WebTerm Serves Thin Web-to-Host Without Java

Challenging the notion that Java and thin client technologies must necessarily become synonymous, White Pine Software Inc. (Nashua, N.H.) debuted in late August a new version of its "thin" Web-to-host terminal emulation client, which runs natively on either Windows or Macintosh.

Highlighting the list of enhancements available with WebTerm 1.5 are support for TN5250 emulation and Netscape Java Archive (JAR) files, as well as ThinTerm, a stand-alone program for Windows that integrates WebTerm ActiveX control and enables WebTerm sessions without a browser.

As with the majority of Web-to-host products in the AS/400 host access market, WebTerm is designed to enable network administrators to change terminal emulation session configurations from a central location. WebTerm is distinguished by the fact that it is not a Java applet but is instead based on 100 percent "native" software, for both Windows and Macintosh. This architecture enables WebTerm to offer JavaScript, ActiveX and built-in macro capabilities.

"Whether the user is working in a Windows or Macintosh environment, the code that comes down is written native for that platform," says Steve Roche, general manager for White Pine's connectivity products group. The software is installed into the browser on the user's system, either as a plug-in or an ActiveX control. "It's a very small footprint, but also a very powerful tool," he adds.

Version 1.5 of WebTerm includes TN5250, TN3270 and VT420 emulations, supports multiple sessions and emulation types running simultaneously and offers centralized deployment using Microsoft CAB and Netscape JAR files for auto-installation of the WebTerm client over a network. It also features open API for JavaScript and VBScript support, in addition to ThinTerm.

Newly available with version 1.5, ThinTerm is a Windows application and component of WebTerm that has access, through its menus, to WebTerm. WebTerm sessions can be embedded anywhere there is an ActiveX container, according to Kevin McCormick, product manager for the connectivity division of White Pine. "ThinTerm was designed for users having trouble with key mapping."

Support for JAR files is also a major component of the new version. In its previous release--WebTerm 1.1--the product already supported CAB files, which facilitated automatic and transparent installation on Internet Explorer. JAR files do the same thing on the Netscape side, beginning with Netscape 4.0 browsers, according to Roche. "JAR file support is very important to any White Pine customer committed to Netscape as their browser."

Whereas WebTerm previously offered support for JavaScript, the latest version adds support for VBScript. "Support for VBScript and JavaScript is important so Web page developers can write code that's in the Web page that talks to WebTerm," Roche says. "Of course, our API is also accessible from programs written in Java, C, or whatever. The product's support of ActiveX enables all of this."

White Pine--of which 35 to 40 percent of its customer base is comprised of AS/400 shops--is in the process of adding support for TN5250e support, primarily to enable device naming. According to Roche, this is likely to be available with the next version of WebTerm, due before the end of the year.

"Because we have native code on both platforms, we're in a much better position to do high-quality key mapping and integrate with the [operating system]. You find a lot of Java applets that are not seamless with the OS they're running under because they're trying to support everything at once," Roche says.

While one industry watcher agrees that WebTerm's capability to run natively on client devices is an asset, she expresses mixed feelings regarding the absence of Java. "A lot of the developers would prefer to work with Java, would prefer a Java applet and would prefer to implement a Java solution, because that's where the market is going," says Darcy Fowkes, research director with Aberdeen Group (Boston).

Fowkes is quick to point out that WebTerm's native thin client architecture provides a solid alternative to Java-based thin client solutions. "There is much simplicity and guaranteed processing potential in the native thin client component that Java cannot compete with at this time," she says. Java is, however, "catching up quickly."

The key to success in the host access market is performance, according to Fowkes. While the capability to run natively on a platform has performance advantages over Java today, some IT professionals are willing to tolerate Java's enterprise-level immaturity in return for the technology's promising future.