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The New Client Access Product: IBM AS/400 Client Access Express for Windows

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If you attended the COMMON conference in Anaheim, California, in October, you know that IBM is beta testing a new Client Access/400 product called IBM AS/400 Client Access Express for Windows (Express Client, for short) that is intended strictly for TCP/IP environments. Client Access Express is not a replacement for the Windows 95/NT client. It is an entirely new product that expands the Client Access family into the TCP/IP- only environment.

The beta was released in October and can be obtained from the Client Access home page at http://as400.rochester.ibm. com/clientaccess/. The product itself will not be available until the next OS/400 version update (projected for the first half of 1999). According to IBM, Client Access Express is a break away from—rather than an extension to—the current product. To cut down on confusion, I contacted IBM to find out the company’s new strategy with Client Access Express and how it relates to the existing Client Access for Windows 95/NT.

Client Access Express is a new product with new functionality. It provides a smaller desktop footprint for TCP/IP installations and improves upon the original Windows 95/NT client with valuable new features. In addition, IBM is promising that Client Access Express will be easier to install, offer administrators more flexibility in controlling their environments, and provide the framework for more enhancements to the Client Access product line.

The Windows 95/NT client—on the other hand—has gone through five releases/refreshes in two years and has pretty much reached the limits of what can be done given its existing software profile. Because of this fact, IBM is shifting its development muscle into the TCP/IP-only Client Access Express for Windows but will continue to provide Client Access/400 for Windows 95/NT for use in both TCP/IP and non-TCP/IP environments. (For a discussion on the future of the Windows 95/NT client, see “What Happens to the Client Access/400 for Windows 95/NT Client Now?” on page 7.)

What Sets It Apart?

Although Client Access Express retains most of the features of the Windows 95/NT client, there are several significant additions that set it apart. These updated features are only available in Client Access Express and will not be ported to the Windows 95/NT client. Keep in mind, however, that these features are only in beta and may be changed or modified before the final product is available, so this list may be different when the new client reaches general availability. Among the features IBM is promising for Client Access Express are the following:

• Client Access Express delivers a smaller, leaner client that consumes less Windows memory. Because Client Access Express is TCP/IP-only, there is no need for router configuration or additional router options. All the code for the other connectivity options (SNA, SDLC, asynchronous, AnyNet) has been removed. You merely specify an IP host address and connect. The client is also being redesigned so that it doesn’t run any active Windows utility background tasks on the PC. This consumes less CPU cycles and should make your system more stable (which hopefully results in fewer CW utility hang- ups). It also makes for better laptop installs because the Client Access background tasks frequently conflict with laptop suspend mode features and sometimes result in additional power drains on laptop batteries. Finally, Client Access Express is a full 32-bit client that should run more efficiently in a Windows environment.

• Network printing from the desktop to the AS/400 and Client Access network drive file sharing are replaced by AS/400 NetServer. NetServer is a free service that is available in OS/400 V4R2 and above. It allows Windows operating systems to set up AS/400 printer and file sharing through Windows Network Neighborhood and the Windows Find function. (See “Client Access Without Client Access,” in the September/October 1998 issue of Client Access/400 Expert for an in-depth look at NetServer.) The network printing functionality NetServer provides uploads network printouts to OS/400-based printers rather than printing OS/400 reports on PC and network printers.

NetServer allows you to share AS/400 Integrated File System (AS/400 IFS) directories and AS/400 output queues with your client’s personal computer. By using NetServer for these functions, IBM is accomplishing two things. First, it further reduces the desktop footprint of Client Access Express by stripping out all the network printer and file sharing code. It also reduces the number of Client Access Express licenses you need because—since NetServer is a free AS/400 function—you don’t need to use another license for users who only need AS/400 printer or AS/400 IFS access.

• Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) functionality by session and application is supported. Client Access Express APIs will be multiuser-enabled and will have the option to enable SSL for each application.

• A reworked communications philosophy for better access is included. Each Client Access Express application will control its own connection, so several applications can run on a single machine as different users. This setup allows you to run different application sessions with different security rights side by side on the same machine (perhaps a Windows NT server).

• Client Access Express is enabled as a middle-tier client/server application in an AS/400-to-Windows NT environment. With Client Access Express, IBM is allowing you to run Client Access APIs as a service under Windows NT that other clients (including browsers) can access. IBM has already been offering this capability for ODBC, but now it is extending it to allow other Client Access APIs to run as the middle level in a multi-user, three-tier client/server environment.

• Additional OLE automations are included. A number of new OLE automations will be provided, and OLE DB will also be enhanced to take advantage of SSL. The majority of CA APIs—with the notable exception of SQL—will take advantage of these automations, providing increased access and security when dealing with the AS/400. With

the new Client Access Express, AS/400 OLE DB access will take two forms. The first form is the universal access provided by the AS/400 SDK for ActiveX and OLE DB toolkit. This toolkit provides OLE DB connectivity for PC productivity and programming languages. The second access method is through proprietary Client Access APIs provided by IBM that are streamlined for AS/400 access through OLE DB. Customers can use either their own software (e.g., Visual Basic, Delphi, and PowerBuilder) or IBM’s Client Access Express solution for OLE DB access to the AS/400.

• New logon options are enabled. Client Access Express offers an option to use the Windows user ID and password to log on the AS/400. In Windows 95 and Windows 98, logons don’t pose a big a problem because the operating system supports password caching. However, in Windows NT, these new logon options are an advantage because NT security does not support caching of passwords.

• Client Access Express delivers increased Windows Policy handling features. Client Access Express builds on the policy templates that were introduced in the Client Access/400 for Windows 95/NT V3R2 client. Policy templates allow you to enforce policy mandates from a central AS/400 or Windows NT server whenever a specific computer or user logs onto the network. (For more information on the new features of the Windows 95/NT client, see “IBM Refreshes the Client Access/400 for Windows 95/NT Client,” Client Access/400 Expert, September/October 1998.) This functionality should give administrators more flexibility in controlling who accesses what Client Access functions in Windows 95/98/NT.

• The new software offers broader installation options. In Client Access Express, there are not as many options loaded in the base install of the product. IBM implemented this setup in response to customer requests to take ODBC out of the base install because ODBC made it too easy for users to access AS/400 files.

Administrators will have better control over exactly which options are loaded during a Client Access install. The tradeoff for tighter installation security is an increased requirement on administrators to more carefully plan their Client Access Express user installs.

Off and Running

As you can see, IBM is both streamlining and upgrading its TCP/IP Client Access product. These features are only available in the Client Access Express product and there are no plans to port them to the older Client Access/400 for Windows 95/NT product. IBM’s plans are to stabilize the older Windows 95/NT client and only upgrade the new TCP/IP product in the future.

However, remember that Client Access Express for Windows is only a beta product at this time, and specifications and features may change as the beta test runs its course. The specifics of the final version of the product may be different from what I’ve outlined here, but IBM is definitely charting a new and different path for its Client Access product line that should further advance TCP/IP migration in AS/400 shops.



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