Firm adds PC front ends to mainframe apps

Network Software Associates Inc., a 12-year-old, Arlington, Va., government contractor specializing in SNA gateway products, has expanded its offerings to include PC-based graphical user interfaces (GUIs) designed to let mainframe applications run in Microsoft Corp. Windows environments.

The company delivered its first Productivity Client software to the Federal Aviation Administration late in March to rebuild the front end of a mainframe application run by the agency's configuration management unit.

User-Friendly

FAA personnel are already encouraged by the friendliness of the GUI. Robert Payne, an FAA computer science engineer, said the product ought to help eliminate complaints from users about the unit's mainframe-based system without the expense and time involved in re-engineering the entire application.

"It has not been found to be user-friendly when compared with the systems available now," Payne said of the legacy application. "Nowadays, users are leery of mainframes and want Windows-based systems. Hopefully [the Productivity Client] will increase user appreciation of the system."

Al Dekin, Network Software Associates' manager of business development, said the Productivity Client will help agencies leverage their investments in mainframe applications. "I'm looking to understand agencies' current problems and provide some desktop solution that doesn't require changes to anything in the infrastructure. The federal government has invested lots of money [in mainframes], and they don't have the money to go back and change all of it."

Payne said the Productivity Client does not add functionality to the legacy system but gives users access to such Windows features as pull-down boxes and multitasking. In addition, it will increase response time by allowing users to perform some editing tasks on their desktops without having to send data back to the mainframe.

Ariel Glassman, Network Software Associates' development manager, said the product also allows users to integrate data from their World Wide Web pages into applications running the Productivity Client. "A user can access the Web site via a Web browser on the Productivity Client," Glassman said. "With the click of a button, they can access data on the Web and cut and paste it into the program."

The Productivity Client must be tailored to each agency's needs, so it is not available off the shelf. The FAA awarded Network Software Associates a sole-source contract to reconstruct the user interface of its application. The company was selected because of its familiarity with the legacy system, which uses its Dyna/Comm Elite as its communications package, Payne said.

Company technicians analyzed the existing system and redesigned and developed the new front end. Afterward, they called on Payne to review their work and solicited his suggestions on improving the product. This back-and-forth process was repeated until the company produced a tool that both sides were sure would meet the agency's needs.

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