Windows 3270 Emulators In The Right Frame Of Mindby Brendan Scott
Mainframes aren't dying, and client/server computing hasn't killed them just yet, so 3270 software is still an important commodity for most large environments. We tested seven Windows-based 3270 emulators, including: Simware A2B, Eicon Technology Access for Windows,3270, NetSoft DynaComm/ Elite, Attachmate EXTRA! for Windows, Attachmate Irma for the Mainframe, IBM Corp. Personal Communications/3270 and Wall Data Rumba for the Mainframe.
We tested connections to an IBM 3090 via coax CUT and DFT, Token-Ring and Ethernet topologies over DLC (LLC 802.2), IPX/SPX and TCP/IP through a Novell SAA Gateway v1.3 and the Microsoft SNA Server v1.0 and TN3270.
Without scoring a knockout punch in any single category, DynaComm/Elite was consistently strong in all categories, and its application developer's program was the most powerful. Wall Data's Rumba also did quite well. Although it didn't have the programming horsepower of DynaComm and cost more to operate for one year, Rumba was just plain easy to install, customize and use.
DynaComm/Elite was the best overall product, despite only being superior in a single category. More important, DynaComm was strongest in both customization and software development.
Getting Started DynaComm is one of two programs with an interactive installation utility (Rumba is the other). DynaComm's QuickStart is supposed to make it easier for end users to configure a session, but it has a few problems. If we made a mistake, QuickStart continued and it took several minut es to get back on track. When selecting the NetWare for SAA Gateway option, QuickStart connects to the first SAA gateway it can find instead of asking for a preference. The Microsoft SNA Server connection in QuickStart did not let us select a specific LU, but connected to the first LU available. QuickStart is just an option, however.
Customization Launching the DynaComm icon loads an application window, which can hold up to five terminal and printer sessions. We could customize and save sessions, but then we had to create an icon manually to launch the customized application window. Extra! and Rumba created the icon automatically.
The keyboard layout in DynaComm is dynamically remappable. That is, a user can change a key's function in real time without having to log off and close the session. You can't map macros and scripts to the keyboard as you can in EXTRA! or Irma, however.
You can customize DynaComm's keypad utility, Flashpad, so that each session has its own unique keypad, which automatically loads with its session. The Flashpad editor was difficult to use, mainly because the text on Flashpad keys is hard to read, even on a 21-inch monitor in VGA mode. Like in EXTRA! and PC/3270, you can map scripts and macros to keys on the Flashpad and, like with Rumba, you can arrange keys by color. Only DynaComm lets users have various key sizes in a single keypad.
DynaComm has hot spots that appear as raised buttons on the selected field. As with EXTRA!, you can also associate hot spots to macros, keys and 3270 functions.
A2B, Access and DynaComm all come with built-in programming languages. DynaComm's Script Language is the most feature-laden, with the ability to do conditional execution, create variables, pass parameters and do subroutines. You can dynamically reconfigure the user interface, and the script language includes the most extensive control over the Windows operating environment. From the Script menu in a DynaComm session you can create a script and compile it while logged onto an application.
With the DynaComm Script Language you can create a complete communications application. DDE and HLLAPI routines can be built into compiled programs. NetSoft also provides application developer's toolkits for Microsoft Visual Basic and C++.
Wall Data Rumba
Although Rumba did not take top honors in any one category, it did consistently well in every category except cost. Rumba had the third highest list price and the second highest cost of ownership. We found Rumba easy to install, customize and use, and it had the most extensive gateway connection list. Its lack of an internal developer's programming language was a downfall.
Getting Started Rumba has one of the fastest installation programs. You can install it to a server for shared access, but this option is not quite clear during the installation. Nevertheless, when we chose a custom installation we could place a private directory on either a local or network drive, where one 38-byte .INI file got stored. Any configurations we created were saved to the private directory.
Rumba's configuration utility, FastPath, like DynaComm's QuickStart, works interactively to configure a session. Like QuickStart, FastPath needs work. For the Novell SAA Gateway option, FastPath tried to connect to the first gateway it found. For TN3270, it didn't ask which stack was loaded and tried to use Frontier's TCP/IP stack, which is the first stack on the configuration program's list. As with DynaComm, we found it easier to configure the session connections manually.
Customization Creating a custom layout in Rumba was a bit difficult. We could only launch multiple sessions by creating all the sessions individually, and then writing a macro to run the other sessions from one session. Only A2B was similarly limited.
You can customize the keyboard map dynamically, so you can remap while still logged onto the host. In the keyboard mapping utility, the keyboard appears as a graphical display but, unlike in EXTRA!, pres sing the Shift, Alt or Control keys in the display did not let us see what was mapped to the keys. We had to select the function we wanted from a list to see what it was mapped to. We could then add, change or remove the mapping for that function. There was no drag-and-drop capability in the keyboard editor and we could not assign macros to the keyboard.
Rumba's keypad can hold up to 192 keys. You can resize it to accommodate them. The Rumba keypad buttons can be keys, 3270 functions or macros. Each key can also be colored.
Rumba's hot spots can execute commands or macros. You can edit them dynamically and associate them with specific sessions.
Rumba, A2B, DynaComm and PC/ 3270 support batch file transfers to and from the host. Rumba also supports printing host files and PROFS/Office Vision notes through the terminal session. A2B does this, but requires a SimWare program running on the mainframe. EXTRA! and PC/3270 do terminal session printing as well, but both products use a separate program from the emulator. Only Rumba does its printing from a menu in the terminal session.
Eicon Technology Access
Access performed well on the strength of its application development tools and its low cost. Access includes developer's toolkits for HLLAPI, Microsoft Visual Basic and C, in addition to its own high-level programming language. Access would have done best in the installation category, but it took up more disk space than any of the other emulators, and still needs a TSR for some connections.
Getting Started Access for Windows had the best installation program we tested. It can be run in an "Administrator" mode, which installs the program to a network drive and then lets you immediately create configurations for multiple end users, including customized keyboards, keypads and multisession layouts. Each end user then runs a User Install program that moves their configuration files to their local drive and creates a program group for Access.
However, a full install took up 15 MB of disk space--at least 25 percent more than any other program. It was also the only program that still needs a network driver TSR under DOS to maintain a host connection.
Configuring Access for TCP/IP was confusing. During installation, the program requested a HOSTS file, even though we were using the Domain Name System (DNS) and didn't want one. After installing Access, we simply configured a TCP/IP session by either adding a host name from DNS or hard coding an IP address. Curiously, the installation program never offered us the option of creating a HOSTS file.
Manually configuring Access was easy. When configuring an SAA Gateway session, the program listed all available SAA Gateways and let us choose one. Likewise, for SNA Server, Access listed the available LUs and let us choose one.
Customizing The Access Customization Utility lets users define nearly every aspect of their session, from cursor type to the priority the system will assign to Access macros and DDE calls. You can even define which items will be accessible on the menu to protect keyboard maps and keypads from user changes. Only Access, Irma and PC/3270 allow menu editing.
Access lets users create a window with multiple terminal sessions and then save all the sessions as a single file. Unfortunately, the configuration program does not create an icon for it.
The easy-to-use Access keyboard remapping utility showed a keyboard template and a list of functions. Clicking on a key displayed that key's function in the list. Clicking on a function highlighted the key. The utility still lacks drag-and-drop capability, or the ability to map a macro to a key.
Access' "Keypad" feature wasn't the same keypad feature others had. It's a graphical display of the QWERTY keyboard and a list of host commands and functions that can be activated with a mouse click. The nearest thing to the keypad found in other products is Softkeys--a bar of keys that can be displayed with a terminal session. You can customize the keys with text, functions , commands and macros. Unlike Rumba's keypad, you cannot resize Softkeys; you have to scroll. Access doesn't support hot spots.
Access' programming software lets users develop scripts that link Windows applications via DDE and run host applications using HLLAPI. It does not have DynaComm's ability to control the Windows interface, but it offers more functionality than the macro scripting language found in EXTRA! or Rumba.
Attachmate Corp. EXTRA!
Attachmate EXTRA! did well in customization and technical support. While Access and Irma had the most extensive customization programs, EXTRA! has some features those two don't.
The big news at Attachmate is the merger with DCA. The 5.0 release of EXTRA!--called EXTRA! Personal Client--will be Attachmate's flagship emulator and will include 3270, 5250 and VT emulation, as well as a TCP/IP stack, TCP/IP utilities and Netscape Navigator. It will also include EXTRA's host graphics option at no extra cost.
Getting Started EXTRA! for Windows was totally redesigned in v4.0. The new installation routine is one of the easiest we tested, but a shared access installation required following an eight-page installation guide.
EXTRA! comes with a coupon for a free copy of Novell's LAN Workplace TCP/IP stack. A2B and Rumba include TCP/IP stacks. While Access, DynaComm and PC/3270 support TN3270, they do not include the stack.
Customization EXTRA! lets you easily configure and customize multiple terminal and printer sessions, and save them as a group, or screen layout. It automatically creates an icon for launching the layout, unlike most of the other programs.
In the keyboard editing utility, the 3270 function for each key is displayed on a graphical keyboard layout. As you select the Shift, Alt and Control keys, the corresponding function gets displayed. Only EXTRA! has this feature. All host functions are listed above the layout, along with a description of the function and the key to which it is currently mapped. Only EXTRA ! and Irma keyboard utilities let you drag functions or macros onto the map and drop them onto the desired key.
The EXTRA! keypad, SmartPad, also has a graphical, drag-and-drop configuration utility. You can add keys to control functions, commands and macros. You can customize a different SmartPad for each session in a multisession layout, and it loads automatically with the session. EXTRA's keypad doesn't let users arrange keys on the keypad by color as in Rumba, nor does it have different size keys on the pad like DynaComm.
EXTRA's hot spots are the best we tested. Appearing as raised buttons on the screen, a hot spot can be a 3270 function, a command or a macro. Only EXTRA! gives the user so much control over when and where a hot spot will appear. The user can decide to make a field a hot spot by limiting it to a specific row and column. You can also set up hot spots to run automatically when the hot spot appears on the screen.
The EXTRA! Basic Macro Editor lets you create macros that can be assigned to specific keys or key combinations, to the Macro menu, to a button on the Toolbar or to be automatically run during session startup. The editor lacks the programming power of the scripting languages included with A2B, Access or DynaComm. It doesn't let you create DDE links to other applications, run HLLAPI programs or control the Windows environment.
IBM Personal Communications
PC/3270 performed average overall, despite receiving top scores in several areas. We were amazed to see PC/3270 take up less disk space than any other product. Even when run from a server, the files installed on the user's workstation took up little space. The only product easier to install for shared access was Access, which lets you preconfigure each user's sessions. PC/3270 and Irma were the only products that supported every connectivity option on our list.
PC/3270 was also the only product that included its mainframe graphics program with the emulator at no additional cost. It also lets a user print CMS files an d PROFS/Office Vision notes without a 3287 printer session. PC/3270 has relatively poor application development tools and technical support.
IBM doesn't charge an annual fee for maintenance (upgrades). You have to pay the $145 upgrade fee. We calculated the cost of owning PC/3270 for one year based on the assumption that you wouldn't have to upgrade the product, since IBM does not upgrade PC/3270 often.
Getting Started The network installation of PC/3270 is simple and easily configured. There were a few quirks in the installation program, however. When we selected the Token-Ring DLC configuration, PC/3270 popped up an error message saying it couldn't find an installed copy of the LAN Support Program. We simply continued with the configuration and the session loaded without any problem. When we configured our first TN3270 session, the program asked us for the host IP address. When we tried to configure subsequent sessions to other hosts, the program used the same IP address. We had to finish the configuration and later change the IP address to access multiple hosts.
Customization Unlike EXTRA!, Irma or Rumba, which save layouts to an icon in the configuration program, IBM has a separate program for creating a batch file to load multiple sessions. The program also lets you create an icon for running the batch file. PC/3270 lets you remap the keyboard while logged on, even letting you map macros to the keyboard. PC/3270's keypad also supports macros. IBM's is the only program where the macros were editable from within the keypad utility, letting you create a macro and link it to a key on the keypad while logged onto a host application.
The PC/3270 keypad has buttons that let you toggle through up to four pads of keys, thus giving the user access to as many as 256 keys without having to display them all at once. The keypad cannot be customized for a specific session and does not load with the session, but comes up with a right mouse click. A right mouse click on the keys in the pad displays details of their function--a feature only IBM has.
Hot spots work with keys, functions and macros. We tested all the products on a 21-inch monitor with VGA set at 640 X 480, but even at that resolution, the text on IBM's hot spots was difficult to read when the session was windowed. You cannot edit hot spots but you can create a hot spot for a macro by giving the macro the same name as the text field it will be linked to on the screen.
Attachmate Corp. Irma for the Mainframe
Irma supports lots of connection types, and has excellent technical support. However, its price is too steep.
Irma is now an Attachmate product. The Irma line will fill lower-cost niche requirements. Irma for NetWare, Irma for SNA Server, Irma for TCP/IP and so on, will satisfy the requirements of users who have a heterogeneous environment and don't want to pay for all the extras (so to speak).
Getting Started Irma is very similar to Rumba in its initial configuration. Instead of using a configuration utility like EXTRA! does, Irma simply copies the files to the hard disk, creates a program group and stops. The user then loads each session and configures it. The QuickExec program lets you assign multiple sessions as well as non-Irma applications to an icon. For example, by launching a single icon, you can display multiple terminal sessions, a printer session and an Excel spreadsheet linked via DDE to a database on the host. Only Irma has this feature. Others can launch additional applications, but the user has to create a macro to run the other application.
Customization Irma, Access and PC/3270 were the only programs that let you edit the menus in a terminal session. This lets you prevent changes to keyboard maps and multisession layouts.
Irma's keyboard maps and keypads, like DynaComm's and EXTRA's, have excellent graphical remapping utilities. They all let you drag and drop keys, functions and macros onto the keyboard or keypad.
With Irma's toolbar customizing u tility, you can customize the toolbar on your session to add or remove specific functions or create additional toolbars. Only Irma can add toolbars to the session. Irma and Access were the only products that didn't support hot spots.
The Standard Irma Script Language is a macro scripting language that lets you automatically log on, transfer files and perform other repetitive processes. It is not the developer's programming language found in A2B, Access or DynaComm.
A2B did poorly in too many crucial areas, like product installation and customization. A2B, along with Attachmate EXTRA!, lost points because their installation programs are not designed to let multiple users share the same executable code on the server. While we emphasized installation and customization, A2B's strengths were in pricing and support. It also supports the fewest connection types.
Getting Started A full installation of A2B loads up to five program groups containing more than 40 icons. One group contains 28 sample connection icons. No other product provides a group of preconfigured sample connections like this.
Unlike other products, the installation program in A2B doesn't let you create multiple end-user configurations you can run from shared executable code on the server. A2B does let the user place the program files and the data files in different directories on different drives, but letting multiple users access the executable code requires copying the configuration files to a personal directory and editing the system files for each user--a major drawback.
Customization A2B makes you write a script to launch more than one session. Even when configuring a single session, A2B, like DynaComm, didn't let us automatically save the session as an icon in the program group.
Although its keyboard features are better than Rumba's, A2B's keyboard editor was the most difficult to use. In the editor, when you press a key, its function is displayed in a 'Description' field. There was, however, no way to select a function from a list and see where it was mapped. When we tried to select a key and then pick a new function from the description field, the text on the key would not change but its function would. It was easy to remap a key inadvertently. The editor did not let us map macros or drag-and-drop keys to the new keyboard.
Furthermore, A2B's keypad feature had only preconfigured keypad layouts and no way to edit them. The keypad can be set up to launch with a selected terminal session but you can't even choose where it will appear.
A2B's hot spots could also use work. They cannot be linked to macros, and there is no visual cue to indicate what's a hot spot and what isn't.
A2B was the only program that didn't support host graphics. It supports file transfers using IND$FILE and was the only product that did so over an async connection. It doesn't support structured field file transfers; only buffered transfers, which are substantially slower.
Development Tools All the products we tested had some form of scripting language for creating macros. A2B, Access and DynaComm include high-level programming languages for application development. SimWare's Advantage II scripts can be compiled into programs that automatically launch programs, establish DDE links to other Windows applications and execute host commands with HLLAPI. This makes it comparable to the programming language in Access. If you want to develop a graphical front-end for programs, you have to buy a copy of SimWare's SecondLook. In DynaComm, the code for developing a graphical front-end is already built in.
A2B comes with a Visual Basic toolkit. Other vendors offer it as a separate product and charge up to $150 for it. Also included with A2B is a TCP/IP stack, IP utilities and a program for remote LAN access.
Brendan Scott is a network analyst for a Fortune 1000 energy company in the Bay area in California. He can be reached at email@example.com.