Unibol Ltd, of Newtonabbey, Northern Ireland, has launched Unibol 400, a native AS/400 environment under Unix, which enables users to transfer tried and tested OS/400 applications over to Unix and developers to offer OS/400 enterprise-wide mission-critical applications to a much wider audience. Previewed by the Computergram back in May (CI No 2,407), Unibol 400 has […]
Unibol Ltd, of Newtonabbey, Northern Ireland, has launched Unibol 400, a native AS/400 environment under Unix, which enables users to transfer tried and tested OS/400 applications over to Unix and developers to offer OS/400 enterprise-wide mission-critical applications to a much wider audience. Previewed by the Computergram back in May (CI No 2,407), Unibol 400 has taken over three years, a team of 23 developers and over UKP1m to develop, all financed from internal revenues generated from the company’s predecessor product, Unibol 36. Although the concept of Unibol 400 is the same as the 36 product, Unibol is at pains to stress that no source code has been replicated. Whereas Unibol 36 was primarily aimed at companies migrating applications from legacy System 36 machines to Unix, Unibol 400 is aimed more at software developers. Unibol hopes that developers will use Unibol 400 to move their applications to open systems and in the future to Windows NT and Novell NetWare. There are plenty of other companies promising this particular grail, such as Synon Corp, Uniface BV, California Software Products International Inc with the Baby 400 AS/400 applications running on personal computers, Konverter and PKS with a suite of conversion tools that go via Cobol to run on Unix.
In terms of Synon, Unibol is dismissive. According to Ian Graham, vice-president of sales and marketing, it is straightforward to translate an application developed purely in Synon to C or RPG. However very few people have pure Synon applications; most applications are about 80% Synon, the rest in another language. Re-engineering the 20% is a real headache, requiring re-engineering back up to the software engineering environment and back down to Synon. And this, Graham says, contravenes the law on entropy – you can’t get a pig from sausages! The attraction of Unibol 400 is that AS/400 applications running under Unix can exploit the added functionality of the AS/400 – the superior systems management, error reporting and monitoring, job interrupting and a track record for enterprise-wide mission-critical applications. Unibol 400 brings the whole foundation set of libraries from the AS/400 into Unix while remaining 100% native Unix, extending Unix as a commercial and development environment. It could also give existing AS/400s a new lease of life and Unibol has hinted about developing a reverse engineering product from Unix back to AS/400, an attractive proposition for IBM Corp, which is struggling to get Unix software vendors to move their applications to the AS/400.
By David Johnson
However Unibol’s primary target is AS/400 application developers. For AS/400 application users and companies that have developed their own applications or customised others, Unibol enables them to extend the lifetime of their tried and tested legacy applications by migrating them to Unix and to do it cheaply. Until now this has been so daunting a task that reputedly IBM was unable to persuade E3 of Atlanta, Georgia to convert its applications from OS/400 to Unix for $2.0m. E3 is now doing it through Unibol for a tenth of the price. According to Graham, Unibol 400 is a vehicle by which developers of AS/400 applications can provide applications on different platforms, opening up another sales path, as they feel the breath of open system competition. For devlopers it removes the hardware from the sales pitch, as they no longer have to trot out an argument about the relative merits of different hardware. It will also enable application developers to put a tick in the box as an open systems developer – demanded by many local government departments, even for AS/400 applications, because in spite of anything IBM says or does the AS/400 will never be perceived by the market as being open, according to Graham. However Unibol admits that although converting an application is a simple matter of recompiling, creating a full-strength Unix application will take considerably longer. Partners in the beta test stage have included Artesia Data Systems Inc of Dallas, Texas, L
‘Oreal and CSI Ltd of Leeds, in the UK. Artesia supplies AS/400 software to manage oil and gas companies’ accounting, production, gas marketing and land data processing needs and Unibol offers such niche developers a path to open systems in their vertical market. However Unibol admits it has ‘missed the boat’ for large developers such as J D Edwards, System Software Associates Inc and JBA Holdings Plc, who realised early that an offering only on the AS/400 was restricting expansion and were forced to find a way to move their applications from AS/400 to Unix. To encourage AS/400 developers to see how easy conversion can be, Siemens Nixdorf Informationssysteme AG, a Unibol partner and distributor, is offering the free loan of its Unix hardware and software plus a two-day free training session.
Hardware vendors are acutely aware that increasingly their machines are merely commodities and its the applications that matter. By actively encouraging Unibol to run Unibol 400 on its kit and initiating the free loan scheme, Siemens Nixdorf hopes to set itself apart in the crowded Unix market. Unibol has chosen Siemens Nixdorf’s RM series and IBM Corp’s RS/6000 as its initial Unix machines and plans to add one other, almost certainly Hewlett-Packard Co’s HP-UX, though others remain in contention. However Unibol wants to run on as few systems as possible because each new release of a Unix requires extensive and expensive validation and support. The pricing for Unibol 400 on the Siemens Nixdorf range for the run-time system is around UKP500 for the RM200 including two users; UKP4,000 for the RM400 with four users; UKP9,000 for the RM600 with eight users. Each additional user will cost UKP280. Each compiler for the RM200 will cost UKP1,500 per processor; for the RM400 UKP4,000 per processor; for the RM600 UKP8,000. Unibol’s target is to have 2,000 licences with software houses in the next two years. A controlled release will be made in January, but already the applications of Unibol’s partners are being successfully translated and run.