Microsoft, ASNA Integrate Visual RPG, Visual Studio

Amalgamated Software of North America (ASNA, San Antonio, Texas) has reached an agreement to integrate its flagship product, Visual RPG, with Microsoft's Visual Studio. The agreement is a product of the Visual Studio Integration Program (VSIP) – a new concept Microsoft is prepping for the release of Visual Studio 7. The first RPG-ready version of Visual Studio is expected in Q2, 2001.

In a May 1 product review, MIDRANGE Systems Editor-in-Chief Chris Amaru called Visual RPG "an innovative product that brings a fresh visual face to RPG." He continued, "It allows you to leverage your programmers’ existing RPG skills, while at the same time moving forward and keeping pace with the newest technology."

Microsoft has been pursuing RPG programmers in recent years with limited success, but by integrating Visual RPG, Microsoft now has access to the entire AS/400 development community.
However, Amaru was critical of Visual RPG's homegrown IDE, calling it a "rough edge," and explaining that "those familiar with Microsoft's Visual Basic development tool will be most comfortable with the Visual RPG IDE, but even seasoned VB/RPG programmers will have to get used to its quirks."

Seemingly aware of Visual RPG's IDE shortcomings, Eduardo Ross, VP of Research and Development for ASNA, explains that by becoming a VSIP partner, ASNA will be able to leverage Microsoft's mind share in IDE to concentrate its efforts on language development. "In reality," says Ross, "ASNA provides value to the 400 community by developing a better language and connecting to 400, not really in developing a better IDE."

Microsoft's Visual Studio is widely regarded among industry insiders as a leading edge IDE, and Microsoft has the wherewithal to properly fund an ongoing research and development effort. ASNA figures to benefit tremendously from these two factors. Upgrading from a cumbersome, pre-packaged IDE to what many believe is one of the best will make Visual RPG a more robust offering, instantly. While siphoning off the enhancements made by Microsoft's research and development team should keep Visual RPG on the cutting-edge well into the future.

The agreement also represents a major coup for Microsoft, as the convergent pressure created by an increasingly wired business environment has made RPG programmers an attractive entity. In fact, Microsoft has been aggressively pursuing this group in recent years, but with limited success. According to Ross, by integrating Visual Studio with Visual RPG, "all of a sudden, Microsoft has access to the 400 developing community."

Echoing this sentiment, Frank Gocinski, VSIP Program Manager for Microsoft, says, "One of our goals is to execute into the enterprise space." But, he adds, "We need help in the areas where we're never going to be offering products." As an AS/400 outfit, ASNA essentially serves as an open doorway for Microsoft.

In terms of functionality, the Visual Studio-enhanced version of Visual RPG will allow RPG programmers to create Windows-like GUI applications for referencing database files in the same way an RPG program running on an AS/400 would. Specifically, the new solution will enable an RPG programmer to more easily port existing RPG applications to a Windows environment; build GUI applications from scratch to initiate components for use with ActiveX or XML; and migrate RPG applications to the Web.

Upon release of Visual Studio 7, Microsoft plans to offer both VSIP and public versions of the product, says Gocinski. The VSIP version will provide tightly integrated solutions for midrange companies to resell. The public version, on the other hand, will provide integrative capability only through a plug-in, and is intended for generic use.

Currently, VSIP has attracted approximately 40 members. And Gocinski says Microsoft is aiming to add at least 60 more. Under VSIP, Gocinski explains, Microsoft hopes to offer a three-tier package plan: 1) software that will automatically detect and integrate with a pre-existing version of Visual Studio on a user's desktop; 2) a version of Visual Studio pre-packaged with the software already integrated; or 3) a version of Visual Studio that will detect and integrate a pre-existing version of software on a user's desktop (this option may not be available for the 7.0 release).

Related Editorial:

  • A Different View of RPG

    Related Information:

  • Amalgamated Software of North America (new window)
  • Visual RPG Overview (new window)
  • Microsoft Visual Studio Overview (new window)
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