Today is a good day to code

ColdFusion MX 7 Licensing Issues

Posted: December 31st, 1969 | Author: | Filed under: ColdFusion, Programming, Uncategorized | Tags: , | 2 Comments »

ColdFusion MX 7 Licensing Issues

Picture of Irv Owens Web DeveloperI have been wrestling with an issue that should not be an issue that anyone should have to deal with. The licensing issues around a piece of software. The piece of software happens to be ColdFusion MX 7. The issue is that I am running it on OS X Server on a brand spanking new Xserve. I have everything installed properly, all my applications are working, and the server is operating beautifully. It should be nothing to plug in the serial number to put the finishing touches on it right? Wrong.

I have my client purchase a standard license for the “other” installation of ColdFusion, and the Mac OS X version of JRun. He proceeds to do so and sends me the serial numbers for both. I am excited because I'll finally be done with setting the server up and can get back to developing applications. I bring up the JRun administrator, put in the serial number with no problem. JRun says fully licensed 2-cpu version. I am very happy as I bring up the ColdFusion administrator to put this baby to bed. Once I bring up the admin, and get to the system information screen where I can enter the serial number I enter the number with no hesitation. The server responds that it is not accepted. Taken aback I check the number twice and have the purchasing agent fax over the list of numbers. No, the number is right. I go on a long excursion of un-installing ColdFusion, re-installing ColdFusion. Trying to put in the serial number at the beginning of the installation. That doesn't even work, it says that I already have a version installed, even when I don't. I know because I formatted my computer to make sure every vestige of ColdFusion was gone. I even installed it onto my PC putting in the standard serial number to see it work just fine. Neither myself, or the purchaser saw that to run the J2EE version of ColdFusion you must purchase the “Enterprise” license.

Let me say that again clearly so that anyone else running into this issue can find this on the web and save their time.

ColdFusion can not be installed in standard mode ever using the J2EE / “other” version.

This was bizarre to me, not because we both missed it, but instead because during the purchasing process a warning didn't come up letting him know that we couldn't use the “other” installation with the “standard” license. I know that running ColdFusion on Mac OS X Server is not supported, but they could at least let users run ColdFusion standard if they want to. When I got them on support I indicated that it appeared to be a nickel-and-dime, bait-and-switch sales operation. Buy this and then if you want it to really work, you have to buy this.

My feelings regarding this are like one would feel to a significant other who had wronged them in some way. On one hand you still love them and couldn't think of a world without them, but on the other, you wish they would go away forever. This isn't the first time I have felt that way about Macromedia. So, here is a situation where I will probably have to re-write my applications in either PHP or JSP. Macromedia, since we have bought JRun, doesn't seem interested in swapping out our standard and JRun enterprise licenses for a single ColdFusion enterprise license with the JRun license. It would be fair for us to have to throw in an extra $1,000, but another $3,000. As sweet as ColdFusion is, I'm not sure it is worth the cost. I've never had to buy it before, and I don't think I would.


Internet Explorer 7 Won’t Make the Grade on Acid

Posted: December 31st, 1969 | Author: | Filed under: JavaScript, Programming, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | No Comments »

Internet Explorer 7 Won't Make the Grade on Acid

Picture of Irv Owens Web DeveloperAs the market leader and pace-setter as far as which technologies make the cut for the web Microsoft has a responsiblity to create the most standards compliant browser possible, even at the risk of breaking legacy sites built specifically for IE. Microsoft has always wanted developers to use it's unusual flavor of IE. Whether it is by building extra padding into block level elements regardless of how the css padding attribute is used, or allowing oddities like allowing the use of the color attribute on TR table elements, developers have always had to consider the quirks of IE when building anything for deployment over the web.

I'm sure that IE 7 will be much improved over IE 6 as far as standards compliance is concerned, and some of those oddities I truly enjoy, like being able to give a TR an ID attribute and specifying a header style for my tables in a stylesheet, but at the same time, if we don't have web standards we'll devolve into fragmented development languages like it was 1995 all over again. IE 6 actually had excellent standards compliance when it came out, but times have changed and there are some advanced features like page-break-after that I'd love to use more widely. Part of the reason I love to build intranet applications for Mac only shops is that I know they will be using Safari 2.0 which is an excellent browser based on the open source Konqueror browser bundled with many Linux distros. It supports most if not all CSS 2 tags, and should pass the Acid2 test with ease. Also, by developing to XHTML 1.0 Strict I know that my site will degrade gracefully on everything from mobile devices to old 3.0 browsers. Using ECMAScript also keeps most backward compatability and allows developers to create reliable JavaScripts that will work across all compliant browsers in the same fashion.

I agree with Hakon Lie that Microsoft should really take more time and make sure they nail this one, not just for right now, but for the future since we all know they won't release another web browser perhaps forever since they are convinced that Avalon will change the face of web applications and render the web browser superfluous. We've heard that one before, remember Active X? I hope that everyone calls on Microsoft to work to get IE 7 to pass the Acid2 test, not just so that it will support some bizarre standard that is going to make all our lives harder, but so that developers can be sure that applications they develop today will still look and work the same five years from now. C'mon Microsoft please?

Next Explorer to fail Acid Test – CNET


Macromedia or Adobe Studio 8

Posted: December 31st, 1969 | Author: | Filed under: ColdFusion, Programming, Uncategorized | Tags: , | No Comments »

Macromedia or Adobe Studio 8

Picture of Irv Owens Web DeveloperToday I started looking at Studio 8, and of course I am impressed by Flash 8. But I'm really drooling over Dreamweaver 8, which of course will get more use. I like the new video features of Flash 8 and the performance increase is definately welcome, but for all intents and purposes Flash MX is still great. But as always the brilliant marketing folks at Macromedia have priced the upgrade aggressively to move the entire suite. What is interesting to me is that they are still bundling flash paper. I would have thought it would be pulled in favor of the soon-to-be-included Adobe Acrobat. I guess the ink hasn't dried on the agreement yet.

Some of the things Macromedia is promising in Dreamweaver 8 that look good to me are, Section 508 compliance and complex CSS rendering. As well as XML / XSLT reference materials. The reference section has been by far the biggest thing to keep me using Dreamweaver over using other tools. The visual XML editor should be cool too. I'll probably pre-order the suite. I'm looking forward to using Fireworks as I have always preferred it to using Photoshop. Before I get flamed, let me remind you all that I am a developer first, and a designer second. Plus I got the Suite MX before I got Photoshop CS so that is my tool of choice. I can't wait to see what some of the designers are going to do with Flash 8.

My only long lasting gripe that has almost led me to create my own WYSIWYG editor several times is that the FTP process in Dreamweaver is awful. It doesn't make sense that this is not spun off onto it's own thread running separately from the application with a lock on the file that is currently in process. Why this wasn't done in Suite 2004, I'll never understand. It makes me use my favorite FTP tool Transmit instead of the one built into Dreamweaver, which is somewhat inconvenient.

Of course the RDS stuff for databases and the CFC components panel is nice, but it would be great to see some real commitment to ColdFusion with a CFC browser like the one that is built into the Administrator working through the RDS connection. Also, while I'm at it, it would be cool to have the CF validation tool in Dreamweaver to quickly validate CF templates against different versions of ColdFusion. Especially for those of us who got our CF legs in MX, but who sometimes have to work in 5, yuk!


Configuring ColdFusion MX 7 and Apache

Posted: December 31st, 1969 | Author: | Filed under: JavaScript, Programming, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | No Comments »

Configuring ColdFusion MX 7 and Apache

Picture of Irv Owens Web DeveloperAnother issue I kept coming across during my configuration of the XServe G5's Apache and JRun4 was that the virtual hosts didn't seem to be resolving. The same site appeared to collect all the hits. After several hours last night troubleshooting, I finally found the culprit.

When the JRun / Apache bridge is configured, a small module is built and plugged into Apache that allows it to process ColdFusion templates from within its default web root. This functionality is great, it allows a user to serve up .jsp, .php, and .cfm files from the same folder. A single modification is needed to JRun to allow web users to get to your files without having to add /cfusion to the end of their URL request. In JRun there is a setting under the “Application Server” > “Summary,” you will see a section titled Web Applications. Under this header there will be two apps if you have JRun and ColdFusion set up correctly. They will read “CFMX RDS Application” which we are not going to do anything to, and “Macromedia Coldfusion MX,” which we are going to change. If you click on the name of the application “Macromedia Coldfusion MX,” you will see a simple screen that will show you the current context path for the application, which should be “/cfusion” or something similar. If you change it to “/” then your templates will run from the root domain.

With this process, however there are a couple of caveats. You may have to copy all of the coldfusion JavaScript files to a cfusion subdirectory in your applications folder, if you are using ColdFusion forms validation. Also, the images for the administrator will nont appear when you work with the administrator. Accessing the administrator is not quite as straightforward as you might expect, also. A minor change is needed, it obviously no longer needs the “/cfusion/CFIDE/Administrator/index.cfm,” instead it now will use “/cfide/Administrator/index.cfm.” Make sure to make the “cfide” lowercase or it will not work.

Once you have this working, if you already have applications loaded into the “JRun4/servers/cfusion” directory, and they happen to have the same folder name as the ones in your Apache web root folder, then when you call your templates, the server will not know which ones to pick which will have the effect of causing long nights of hair pulling to figure out why your file changes have no effect on the operation of the server. The resolution is simple, do not use the servers directory of JRun to execute your web applications, instead use the Apache web root. You will have to delete any common files between the appliation in your folder within the JRun servers folder, and the Apache web root. Basically just delete your web application from the JRun application folder, and have it only located in Apache's web root, if you haven't already gotten that.

My issue was that both files had the same index.cfm file, and what was happening was that the virtual root was resolving properly, but a cflocation tag that I had in the index.cfm contained within my JRun servers directory was being chosen over the same file in my Apache web root. Once I deleted the version of the application in the JRun folder, the issue disappeared, the server was behaving correctly.

The moral of the story, don't leave superfluous files around your server, they will always come back to haunt you in the end.


The Future of Scripting

Posted: December 31st, 1969 | Author: | Filed under: ColdFusion, Companies, Microsoft, Programming, Sun Microsystems, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

The Future of Scripting

Picture of Irv Owens Web DeveloperInitially I wanted to stay away from scripting languages as a developer due to the fact that they weren't really programming languages at all. For some time I was reluctant to even call myself a programmer until I built my first Java desktop application. In CNET's open source blog today, they ask the question has scripting peaked?

Scripting hasn't peaked out yet. The reason is clear. Building a web site with C++ or Java is like driving an armored tank to your mailbox. It is that ridiculous. The funny thing is that even Microsoft realizes this, giving their ASP.net developers two languages to choose from when developing web applications. There are many reasons for enterprises to choose C# over Visual Basic when building a web application, especially if they already have desktop and client-server applications built using the technology. It would be possible to completely reuse many of the methods used in the desktop application for the web application. The frameworks built into J2EE as well as C# allow for robust development making it less likely that a developer will lose control of their code. Still, using these technologies and frameworks where a scripting language and a light framework would do adds un-necessary overhead to a project and can push deadlines out unreasonably.

Here's what I see. PHP is a fantastic scripting language that has no real back end and therefore is suitable for light to moderate customer facing websites and some intranet applications. Use of PHP in this regard will only continue to grow. I think some of the 25% decline in worldwide use is a reactive measure to PHP's early security vulnerability. PHP is losing ground quickly to ASP.net and VB scripting as Microsoft's Server 2003 is more widely adopted. Personally I think that LAMP is superior for many tasks, but ASP.net is almost ubiquitous now, hosting and maintenance are cheap. I'll continue to use PHP for light jobs, but at the same time I realize that this is just a preference and performance-wise ASP.net is better. Talking about Java… Sun needs to buy ColdFusion from Macromedia / Adobe. It should be THE Java application server. There is no cleaner and easier scripting language, and it has nearly unlimited flexibility and is design-pattern friendly. Why this move hasn't occured yet is beyond me. It would have made sense for Macromedia to sell it, but I think the issue is that Sun has many proud engineers who love to over develop products. The thought of supporting something as business friendly as ColdFusion probably makes them sick. The business case for this is probably that Macromedia probably sees the big picture and that there are big bucks in ColdFusion, especially now that enterprises are seeing it as a way to get around JSP's notoriously long development cycles.

I see scripting as having a bright future, and I'll tend to side with Zend's guys as saying that regardless of how the Evans study got its numbers, PHP is increasing in use not decreasing. I'm not sure if it is true, but if the next version of IIS is going to have PHP support built-in, I'll be seriously considering going with a Microsoft server in the near future and running it alongside ColdFusion. I like PHP, but I just like ColdFusion better.

news.com – Scripting's demise


What is this Y!Q stuff?

Posted: December 31st, 1969 | Author: | Filed under: JavaScript, Programming, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | No Comments »

What is this Y!Q stuff?

Picture of Irv Owens Web DeveloperYou may have noticed all of the Y!Q links everywhere on my site. It is a new beta product from Yahoo! that allows people to perform web searches constrained by selected content from the page they are searching from. The content that goes to Yahoo! is selected by the publisher and targeted to return even more relevant results than would be possible going directly to the search engine.

When a user visits a search engine, the system has no background about the person to constrain their results so it makes it difficult to perform a search, for example if I knew someone were from Washington State, and they typed in the word apple, then I could assume they might be looking for apple wholesalers, or apple growers, or apple trees. If someone from California searched for the word apple, I might return the company. This is possible if you know something about the person who is searching, which is why personalized search has been receiving more focus of late.

I prefer the context based approach, because then I don't have to provide any personal information for the search engine to give me what I want. It would know just by the content of the web page that I am searching from.

I'll be honing the coldfusion parsing scripts to give the best possible content to Yahoo! I'll be removing words that are less than four characters in length from the article, to get rid of parts of words and words that carry little meaning like 'the.' I hope to have the best, most relevant results, because Yahoo! is offering $5,000 in their contest. Of course there had to be some motive for me to use this beta program!

I suppose that in its final iteration, Yahoo! will create some type of advertising revenue sharing model similar to Google's adwords. They seem to be hoping that it will generate more clicks because of its usefulness to the user. It is still kind of buggy, for example in all browsers other than Safari 2.0 a semi-transparent overlay pops up when the Y!Q link is pressed, on Safari, it takes you to Yahoo's relevant results page. Hopefully they will fix this soon, I'm pretty sure it has something to do with the changes Apple made to Safari's javascript processing engine. Also, since I am trying to automate this, sometimes a character gets into the string, and causes the Y!Q to return something not valid. I hope this will help with your searching.


Pondering Switching the Other Way

Posted: December 31st, 1969 | Author: | Filed under: Apple, ColdFusion, Programming, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | No Comments »

Pondering Switching the Other Way

Picture of Irv Owens Web DeveloperWhile I have been a Mac user for the past five years almost exclusively, I have been thinking lately about switching back to using a PC. The reasons for this truly stem from my need for the ultimate in geekery. I'd really like to get a dual-core Pentium 4. The tremendous advantage is that these cores also employ hyperthreading which to the OS looks like four discreet CPUs. Also, I have the urge to work in several 3D programs, none the least of which is Swift3D, that I have noticed run significantly faster on the newest Intel and AMD based machines than on the Macs.

But the Macs are going to go Intel you say. That is true, but the Mac prices aren't going to change. That is almost guaranteed. There is no way Apple is giving up it's hardware margins, nor should they. I have a choice, and I can get more bang for my buck going with a PC. This has always been true, but at one time I was happy with an iMac G3. The iMac has always been competetively priced relative to it's PC counterparts so I was content. When I first bought my G5 I was relatively content. Now the issue is that G5s cost about $2,000 at the entry level. I can take that money to Dell and get a Dual-Core P4 that will take it's lunch money on any given day, albeit with several crashes along the way.

But you by a Mac for the software, that is why it is worth it. This is true, and Mac OS X is definately superior to Windows XP and probably it's upcoming service pack, Windows Vista. I will miss it, but running Mac OS X does not enhance my productivity in any tangible way, it just looks better and the entire OS crashes less. I have had plenty of application crashes, which are about the same.

What it comes down to is what my current computing needs are vs my wallet, and in that game the Mac is at a severe disadvantage. We won't even talk about gaming. But the ultimate reason is my geekiness. I have a weak spot for Visual Studio 2005. After using several betas of the application via Microsoft's Express Beta program, I have to say I am impressed with the ease of developing using C# in this IDE. Their visual web developer software is equally compelling although unless I had to I wouldn't use ASP.net for just about anything. Not because it is bad, but because it takes so much longer to develop anything in than ColdFusion or PHP. Ultimately, my love of new technology and my desire to retain as much of my cash as possible is fueling this internal debate. I will probably not buy another Mac because of the cost, but at the same time I will not give up my iBook. I'll probably carry a Mac laptop for the forseeable future. My workhorse, the desktop however is definately another story.


JoostBook – Joost to Facebook Interface Widget

Posted: December 31st, 1969 | Author: | Filed under: java, JavaScript, Programming, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

JoostBook – Joost to Facebook Interface Widget

Picture of IrvinSince I'm in love with Joost, I have been thinking about good applications that I could write for the platform. Before I get into talking about the widget / plugin, let me just say that the experience I have had with communicating with the Joost engineers, through their joost-dev google group, as well as them allowing early access to their SDK, has been outstanding. I have rarely come across a more open and generous group. Typically, the SDK guardians are very selfish about discussing future features, and are usually quite arrogant about the possibility of a developer finding an undiscovered bug. None of this has been the case with the Joost SDK staff.

If you don't want to read the details about how I built it, and you just want to use it, you can get it here: JoostBook: Joost / Facebook Interface. You will need Joost, and a facebook account to get started.

Now, about the widget. Firstly, the installation is a little wierd because of the level of control facebook insists on. In order to use the SDK, you have to authenticate, if an unauthenticated request is made, the response is with the facebook login page. This makes for some unique error catching conditions.

Secondly, we web developers often take for granted that the DOM will have a listener attached to it, and will automatically refresh if anything in the DOM changes. Well, I know that the Joost engineers are working on it, but it doesn't refresh, and therefore, while you can create new XHTML elements, as well as modify the ones that are there with JavaScript. You are best off currently just hardcoding all of your objects up-front, and changing their contents. Also, injecting XHTML using innerHTML doesn't really work so well currently either. I'd suspect that much of this is because there is a bridge between the 2D world of XULRunner / Mozilla, and the 3D world of the Joost interface. I'm sure there is a lot of complexity between the two.

So basically, once you have downloaded Joost, and installed the plugin, the first thing I had to do was check for if you are logged in, if you aren't logged in, it has to show you the facebook login page in an iframe so that the XULRunner browser can be cookied. After that, the widget should work like one would expect. You may have to log in alot, and if you aren't logged in, obviously the application can't update the JoostBook facebook application.

Writing the Joost plugin was the easy part, getting the facebook stuff to work was the hard part. Most of it was because the error handling is terrible. Since facebook doesn't allow you to see the 500 errors that your server is throwing, and it doesn't log it, you have to find other ways to check to see if your server is behaving properly. I spent a lot of time in my logs checking for errors.

The install process is a little wierd too, for example, in Firefox 2.0.0.8 on Windows XP, when I clicked on the Joda file linked in the page, it tried to open it as if it were some kind of markup file, obviously the joda looked like garbage, I had to right click and save. Perhaps if I had used a joost:// link it would have worked OK, but I think more research is in order. I didn't really try it in IE because most of the readers of this blog use Firefox, but it should work the same way.

Then having to install the application in facebook can be a little difficult as well. Well, the installation isn't difficult, its the concept that you have to install two applications that work together that is hard. At least there is no particular order in which you need to install them, worst case whenever you run the JoostBook plugin in Joost, it'll show you the facebook login page all the time.

At any rate, it was a fun experience, and I still think the guys at Joost are on to something. I'm slightly less psyched about the facebook platform, but I'm still excited about it.


Internet Explorer 6 Hangs with Multiple Connections

Posted: December 31st, 1969 | Author: | Filed under: ColdFusion, JavaScript, Programming, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments »

Internet Explorer 6 Hangs with Multiple Connections

At work we are using the demis map server, which by itself is an incredible application. We had built a flash based client as our application to allow people to see images overlaid on top of the vector data digested by the map server. One of the issues we had observed with the application was that it tended to hang, or stop responding when a user would ask for many images to be shown on top of the vector map, then they navigated away from the current screen. Now, since I had seen the code and it was a mess with JavaScript setting cookies that ColdFusion was supposed to read and pass to flash, and images for checkboxes, I automatically suspected the code. However, the problem was deeper than that.

The code needs to be rewritten no doubt, there are many more efficiencies to be had, but that didn’t explain the hang. I combed over the server, watching response while a user was using the application. The map server stresses the machine, because it needs a ton of I/O and it would spike the CPU frequently, but no processes went to 99% CPU utilization, and the server seemed to respond to other clients even when one of them was hung up. It was pretty clear then that the problem wasn’t with the server. To take this logic a little further, we built a load test using wget and saving the result to a file. We looped over the calls as fast as we could and we never caused the map server to hang. It performed as expected.

The next logical step was to look at the possibility of corrupt files. We did notice that we could get the map server to crash when we fed it corrupt files, but we found no eveidence that the files that we were using in production were corrupt in any way. At this point we were plenty dejected, because we had spent something like 35 hours over a couple days working on this problem and we had nothing. We performed a new ColdFusion install on a different server, we built a server with better hardware, we reinstalled the map server application multiple times, nothing seemed to affect it. We even improved the network bandwidth available to the client, still nothing. At that point I was down to either it was the code, or it was the client.

To test this theory I commented out all of the flash calls on every page and went through the application to try to cause the system to hang. I couldn’t do it, so I had effectively limited the possible cause to the Flash movie. I started to go through what the Flash movie was doing, and what could cause it to fail. The demis people told us that they had seen hangs when the map server wasn’t responding, and the Flash player was parsing XML. This lead me to try the application in Firefox, and lo and behold, it never hung up. It worked like a charm. The only problem was that our client was set on Microsoft Internet Explorer

I started about the arduous task of removing all XML parsing from the Flash code, then I tried it and it still hung. I was truly disappointed, but I rethought what was happening with the XML. It was making server calls, I realized that I could have up to 8 consecutive connections going on. At the time I thought it was nothing, but then I started trying to find out what was different between Internet Explorer and Firefox. I happened upon an article on MSDN about a known bug that Internet Explorer will hang for 5 minutes when there are 2 persistent connections to a server, and rich content is downloaded. I had found my culprit. It turns out that I had to add 2 keys to the registry. MaxConnectionsPerServer, and MaxConnectionsPer1_0Server. I set the latter to 8 and the former to 24, hexadecimal. The keys need to be DWORD keys.

That would allow 8 connections for HTTP 1.0 and 32 or so connections for HTTP 1.1. The HTTP 1.1 guidelines recommend that there only be 2 connections allowed, but if Firefox wasn’t adhering to it, why should I. I added the keys to HKEY_CURRENT_USER>Software>Microsoft>Windows>Current Version>Internet Settings and it worked like a charm. Everything was perfect. Talk about looking for a needle-in-a-haystack. I’m still amazed that I found it.

The purpose of this entry is so that no one has to go through the week that I just went through. Generally no software should be in front of the client before it is ready, but in this case we already had a client. Hopefully this will help anyone out there who is experiencing hangs in Internet Explorer. Darn Microsoft and not fixing bugs for almost 3 years!

*EDIT Make that 8 years, since IE 8 appears to still suffer from the same problem!*

Here are some helpful links that might be better at explaining than I am…

Wininet Connection Issue

IE Hang Issue


Big Iron (Mainframes) and the World of Tomorrow

Posted: December 31st, 1969 | Author: | Filed under: JavaScript, Programming, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | No Comments »

Big Iron (Mainframes) and the World of Tomorrow

Picture of Irv Owens Web DeveloperThere was an article in CNET yesterday espousing the need for developers to pick up mainframe development, and schools reinstating their mainframe classes. While I don't think anyone should waste their time learning about a mostly dead technology, it makes sense to learn from the applications developed on mainframes and take the lessons with a grain of salt.

Right now I am working on converting a legacy mainframe application that was implemented in the 1970's into a web application. The real issues are stemming from the current business process with that mainframe. The database, probably some RDBMS variant, is normalized in such a way that it makes enough sense to keep that structure rather than try to re-invent the wheel. What has been suprising is that it also makes sense to maintain most of the data presentation layer.

The people who use the current system get a ton of data from a very small amount of screen real-estate. The mainframe systems were usually text based, and limited in the number of characters that could be stored in a field, and therefore displayed. Much of the business process that resulted from these limitations has evolved around using codes and cheat sheets to figure out what the codes mean. This also has the effect of shielding somewhat sensitive information from outsiders and customers. The use of codes as a shorthand for more detailed information also has the effect of being able to transfer a large amount of knowledge in a very short time for experienced users. Similar to the way we use compression to zip a text-file into a much smaller file for translation later. When a user inputs the code, they are compressing their idea into a few characters that the user on the other end can understand.

I have been more fortunate than most, because I have access to one of the original architects of the system, and I believe that having an understanding of the business environment and the system architecture is more important than knowing the actual code. Most people looking to hire individuals who understand the mainframe are really looking for people to dis-assemble their applications and rebuild them as web applications.

I do intend to maintain the look of the existing mainframe screens, but intend to replace the current cheat-sheets with simple hover javascript events to display descriptions of what the codes mean. I like this approach of blending the old with the new since it will create a sustainable bridge between the legacy users and incoming users who may not have had the same experience.

The article in CNET further implies that mainframes still sport some advantages over server based applications. That may be true to a degree for deployed desktop applications, but maiframes have no advantage when it comes to web applications. Still, people who know COBOL, FORTRAN, and other low level languages can command a premium for their technical knowledge in the few shops who feel that maintaining these mainframe applications and hardware are better for some reason than replacing them, but it is only a matter of time until these shops agree that paying an ever increasing amount for maintenance and upgrades is more expensive than bringing someone onboard to convert the application to the web. Therefore I see no future in the mainframe, however some great applications were developed for them, and the applications that are still running on them were probably more robust than average.

Much of the methodology I tend to follow when constructing a database or organizing code were implemented for the first time on big iron, so I actually feel priviliged to be able to work with it. Its almost like looking into a time machine where you can see and feel the environment of the past which, even though it may seem the same, is vastly different than the business climate today.

Learn COBOL today!

What is a mainframe anyway?