Mainframe interfaces in a GUI world

Attachmate's EXTRA! Personal Client 6.3 has everything you need to attach Windows clients to IBM systems (mainframe and AS/400), UNIX systems, and more. In PC circles, mainframe computers and minicomputers are ancient relics, but IBM recorded $76 billion in 1996 sales, and these sales weren't only from OS/2. I tested EXTRA! Personal Client to see how it handles mainframe connectivity.

Many big iron systems exist as legacies of the heyday of mainframe computing, but successful business tends to stay with what works. EXTRA! Personal Client addresses this reality within the context of the PC revolution, especially the GUI revolution, by offering not just host connectivity--a modern day TTY--but real ease-of-use features. For instance, using the Hot Spot feature lets you transform all the function (PF) keys that host applications use into hot spots: A double-click of the mouse makes navigating the software easy and intuitive.

Installing EXTRA! Personal Client was easy. The CD-ROM has an autorun file, and after I inserted it, the InstallShield-driven installation program came up. The only significant question was whether I was installing for a workstation or for a server. I selected server installation to install additional EXTRA! Personal Clients without using the CD-ROM.

I then used NT Explorer to run the setup utility in my server directory. EXTRA! Personal Client installation is straightforward, with many default settings. If you don't want users to make decisions during install, you can use NetWizard, a utility that sets up custom installations that you can access from the network or from floppies. EXTRA! Personal Client comes with both 16-bit and 32-bit software, and setup detects which version you need for proper installation.

Emboldened by the easy installation, I started to work with EXTRA! Personal Client. The central structure is a session, which encapsulates the connection and application information for dealing with a host. The software supplies several demonstration sessions--I started with the Mainframe Demo Session. A selection on the opening menu leads to a Professional Office System (PROFS) menu and reminds you that you are attached to a host. But after I selected the Open the mail option from the PROFS menu, EXTRA! Personal Client really got to work. First, the color and font scheme of this menu is more pleasant to the eye than the naked-terminal presentation of the software. This scheme can also make screens visually distinctive so that you can tell at a glance where you are.

Next, I found my favorite feature of EXTRA! Personal Client: hot spots. Host applications make generous use of PF keys--some host terminals have 24 or more. One of the biggest problems in the PC host connectivity arena is mapping these keys onto the PC's 10 or 12 function keys. You can map these keys with combination keystrokes, but mastering these combinations is taxing for users.

Hot spots transform PF keys into screen buttons that users can access with their mouse. EXTRA! Personal Client looks for PF key text, such as press PF2 to open your mail, as shown in Screen 1. The software raises PF2 to look like a button, and when you double-click it, EXTRA! Personal Client sends a PF2 to the host application. Alternatively, you can still use the keyboard. Another feature I liked was bookmarking. Using this feature, you can return directly to a host page (screen) without traversing the menu structure. Bookmarking makes using common applications, such as PROFS Mail, much easier.

EXTRA! Personal Client comes with a veritable alphabet soup of connection and host types. I cannot think of a host connection path that the software does not support. EXTRA! Personal Client also supports all the industry-standard transfer protocols.

Any good mechanic will tell you that having the right tool for the job is critical. EXTRA! Personal Client is the equivalent of a full host connectivity toolkit and has every tool you need to connect PCs to hosts. EXTRA! Personal Client is easy and intuitive to use. Attachmate takes the pain out of bridging the gap between minicomputers and mainframe computers and today's popular PCs.

EXTRA! Personal Client 6.3
Contact: Attachmate
425-644-4010 or 800-426-6283
Web: http://www.attachmate.com
Price: $425
System Requirements: Windows NT 3.51 or 4.0, 16MB of RAM