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BCD Jazzes Up Presto Web Enablement Tool with Version 3.5

IBM i developers who use BCD's Presto now have access to several nifty new features that should make it easier to customize Web pages created from green screens.

By Alex Woodie
Published: November 30, 2011 by ITJungle | PDF

Presto's new features include a new auto complete function for fields, easier ways to work with screen values and radio buttons, enhancement to its JavaScript event manager, and some overall improvements to its graphical user interface, among other goodies.

BCD originally launched Presto about three years ago  to provide IBM i customers with a quick way to Web-enable green screens without modifying underlying source code--or even needing access to the original RPG, COBOL, or DDS code, for that matter. Over the years, the product has evolved from a quick-fix tactical Web-enablement tool to include more advanced rich UI and Web 2.0 capabilities, delivered largely through the use of modern coding techniques like JavaScript and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), all of which is accessed through a Web-based Visual Editor.

With Presto version 3.5, which is available now, BCD has made seven big improvements to the Visual Editor environment. The first big new feature is the addition of the auto complete function.

When entering data into a field, the new autocomplete function will automatically display entries in the underlying DB2/400 file that match the first several characters entered into the field. The feature, which uses JQuery and SQL behind the scenes, can be fully customized by the administrator to present data based on other user inputs, such as presenting only cities located in a state if the user has already selected that state.

In a recent Webinar on Presto 3.5, BCD product manager Marcel Sarrasin said he loves the new autocomplete function. "Often it is a better rich UI element to add than doing drop down boxes," he says. "If somebody has sort of a good idea of what to enter, it's a lot faster. It also is a good thing to use to replace F4 lookup windows."

BCD has also streamlined the creation of radio buttons in Presto 3.5, which is sure to further speed the navigation of Web applications. While radio buttons could be created by hand before, this release brings the capability to create radio buttons dynamically, via SQL and DB2/400.

In the BCD Webinar, Sarrasin demonstrated the new feature by automatically adding radio buttons for 12 warehouse locations, which he could place vertically or horizontally on the screen to maximize the efficiency of navigation. "Personally I don't think I would use radio button for [12 values]. Anything beyond six values, I think radio buttons might not be as good as drop down boxes," he says.

More sophisticated handling of screen values is another new feature in Presto 3.5. Developers can now automatically create and place a chart on a Presto screen (such as a 3D bar chart showing a customer's order total) by dragging and dropping values from the original green screen onto the development portion of Visual Editor.

While it was possible to manipulate screen values like this before, it would have required writing custom HTML, Sarrasin says. "Whereas now it's all through Visual Editor," he says. "That saves you from having to create a custom page in certain situations."

More customization of elements within automatically created tables is another feature in Presto 3.5. While Presto has always supported the capability to grab data displayed in a table form on a 5250 green screen--such as the order summary information--this release takes that feature a little further.

Now, the developer can automatically customize specific parts of the table through the Visual Editor. For example, this feature could be used to apply a specific font color to a whole column within the table, or change height, width, or borders. This feature is expected to get even more sophisticated with the next release of Presto in 2012, when BCD will add a new table selection capability that's activated by performing a Ctrl-click with the keyboard and the mouse.

BCD has made a variety of enhancements to the Visual Editor UI, including the capability to dock components on either side of the screen, and more logical organization of menus and tabs, the company says.

The new ExecuteSQL API made available in Presto 3.5 should open the door for customers to add a lot of additional functionality to their Presto apps down the road, BCD product support specialist Scott Honeyman says.

ExecuteSQL builds on the SQL Query feature that was added to Presto 3.0 earlier this year, and expands it by allowing developers to grab data from any part of DB2/400--all programmatically, without the need to create custom HTML screens in Presto. "It allows you to pull in data that isn't part of the original screen and even take information from the original screen and update database files," Honeyman says.

The final major addition to Presto 3.5 is an upgrade of the JavaScript event editor, a component of Presto that allows developers to create engaging and dynamic Web flows. With this release, BCD has made the JavaScript event editor more programmer friendly by giving it a larger window and adding line numbering and color coding, which should help reduce syntax errors.

Mobile support has always been part of Presto, but mostly from the point of view of supporting tablets. With the upcoming 2012 release of Presto, BCD is planning on sprucing up the product's capability to generate screens that are better for viewing on smaller smartphones. It will also bring new skins for the different devices, and support for smartphone-specific gestures, Sarrasin says.

Presto 3.5 is available now. For more information or to view the recent Webinar, go to the company's website at  www.bcdsoftware.com.

Alex Woodie is Senior Editor at Guild Companies' IT Jungle publications. He is currently the editor of two of IT Jungle's main newsletters, Four Hundred Stuff and The Windows Observer.