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Console vs. GUI-based mainframe applications

I am a graduate student at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. My research is focussed on software usability...

issues in mainframe environments. I was wondering if you could let me know whether the majority of mainframe applications sold these days are console-based (i.e. used in the native mainframe environment through a terminal screen utility), or GUI-based (i.e. residing on PC environments with client-server functionality to interact with mainframes... basically allowing people to use mainframes without having to learn native mainframe commands).

In your opinion... which of the above two alternatives is more effective, both in terms of being user-friendly and being functional? Going forward, is there going to be a trend towards PC-based GUI applications for mainframes?

This is a very interesting and intriguing question. I'll share my experiences and thought with you, but I think it would be very worthwhile for Search390's readers to comment on this, too!

Today, the bulk of commercial mainframe applications, tools, and utilities still use a "console-based" interface - that is, a green-screen interface using ISPF, CICS, etc. Such interfaces are likely to continue in popularity as long as the IT professionals who are comfortable with them continue to dominate the mainframe landscape.

But things are changing. More and more software packages are offering a GUI interface for many reasons. The primary reasons are ease-of-use and the increasing ubiquitous nature of the PC graphical user interface. Other factors will conspire to make GUIs a more intriguing interface, even for the long-standing mainframe character-based bigots. For example, think about DB2 for z/OS Version 8. This new and upcoming version of DB2 will support long names for DB2 objects: up to 128 bytes can be used to name tables, views, aliases, columns, schemas, UDFs, stored procedures, triggers, packages, etc. When systems get implemented using such long names do you really want to be limited to managing those systems using tools with a character-based interface that can display at most 80 characters on a line? Probably not. So, as mainframe software and systems are modernized and become more flexible, a more modern and flexible interface will be required to access and manage those systems.

So, yes, going forward, I believe that there is going to be a very clear trend towards PC-based GUI applications for mainframes.

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