ANALYSIS: IBM's Operations Navigator--Not Bad

By John Bussert

With the recent release of IBM's Client Access version 3.2, IBM is finally starting to show us just what a graphical interface can do for us. Once you get over the fear of change, you can see the new release shows promise.

I never really gave it much thought until recently. A client of mine had just lost some of their staff and a PC guru, who of course thought the 400 was outdated, was taking over some of the operational slack.

I was showing him some of the things that he had to watch for and things to do. You know little things like backup, turning it on, adding users, and other basic activities. We had just loaded the new release of Client Access, so I suggested that we use that since it was graphical, and this PC guru might feel more at home.

Low and behold, it was not all that bad. I for one hate the 5250 graphical interface, because it is so restrictive, you can not resize, and unless you purchase the tool yourself, you bounce in and out of the environment as you go from a screen that allows the screen scraper to work, to one that does not. It gives me a headache.

Anyway, as I was showing him some of the things you can do with the graphical interface of Operations Navigator, I was pleasantly surprised. It was fairly intuitive, and coming from the PC background, it was easier for him to understand. More importantly, it combined a number of commands into one or more related panels. As an example, adding or changing a user was much easier using this tool than WRKUSRPRF. It shows the users in a selection box, you can drill down to detail that has the various user options available on tabbed panels. It is much nicer than the silly little '+' boxes we have in the normal command interface, which always confuses new users.

Another thing I liked was the system backup section. Much nicer than GO BACKUP, this option shows the libraries, and has check boxes for Daily, Weekly, and Monthly schedules. All you have to do is select it, and you backup will take place. That is, of course, if you schedule it, and even the scheduler is on the Navigator, so you can schedule jobs at a certain time (this is much nicer than the silly NT scheduler which is still done in a DOS box).

What I found is that he picked up on things much quicker by using the graphical tool. I had a little frustration, because I did not know instantly where to go. Instead of just keying in the command I already knew, I had to find the path to click through to get to the information I wanted. However, that was quickly overcome by the niceties of the way they designed the panels that showed the information that was available.

Another nice feature was the fact that it indicated how current the data on my display was. This is nice since it was the only way to know what I was looking at was current data. Almost anything you would like to do from an operations standpoint, you can do from this tool. IPL (or for the PC guy - reboot), setting up communications, working with jobs in the system, or manipulating outqueues.

You can even look at files (although this was slower than I would have liked). You can drill right down into databases, files, and field descriptions from the databases icon. Of course all I could think of while showing this to him was, "He is going to go in there and mess something up, and I'll pay for it".

In some cases, it is nice to not have full access to things you do not understand, but then, that is just experience talking, and that does not seem to be worth what it once was.

If you have more than one AS/400, you will love the ability to do all these things from the one application window. All your 400's show up (assuming they are connected, or at least you are connected to them). Just click on the machine you want to administer, and, away you go.

All in all, the tool was pretty well thought out and executed. I could perform a little better, but that is as much a part of collecting the data to show, as anything. If you click on a library with 2000 files, it takes a while to retrieve them all.

If you have not yet looked at the tool, try it, you may really like it. One word of caution: The default on the install is NOT to install all the operational components. This makes sense, since you do not want everyone to have an operator's console on his or her desktop. So you have to go to the custom install and select the components to install. Give it a try, it might improve the way people look at the 400.

John Bussert is president of Swift Technologies (Marengo, Ill.), a company specializing in AS/400 and Windows NT software.