t's been more than a year now since Microsoft released Windows 95, its 32-bit desktop operating system for Intel-based PCs, intended eventually to replace Windows 3.x and its DOS underpinnings. Actually, "released" is too passive a word - it was thrust upon us, with a marketing budget sufficient to pay off the national debt! Before long, like any other operating system or religion, it had its devoted zealots and its skeptical non-believers. On the one side were those who hailed the arrival of an operating system with "true plug-and-play capability, seamlessly integrating communications and applications with a richer, more intuitive user interface" - and on the other, a cynic might say, those who had actually installed and used it! Whatever your opinion, Windows 95 seems certain, with the weight of Microsoft behind it, as well as its many unarguable merits, to occupy millions of desktops in the coming years.
One of the major advances of Windows 95 is that, not unlike OS/400, it incorporates network connectivity out of the box. That is, drivers and protocols for popular network adapters and LAN operating systems come included, as well as a utility for configuring and managing whatever combination of protocols and services you require. IPX (for Netware networks), NetBEUI (for Microsoft networks), TCP/IP -- these are some of the protocols included. With the initial release of Windows 95, however, SNA connectivity for the IBM world was absent (for reasons we won't speculate on here). So in the early days of Windows 95, talking with the AS/400 became something of a black art -- everyone knew someone who had managed to get this or that router working with so-and-so's Windows 3.1 client -- but it was definitely bleeding edge stuff, not ready for prime time. As for IBM and its Client Access/400 product, the word was, "We're working on it".
Earlier this year, a beta test version of IBM's Windows 95 client for Client Access/400 became available for the adventurous to try out. And this summer, the finished product was released. If you are a licensee of Client Access/400, you can obtain, at no charge, the Windows 95 Client package simply by calling IBM Software Direct. The package includes both AS/400 media to restore the licensed program to your AS/400, and PC diskettes and CD-ROM with the Windows 95 application code. I recently took the plunge and did our maiden install on (gulp) the General Manager's PC. In the remainder of this article I'll describe the finished product, as well as make you aware of the prerequisites for installing it -- and some pitfalls that lurk in the shadows, ready to trap the unwary.
First, hats off to IBM's developers for doing it right; this is a true Windows 95 application, which integrates AS/400 resources into the Windows 95 desktop. That is, the AS/400 appears as a server like any other, and AS/400 folders and printers can be seen, and managed, as network resources through Windows 95 interfaces such as the Windows Explorer and Control Panel. And the features and facilities familiar to users of other versions of Client Access are all here: 5250 display and printer emulation, PC file serving, virtual printer, file transfer, database access (via ODBC), and application enablers and APIs (e.g. data queues, remote command).
With the Windows 95 Client, IBM is no longer packaging the RUMBA/400 program for 5250 emulation, but includes in its place PC5250, an able and handsome substitute. PC5250 allows for up to 26 concurrent display and printer sessions (I did not test this!), with all the bells and whistles that GUI-addicted users demand -- clipboard cut and paste capability, keyboard and colour remapping, keystroke macro capability, and so on.
But be aware that the bridge to the Windows 95 future is guarded by a nefarious little troll who will stop you from crossing if you do not satisfy his three requirements: adequate PC hardware resources, the appropriate OS/400 release level, and a number of updates to the Windows 95 software. Fail to appease him and you will be cast into the Abyss of Unconnectedness!
First, you won't want to run Windows 95 -- with or without the CA/400 Client -- on anything less than a fast 486 PC with 12MB of RAM (IBM recommends 16MB). The disk space requirements for the CA/400 Client are from 10MB to 26MB, depending on the options you install. And of course, you will have to have installed and configured a communications adapter that supports your connection type: Token Ring, Ethernet, Asynchronous, Twinaxial, or SDLC.
On the AS/400 side, your OS/400 level must be at least V3R1 for CISC models, and V3R6 for RISC models. You will want to be at the latest cumulative PTF level for the release you are at. With new products, of course, the latest doesn't stay the latest for long -- check informational APARs to get the latest cumulative PTF number for your release: SF98310 (V3R1), SF98320 (V3R2), or SF98360 (V3R6).
Finally (and here is where things get a bit challenging), you'll need to obtain and install a number of updates and patches to the software on the PC side. Needs will vary somewhat depending on your connection type -- in my case I was making an SNA LAN connection.
First, the Windows 95 Service Pack 1 has to be applied. (In the Windows 95 world, both Microsoft and IBM refer to collections of software fixes and enhancements as "Service Packs" -- analogous to the Cumulative PTFs we're used to on the AS/400). Service Pack 1 (which belatedly adds the DLC protocol to Windows 95's networking repertoire) has been available since February of this year, and can be downloaded from Microsoft's Internet site (www.microsoft.com) or Download Service at (206) 936-6735.
While you're online with Microsoft, you'll also want to download the 32-bit version of the DLC protocol (MSDLC32.EXE) and an update to it (DLC32UPD.EXE).
Also, SNA LAN connections are made using NetSoft's NS/Router (included with the Client Access can be obtained from NetSoft's Internet site (www.netsoft.com) or their BBS at (714) 753-0380. Lastly, the latest Client Access for Windows 95 Service Pack should be installed and applied on the AS/400.
This can be ordered in the form of a PTF (check Informational APAR II09523 for the latest info) or downloaded from IBM via their Internet FTP site: ftp.software.ibm.com. Once the latest version of the code is applied on your AS/400, client PCs can have their code automatically refreshed when they next connect, as with other versions of Client Access.
So now, your desktop strewn with diskettes, CDs, manuals, and PTF cover letters (and a bottle of Jolt Cola, in case things get ugly) you are now ready to wed your Windows 95 PC to your AS/400. Happily, once the above preparations have been made, the sailing is very smooth. I inserted the CD-ROM into the drive, and the installation began automatically, without my even having to type setup.
A suave, richly graphical install wizard takes you by the elbow like a nurse in a retirement home and leads you painlessly through the install. The NetSoft router asks a few skill-testing questions when its time comes, but nothing that you're going to let stop you now that you've come this far!
At the end, the install wizard politely offers to make a test connection to the AS/400 to verify the installation. Go right ahead, I replied, reaching for the champagne bottle.
Just as the cork was working itself free, my screen said: Communications error. Hmm. I put the champagne aside, and mused that 20-odd megabytes of code, when unable to accomplish their most basic act, were unable, Tarzan-like, to summon more than two words to explain themselves.
It took a change in the interrupt number of the Ethernet adapter (even though Windows 95 did not report it as conflicting) to remove this final hurdle.
Then, the connection was made, balloons fell from the ceiling, and the fun part of configuring display sessions and printers and folders all went without a hitch.
To sum up my experience with the Windows 95 Client for CA/400, it has proved to be a solid and capable product, though you need to be vigilant installing it and keeping on the lookout for relevant PTFs and Service Packs.
If, like me, you hear the rumble of the approaching hordes of users who are going to be demanding Windows 95 connectivity in the not-too-distant future, I think it's well worthwhile to get started now, and become comfortable with Windows 95 networking facilities.
You'll discover a much friendlier means of configuring communications, a bright new window into your AS/400, and (perhaps most importantly), you'll be able to look down your nose at your colleagues still languishing in their feeble, 16-bit wilderness!