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System i PHP authoring tool tries to fill void in Web-coding know-how

Duncan Kenzie of BCD demonstrates how to use WebSmart PHP and answers questions in a recent webinar on rapid PHP application development for System i.

IBM System i users interested in modernizing legacy applications for the Web make up a market that many software...

vendors find valuable. One of these software companies is BCD, or Business Computer Design International Inc., in Hinsdale, Ill., whose WebSmart PHP authoring tool made a big impression on the 100–plus attendees of BCD's demonstration webinar today. Presenter Duncan Kenzie, who is also BCD's president and CTO, demonstrated how to use WebSmart PHP and answered questions.

Lack of Web-coding experience an obstacle
According to a poll taken at the beginning of the presentation, well more than 90% of attendants had no PHP experience and very little HTML experience. According to webinar moderator Marcel Sarracin, one of the biggest obstacles is the lack of experience with Web languages such as HTML.

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A Midrange.com blog entry by Pete Helgren, president of iSeries consulting and programming services provider Value Added Software Inc., echoed this sentiment. "We completely underestimated the effort required to build a web application. I don't care whether it is written in Java or ILE RPG, the skill set needed to develop a UI using HTML, CSS [Cascading Style Sheets] and Javascript plus backend business logic and framework components completely overwhelmed our programming staff."

Kenzie and Sarracin asserted that many PHP application development tools on the market expect some level of Web-programming competence, which is evidenced by the blank-screen default interface. The fact that WebSmart doesn't require lots of Web-coding knowledge is offset by the presence of templates that Kenzie called industry standard in terms of their output and design. In fact, WebSmart comes with what he called a "visual tool" similar to Dreamweaver's design screen that helps users learn how to manipulate the CSS that the output is based on.

During the webinar, Kenzie demonstrated the software and built a searchable Web page with active filters and images in about five minutes -- again, attributed to the software's use of templates. But the demonstration was a bit misleading because the pathways and databases had been built prior to the presentation. Even so, nearly three-quarters of the audience responded to a mid-presentation poll that with their present tools and knowledge building the same application would take well over thirty minutes; some would even take several hours.

Why PHP?
The code generated by WebSmart PHP is nonproprietary; that is, developers can do whatever they want with the applications without confronting licensing issues. No third-party or runtime licenses are required, which, in addition to per-seat pricing, helps to minimize costs.

PHP is a more streamlined language than the Perl and C it was based on, so users "can learn it in about two or three months," Sarracin said. Furthermore, PHP is a mature open source framework that has a strong, stable community of users and developers. This translates to a number of available resources in the form of open script projects and forums.

A third poll taken at the end of the presentation asked about the interest level of the audience in downloading WebSmart PHP with the following results:

  • 48% said will download within one month
  • 18% said will download in one to three months
  • 5% said will download after three months
  • 29% were undecided or will not download

Let us know what you think about the story; email Adam Trujillo, Associate Editor.

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