A RAD Approach to Web-Building

Some AS/400 rapid application development environments that were popular during the first part of the decade are seeing new life in today’s network-centric world. Case in point is the evolution of Lansa (Oak Brook, Ill.), which recently began shipping new toolsets for building Web-based applications on the AS/400.

A new version of Lansa for the Web, which generates HTML pages from AS/400 data, includes a starter pack of sample code for Web applications, Java applets, and other graphical capabilities. Simultaneously, Lansa announced Visual Lansa, a graphical development tool that generates C++ and Java code for Windows and Web deployment.

Lansa for the Web was used to build both the IBM AS/400 (www.as400.ibm.com) and Common Web sites (www.common.org), and is driving a surge in AS/400-related e-commerce business, says Bill Benjamin, VP of business development at LANSA. The company is projecting growth over the coming year between 30 and 40 percent, mainly due to Web site development.

"Lansa for the Web is taking us into places and into companies we otherwise wouldn’t have been in," he says.

Lansa is positioning its tools as a more database-centric alternative or complement to Lotus Domino, which is being aggressively pushed by IBM as an AS/400 Web server environment, says Benjamin. Lansa’s products retain 4GL and repository technology from its early days as a rapid application development environment. In fact, Lansa for the Web can be used for building standard 5250-based AS/400 applications, he points out.

Lansa’s target audience consists of AS/400 sites that require "transactional line-of-business applications integrated with their AS/400 data," says Benjamin. "Domino is more workflow-document centric, while Lansa is transactional. Domino has e-mail, online forum, document and workflow capability – which Lansa doesn’t have. Lansa uses a DB2/400 relational database, which is very good for performing transactions, order-entry, online reservations, where you’re going to be updating 30 or 40 different files. We have customers that are combining Domino and Lansa, where Lansa does a transaction, enters an order, and Domino creates documents, work orders and invoices."

Inter-American Data (Lawrenceville, Ga.), provider of hotel and casino management software, now offers Web-based online reservations systems built with Lansa for the Web. "Lansa for the Web has allowed us to quickly extend our AS/400 package to the Web," says Criss Chrestman, manager of development at Inter-American.

Visual Lansa includes component-based development, object-oriented support and Internet deployment options, and is architected for both Windows and Java generation from one Lansa source code program. Visual Lansa complements Lansa for the Web by providing an option for rapid development of high-speed graphical applications that can be deployed to the Web or to Windows.

While Lansa intends to remain an AS/400-centric vendor, Benjamin points out that its new products support Windows NT systems that integrate with the AS/400. Plus, there is a lot of potential for building Visual Lansa-based applications to run smart devices such as smart cards and phones, he says. "We see Visual Lansa being used for the generation of the Java applications in these devices."