Test Drive of Autobahn II
Shawn M. Gordon
S.M.Gordon & Associates
What it can do?
With version 3 of Autobahn II, Speedware has taken this product to a whole new level. You now have a visual design tool (more on that later) that let’s you map out your entire application and create links between the pages as well as substitution variables and embedded Speedware logic for processing. You can execute pre-written speedware Report and Logic sections from within your application as well, thus allowing you to reuse your code in different environments and formats. The Logic sections are particularly useful in this regard because it allows you to encapsulate business logic rules easily.
So you can now quickly, and easily, build interactive web sites that work with data repositories on your various servers. Speedware is very data-centric, and has a sophisticated and flexible language that will make it simple to do pretty much anything you want.
Because Speedware and Autobahn run on a number of platforms, if you write your code to not be system specific, you will be able to move these web applications around from server to server with relative ease, making the investment in the technology a pretty sound one.
How does it work?
First there are the servers, which include your web server, the Autobahn server and the Speedware Resource Manager, these pretty much just run in the background. The more interesting aspect is the Autobahn Designer. The Designer has four different aspects. First is the Application Map, this displays a graphical representation of the HTML pages of your Speedware Autobahn application and the links between the pages. Next is the Code Editor, which is just a text editor to work on the Speedware code. An HTML Viewer that is an integrated web browser that will allow you to see the applications HTML pages the way the end user will see them, and finally the Log Window. The Log Window displays system information regarding logging onto the repository server, or an application, and compiling applications. It provides an easy means to trace system activities, and to spot and resolve errors in your application development process. Take a look at Figure 1 to see an example of the different windows.
So Autobahn is basically a server side scripting environment that has a very robust language associated with it. Autobahn also maintains “state”, so it remembers who you are and what you are doing. This doesn’t seem like such a big deal now, but back when I looked at the original Autobahn about 5 years ago, it was pretty significant.
The Dynamic Page Wizard is a an extremely cool tool that will pretty much build a whole application for you quickly. All you have to do is point the Wizard at a data repository and select the tables you are interested in, and the data items you want. You can then select Query criteria for the table, you can skip this part, but if you want to be able to customize the type of query used on the page, then this is the place. That is pretty much end, you click the done button, and you will get all the HTML and Speedware code generated that is required to have a fully functioning interactive web page that will let you add, delete, inquire and modify data in your table. This is very very slick.
The thing that is a bit squirly to get use to at first is the intermingling of HTML with Speedware, and some of the Speedware pre-processor directives that will be put in the HTML. Think of the HTML as a template now, and you are able to place variables, and directives into the code that will be processed on the server into HTML before presentation on the client.
I really liked the visual application map that let you draw connections between pages and get automatic links. It was fun to switch things around and see how it affected the web site. I suppose this is similar to MS Frontpage and Trellix for getting a site map.
Installation and Documentation
I installed this strictly on a Windows machine, as I wanted to streamline the testing process. You can have the Autobahn server running on Unix, MPE or NT. Installation was from a CD, but it required that I talk with tech support to get through all the prompts correctly. I also needed to download and install the Apache web server for my Win98 machine. You will need to have a web server regardless of the server platform, and Apache is a good one to use, Autobahn supports a good number of different web servers.
The installation guide comes as a printed manual, as well as the Release Notes. Everything else is in PDF on a CD. I found that Speedware had done an excellent job with the PDF documents, making them easy to navigate and read. The only real problem was that I am working with a final beta of version 3, and the online documentation had not been totally updated yet. Other than that, it was well written and easy to work with.
The Database Workshop is a very cool tool, and reminds me a bit of the original Speedware Designer where you could develop your application without having to worry about the database, and the base would be created for you. This isn’t quite that haphazard however. You can select from a variety of database types such as Allbase, CISAM, DB2, Flat, Image, Indexed, Informix, Ksam, KsamXl, ODBC, Oracle, RMCobol, and Sybase. Notice the very complete coverage of the MPE operating system with all of the files types you would want to use as a data repository. I don’t know what it would do with a MSG file, but it probably doesn’t matter.
There is some infrastructure you have to make sure is in place before you try to do anything. As mentioned earlier, your web server needs to be running, the Autobahn server needs to be running, and the Speedware Resource Manager needs to be running. On Windows, these will all be running under a DOS window.
This might sound funny, but there is entirely too much security in Autobahn. You have to remember all sorts of names and passwords and connections to various servers and applications and repositories. It’s just a lot of work to get anything started, more than it should be for how easy it is once you get in to the Designer. Here is a copy of the steps that are in the Getting Started guide.
Opening an application
To open your application do the following:
1. From the File menu, select Access Wizard.
The Access Wizard starts, and displays the Repository Serverlogin dialog.
2. Make sure your SRM Database, User Name and Password are entered correctly, and click Next.
The Connect to a Repository dialog is displayed.
3. Select Open an existing Repository and click Next.
The Open Repository dialog is displayed, listing all of the available repositories.
4. Highlight your repository—GetStartRep—and click Next.
The Connect to an Application dialog is displayed.
5. Select Open an existing Application and click Next.
The Open Application dialog is displayed, listing all of the available applications.
6. Select your application—GetStartApp—and click Finish.
Only some of the icons have balloon help on them, and this can be frustrating when you are trying to find a function. Again the difference between the doc and the application made this tough to get through.
When I was using the Database Workshop, I created a field that was a type DATE2000, and left the default bytes at 10, I figured that the wizard would set everything up so that the date would be correct, but it failed the validation. I had to keep changing the values based on prompts from the program. Basically the program told me what to put in, and was happy once I put it in. Now why it wouldn’t put it in itself is beyond me.
Despite some of these frustrations, I was able to build some small sample applications quickly. I didn’t have a specific project that I needed to do, so I was just making things up off the top of my head. I find that random battering of software makes for some good testing. See Figure 2 for an example of the data base wizard.
There is a learning curve with Autobahn, so I would suggest taking a training class and working with Speedware to get your application started. Given the modest cost of the product, it is certainly time and money well spent. Being familiar with Speedware (which I am) and how Designer works, will certainly speed the learning process, but it’s not required. In my experience, people can be taught Speedware with relative ease.
Autobahn is an exciting application. I think it’s a few cogs shy of being all it can be, but given the quantum leap forward in this release, it will get there soon. That’s not to say that it isn’t ready for prime time, because it is. This is really a neat application, that helps to speed the development of web sites dramatically. This is certainly worthy of review if you are looking at building web infrastructure that accesses your legacy data on any number of platforms.
Autobahn II version 3
9999 Cavendish Blvd.
Laurent, Quebec, Canada,
Autobahn II includes all the developer and server software required to develop and deploy your Autobahn application. It will still require a web server actually running in your network, and this is not supplied by Speedware. If you don’t already have one, the Apache web server is a good choice at www.apache.org.
$9,995 unlimited run time on one named server, unlimited developers on one named machine. Support is $5000 per year and gets you access to the speedware knowledge base, software upgrades, 4 hour call back guarantee. Training on-site is $12,500 for 5 days, public course at their facility is $2000 per seat plus expenses for both. Accelerated course is $7,500 for 3 days on-site, for public it’s $1,200 per seat. Curriculum is on their web site. All prices are in US dollars.