Oh the joys of leading edge technology! If you are reading about the Web, and who isn't, you are seeing HTML, CGI, Java, and ActiveX. Which one should you use to build your web presence? That depends. We have studied each of these in detail and developed products that easily interface them with COBOL. Here are some thoughts that might help you to determine your strategy.

HTML and CGI

Most interactive web sites are being built today with HTML and CGI. This approach is technically simple and will work with any browser and client operating system. CGI imposes an architecture that is interactive, but not as highly interactive as desktop applications. The dialog is structured a page at a time. The user completes a page of input which is sent to the server to process. The server processes the page and returns a new page to the user. No field by field interaction is supported. Cobol-CGI helps build this type of application by simplifying the interface between the Web page and the COBOL program.

JAVA

Java is a new and interesting language. Since Netscape and Internet Explorer are both Java enabled there is no doubt Java is for real. Only time will tell whether it is adopted on a large scale for developing interactive commercial web applications. Java is only implemented in the 32-bit world, so anyone running Windows 3.1 is prevented from running Java applications.

Java's strength is that it is a full-featured programming language capable of developing any type of application you want. It does not provide specialized capabilities for business processing, but can certainly be used for business application development. Java is simpler than C++, but far more complex than COBOL or Visual Basic. In a nutshell, you can create a highly interactive, desktop type application with Java, that can communicate over the Internet.

We have created a Cobol-RPCclass that will allow Java applications to execute remote COBOL applications over the Internet. This means that the order entry program you create to run on the Java client can easily call your legacy COBOL programs on the server for data retrieval and storage.

ActiveX

Visual Basic 5.0 provides the capability to create ActiveX controls. This is an exciting development. With Visual Basic 5.0 you can put buttons and check boxes and text boxes in a container, attach VB code to their events, and turn all of this into a control you can place on your Web page. This is a simple approach to creating highly interactive applications.

Simple, and somewhat proprietary. Currently, only Internet Explorer supports ActiveX. Netscape 3.0 will support it through a third party plug-in, but future versions of Netscape will probably support ActiveX since Microsoft does not seem to want to keep ActiveX as proprietary technology.

Of course, these ActiveX controls need to be able to access COBOL logic and data on the server. Cobol-RPC does just that. It allows your ActiveX controls to execute COBOL programs on the server. This means you can easily integrate a VB/ActiveX client with legacy COBOL programs for data access and storage.

Internet without the Web

The beauty of the Web is it's easy accessibility. Anyone running a Web browser anywhere in the world can interact with a Web based application. No other specialized client software is required. This is the advantage of the Web and Web based applications, their wide availability.

This widespread availability does come at a price. A Web based application's user interface is limited by the browser's capabilities. Its server interaction is limited by the server interface. If you could build an application that utilized the Internet, without the Web, you could build it faster, easier, with a better user interface, and with better performance. What you need to do this is a way to distribute your application between an Internet client and server.

Cobol-RPC does just that. Think about how the COBOL CALL statement works. Program A calls Program B, passing it some parameters. Program B operates on those parameters, may access data files, then returns the updated parameter values to Program A. Now imagine Program A running on your Internet client and Program B running on your Internet server. That's what Cobol-RPC does.

With this capability, it becomes a straightforward task to separate your application into client programs (data entry, validation) and server programs (posting, data access). The client programs are executed on the Internet client and the server programs can be executed on the Internet server. Now you control the Internet client/server interface.

If you are considering integrating your application with the Internet, why not give us a call at 712-767-2270 or e-mail us at ets@netins.net. We would be glad to help you explore your options.


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