ClientSoft Puts an AS/400 Spin on XML

The late 1990's have witnessed a return to the concept of universal and unencumbered data access, driven first by the Internet and the Java programming language, and most recently by the hype surrounding the Extensible Mark-up Language (XML). The promise of XML is real, however, and if software vendor ClientSoft Inc. (Hawthorne, N.Y.) has its way, the AS/400 and other so-called "legacy" systems may soon leverage their own iteration of XML-dubbed Terminal Emulation Extensible Mark-up Language (TxML) as a means to gain new found relevance in many enterprise environments.

"I don't think you're going to find anybody telling people to toss out their legacy systems and start from scratch on top of XML," acknowledges Coco Jaenicke, manager of product marketing with Object Design Inc. (Burlington, Mass.), a software vendor that produces the client/server-based eXcelon XML Data Server. "A legacy system works, they're established and they're popular and they're everywhere, and XML allows you to effectively leverage them."

But the fact remains that XML, whatever its promise, was originally developed for and largely within the client/server or distributed computing worlds. Many XML applications are written for popular client/server platforms such as Windows NT or any of several Unix flavors. Even Bluestone Software's (Mount Laurel, N.J.) XML Suite is a Java-based application rather than a native AS/400 one.

Accordingly, ClientSoft announced plans to develop TxML, an XML standard for IBM 5250 and 3270 terminal emulators, as a means to enable both the AS/400 and mainframe operating environments to participate in XML's platform-independent data access model. TxML works by allowing application developers to directly access system data in terminal emulator programs without actually needing an API.

"TxML's separation of content and presentation in modeling mainframe data gives application builders the freedom to program more quickly, efficiently and smarter," says ClientSoft president Scott Nevios. "TxML is automatically scalable and provides a standard format for transmission to a legacy database and data sharing between applications."

ClientSoft has integrated the TxML standard into its ClientBuilder product line, a development toolset for enterprise-to-enterprise, enterprise-to-Web and enterprise-to-wireless legacy data extension solutions. In addition, the company hopes to provide its TxML specification to the World Wide Web Consortium (Cambridge, Mass.).

According to Object Design's Jaenicke, the beauty of XML is it can readily be extended to embrace even highly specialized standards such as TxML. What it all adds up to, she maintains, is a language--XML--that can restore the relevancy of "legacy" systems in many enterprise environments, even those in which sexier and less reliable client/server systems have perpetrated an unwelcome encroachment. "XML neutralizes platform disparity--it's effectively the lingua franca for the middle tier. XML is the lingua franca for doing e-business," she concludes, noting that the power of XML is precisely this type of extensibility: Software vendors or systems integrators can create XML connectors to virtually any operating environment.

Tim Minahan, a senior analyst in e-commerce with Boston-based consulting firm Aberdeen Group, agrees, noting that XML-based solutions are a boon to enterprise application integration efforts. "Aberdeen believes that XML technologies have the ability to provide support for open application integration, allowing disparate systems to interoperate with one another," he says.

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