HSD file and defined all the fields we would be using in our new application, we fired up the Jasmine ii Builder and, using a series of wizards, began defining the HTML pages that an end-user would interact with.

Using the provided HTML editor proved to be fairly uneventful, but I felt constrained by only being able to define the tags via the toolbar, and would have preferred an easier interface to work from.

The tool required me to work among a confusing series of screens comprising the HTML content editor, the HTML tag Object Palette, the applications Object Structure, and the methods window. Despite the clutter, I was able to build my application and even include a few page-level methods for searching data.

Although I was able to build a detailed application within a few hours, I felt at the end of it like I had run a marathon. Even when we forgive the many bugs, the development tools still felt primitive, requiring me to constantly switch between screens, and retype information from one screen to the next.

Should CA improve the workflow, the possibilities of using Opal ii within the Jasmine ii framework makes legacy extension something to look forward to.

Tim Fielden (tim_fielden@infoworld.com) is a senior analyst for the InfoWorld Test Center.


Opal ii, beta

Business Case: Opal ii has the capability of leveraging a common infrastructure and tool sets for application development. This allows programmers to easily make the transition from legacy extension to custom development of other applications.

Technology Case: Developers will find Jasmine ii's object-oriented framework a worthy environment for developing both Web-to-host applications and those required for e-business. As a Jasmine Provider, Opal ii integrates smoothly with the Jasmine framework.


+ Strong integration with Jasmine ii provides a consistent development infrastructure+ Supports most emulation types+ Works with most development tools+ Strong scalability potentialCons:

- Hefty system requirements

- Limited platform support

- Requires investment in the Jasmine ii frameworkCost: Not available at press timePlatform(s): Windows NT 4.0 or laterShipping: Summer 2000Computer Associates International Inc., Islandia, N.Y.; (877) 438-6725; www.cai.com.

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