Review of OPSession
Shawn M. Gordon
S.M.Gordon & Associates
As I was perusing the July issue of Interact recently, I happened across an ad for a product called OPSession. The ad seemed to indicate that you could get a really swell MS Windows interface to your 3000 for various operations and system management functions for only $199. This seemed to good to be true, so I immediately called up the folks at Cygnet and asked them if I could see the product and write a review of it if I liked it. After a couple of weeks I received one of the first few copies to ship. So with the diskette slipping out of my sweaty little fingers I installed the demo on my PC.
Now my PC environment is a 486/25 with 4 meg of RAM and MS Windows 3.1. I was connecting to an HP 3000 series 70 running Platform 1P release 21. I have hundreds of jobs that run every week and I have to do a fair amount of monitoring from home, so this seemed a good opportunity to test the product over a dial in as well.
Ok, so what does OPSession do for us, first off it can be used as a REAL bare bones terminal emulator. This is mostly to establish the connection to the 3000 and give you the ability to issue MPE commands if you want to. What it really does is let you operate on OPSession objects using the OPSession paradigm of ISE (Import Select Execute). There are 9 system objects currently defined in the software, the consist of SpoolQueue, Batch, Jobs, Sessions, Printers, Terminals, Accounts, Groups, Users and Files. So knowing the paradigm and the objects that are available we can quickly see that we are able to Import a set of objects, Select objects from that set to Execute an action on.
This gives you the ability to do file set and spool set selection similar to that found in MPEX, but in a menu driven environment. Whenever you are defining a Condition Definition for a file set you will be given pick lists of spoolfile attributes and relational operators to work with, you have to supply the value. You can build up a whole list of these selection criteria using AND and OR boolean operators and then execute the selection. From what I can tell OPSession doesn’t make much of an attempt to validate your syntax. If you try to do something that you can’t do then you will get the MPE error message in the terminal emulator screen after OPSession tries to issue the command on the host.
What I really liked was the screens for building or altering Accounts, Groups, Files and Users. You get a window that contains all the different MPE security attributes and capabilities that are appropriate for the object. You then just click on the ones you want on, after you set up everything just click on OK and off it goes. The only difference I would have liked to have seen here is maybe a right mouse click that would bring up a list of what the 2 character capability mnemonic stands for. MPE doesn’t give this to you without going into the MPE HELP facility. It would have been a nice touch since most people only know what a few of the capabilities stand for.
Along the same line is the Spoolfile and Printer Maintenance windows. Here you can do alters, copies and purges for spoolfiles. You are also able to view the spoolfile or search for a string of text in it. On the printer side you have a pick list of state alterations, i.e., STARTSPOOL, STOPSPOOL etc.
For RESUMESPOOL you have radio buttons that let you specify pages foreword or backward to start from.
For batch jobs your options are ALTER which performs either a BREAKJOB or RESUMEJOB depending on the current state. PURGE which performs an ABORTJOB. For sessions ALTER will send a message to the selected terminals via TELL and PURGE will also perform an ABORTJOB. Actions against terminals consist strictly of ALTER, which will send a message to any terminal that isn’t currently signed on to. This is handy for letting people know that they can sign back on to the computer.
You can also use the Ad Hoc capability to build your own command structure to execute against a set of selected objects. This is to let you do something that the software doesn’t allow directly but you don’t want to build a script file for. It is a one shot kind of thing, which is exactly what Ad Hoc means.
A nice function is the ability to create and use libraries of script files. These are functionally the same as UDC’s and MPE/iX command files. They also allow parameter substitution and prompting using their special characters to identify the fields. The advantage to this over using the 3000 equivalent is that the user gets a pick list of scripts and a display of the contents right then. This makes it easier to find and investigate various scripts as opposed to trying to hunt down command files on a Spectrum, or search through your UDC list.
Another one of the advanced features is the Monitor. This allows you to have essentially a script that is executed on a regular basis. First give the Monitor script a name, then specify the scan delay in seconds. Now pick an Object you want to work against and then specify the selection criteria for that object. In the case of a SpoolQueue object this might be something like;
name=$STDLIST and state=READY
You can then specify actions to take against objects that qualify and objects that don’t. You are now ready to launch the Monitor script. What’s neat is that the Monitor script can be running at the same time as you are using the same COM port to use OPSession for other things. The more you think about it the more functions you can think of to use Monitor for, at least I found that to be true.
Usability (also installation)
The installation of the software involves just making a directory on the PC called CYGNET. Copying the files from the floppy disk into the new directory, and then adding the program icon to Windows. There is a section in the manual that describes how to configure your com port in Windows, although I found that I didn’t need to make any changes.
You are also able to define various host CPU’s with their default operating system and printers, as well as a separate configuration for COM ports. This lets you select multiple CPU’s and COM ports so you can make multiple connections simultaneously, but only if you actually have a connection.
Although the software is pretty easy to use it isn’t necessarily that intuitive. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad, but you are really going to want to take a half hour or so and go through the manual.
Overall I didn’t really find an instance where the software didn’t work as advertised. The terminal emulator is rather weak in this first release, but they aren’t selling it as a terminal emulator. I understand that they are working on developing a relationship with a popular terminal emulator company to add it into the product. I would imagine this would raise the price some, but heck, if it gives you a Windows terminal emulator too then it just makes it that much more useful.
About the only problem you may have is when you are doing Condition Definition and File Filtering. You could construct your selection in such a way so that nothing qualified, but you think something should. Typically this would be because you had picked OR instead of AND, or some such silly mistake.
You have to keep in mind when you are using this software that every time you issue a command that generates output from the 3000 that OPSession is basically downloading it, parsing it and then displaying it to you. At slower baud rates, such as over a modem, this can cause quit noticeable delays in the time it takes to see the output from a command. Some of this delay is more psychological however, you can configure the software so that it displays data as it is parsed, or to wait until it is all parsed and then display it quickly. Waiting on a blank screen can make it seem like it is slower than it actually is. Also the interface to the Classic is slightly slower because they have to actually run SPOOK and LISTDIR for some of the functions, this means that some of your wait time is waiting for these programs to load up and spit out their information. On the Spectrum these are quite a bit faster. The software itself doesn’t make any undue demands on the CPU according to the measurements that I took.
Supportability (including Doc)
This is not one of those products that you are going to find yourself needing very much support on. The manual overall is good at showing and explaining how the various functions work. The documentation for Script files and Monitoring is a little sketchy. It’s good enough to get you started, but you might find yourself needing a little bit of hand holding to really get into it.
I did call support just to see how well they responded, and I always got a hold of someone right away. Of course I have distribution copy 4 or 5 so they haven’t gotten swamped yet, but I am sure they will keep up the same level of support.
This is a unique product at this point in the HP community. While I enjoyed using it quite a bit, I found that, for me, it would have been easier to perform certain functions myself rather than going through the menus. The software does have a limited terminal emulator, so you are able to interact directly with the : prompt if you wish. I think that for a lot of computer operators this could be a perfect tool. It helps reduce the learning curve for the operating system, and doesn’t require that they memorize a bunch of commands.
Remember that the software isn’t doing anything tricky on the 3000 side. All it does is issue MPE commands or run programs for you and then parse the input back to the Windows environment. So there shouldn’t be any concern about causing some system hang because of a low level un-documented procedure being executed. As far as I can find out they aren’t doing anything that you couldn’t do from the MPE prompt.
The ability to create and execute macros is very useful, it overlaps with the UDC/Command file function on the 3000, but it is OPSession specific and they are easy to build and store on the PC. The Monitor function could be especially useful to a lot of people.
For only $199 it’s hard to go wrong on this product. I understand that their is a whole suite of products along this line that Cygnet is planning on releasing. I hope they do since I am anxious to check them out.
OPSession for Windows version 1.0 by Cygnet Software
P.O Box 4667
Incline Village, NV 89450
Call or write for product information or demo.
$199 per copy, support is included
One 38 page manual is included
Easy to use interface to HP operations and systems management functions
Ability to use various logic selection conditions on file objects
Monitor and Script functions are very useful for automating many tasks
Needs more documentation on the Scripting and Monitoring functions.
I would like to see a pop up window containing descriptions of the 2 character capability mnemonic.