Sunday, 15 December 2013

Death of the green screen

As classic mainframe subsystems, such as IMS and CICS, start planning what to do for their 50th birthdays, it comes as a bit of a surprise to not only find that so many green screens are still in use within organizations, but, perhaps even more surprisingly as I found at a recent technical conference, so many sysprogs were saying that they felt happier using green screens. For them, anything else was just a fancy add on. They liked working close to the bare metal (as it were). Well, I have some bad news for them. I predict the death of the green screen in 2014!

Ignoring the fact that many mainframe experts have a 5 or a 6 as the first digit in their age, ignoring the fact that they are completely familiar with the green screens they use, and they have been using them for the greater part of their working life. I believe that mainframe display screens will start to look modern – as though they were designed in 2014 and not 1964 – because that’s what most people will want.

Think about your life style for the moment. You expect to get online and do banking at any time – that’s using a mainframe. You expect to be able to book a flight whenever you want – that’s another mainframe. You simply expect to be able to work at any time that suits you on any device that’s to hand – a laptop, tablet, smartphone. And large organizations want to be able to continue enjoying the benefits of their mainframe. So let’s put those together.

For many people, they simply want to use their browser to ‘see’ what’s going on inside the mainframe. And that browser could be on any of a number of platforms. People just want it to work. It’s got to be platform agnostic, and it would be really be useful if the display took into account the screen size of the device being used to run the browser software.

One way to do that is for the mainframe application to use JSON to send information to an HTML server (also on the mainframe) that then sends out pages to the browser. Using, for example, knockout.js it’s possible to take JSON data and format it with sophisticated client-side interactivity. In other words, it makes it look very modern – and is very useful.

Another solution is to create mobile apps. Software AG has webMethods, which offers, they claim, secure, high-performance communication infrastructure that combines message-queueing capabilities with built-in support for synchronous request/reply and conversational communication. It provides wrapping technology and programming interfaces that can turn existing application functions into business services. Business logic and security functions can be applied to information before it is supplied to a mobile app and before information from the mobile app is applied to the target (core) database.

Software AG suggests that this approach is ideal for managing interactions for tightly-coupled, time-critical user applications. Their examples are a sales representative wanting to check a buyer’s credit or a consumer looking for an insurance quote for their car. Any activity that requires the mobile user to enter information that is sent back to the core application for processing and which then returns a result would benefit from this approach.

Of course, once you go down the app route, you need an app for Android, and app for Windows 8, and app for Blackberry, an app for Apple IOS, etc.

The other reason that I predict the death of green screens is the growth of younger developers who expect a graphical interface. They want programming to be a drag-and-drop activity. It shouldn’t be any harder to use a mainframe than it is to use a games console, or a tablet device, or anything else. It should be intuitive. The software should ‘nudge’ you towards doing whatever task you appear to be doing. That’s where skeuomorphism comes in – making on-screen icons look like real world devices, so using them is more intuitive. And the software should display results in a way that makes drilling down for more information quick and intuitive. And it may be that the software is designed for touch screens.

There’s a very old Star Trek film (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home) where Scotty sits down in front of a current computer (it was 1986) and talks to it – nothing happens. Someone gives him the mouse to use, and Scotty speaks into the mouse! We’re used to Siri and other voice interfaces. Maybe soon things like Nuance’s Dragon NaturallySpeaking will be available for everyone to use. But, for the moment, I’m simply predicting coloured screens everywhere (and the green screens will be gone).

If you do celebrate Christmas – have a great one. And if you don’t, have a great time anyway!

No comments: