or the last year or so weíve all heard about the coming of the network computer (NC). The newest addition to the IBM family that should replace some of our personal computers that require so much of our personal attention. Iíve had an IBM Network Station on my desk for six weeks now, and it has generated a lot of interest around our office. Weíve already thought of several places where it would fit with its current configuration, and a dozen more once itís running at its full potential. Our long term plans, will have Network Stations running 5250 emulation, and Java-based applications (Lotus SmartSuite) from our AS/400. Please note, Iím currently working with beta code (release 1.03) for the IBM Network Station. The code is changing rapidly, thus anything that I mention here that needs improvement might already be implemented by the time you read this.
We run the IBM Network Station directly off the AS/400, as we have no plans of installing an NT server to add additional complexity and cost to our system. Our Network Station required that we configure TCP/IP and HTTP. Anyone already running TCP/IP, or the HTTP server will have a head start. TCP/IP and HTTP were unexplored components of our system that needed to be configured prior to connecting the Network Station. The first step, as always, was loading the code and PTFs onto our system. The IBM Network Station code loads just like any other AS/400 software so I wonít go into any detail on the software install. Being new to the TCP/IP world I had to play around a bit to get it running. I tried to work solely from the Fastpath Setup guide, but I ended up needing some help from our friends at IBM. You might want to have TCP/IP Configuration and Reference Manual handy if youíre new to TPC/IP.
Configuring the AS/400 to be an HTTP server turned out to be a simple task, as all the steps required for my application where listed in the Network Station documentation. By following the steps exactly, I had the HTTP server up and running in about thirty minutes; ten of those minutes were spent checking my spelling. The HTTP server has case sensitive configuration lines. (I missed one capital letter and couldnít get the configuration page running.)
The final task was installing a browser on my PC in order to configure and manage the IBM Network Station from the AS/400. My only mistake was trying to use Microsoftís Internet Explorer, which didnít support all the pages required to configure the Network Station. I changed to Netscape 3.01 and within minutes of installing the Netscape product I was browsing my AS/400 and configuring my Network Station.
Once youíre at this point, setting the options for the IBM Network Station is incredibly easy (I hope this browsing concept gets adopted to other applications). From the browser you can configure the defaults for one or all Network Stations. You can configure by user, and everything is point and click. Even with the additional systems that had to be configured, the IBM Network Station had its first sign-on screen the day it arrived. It has moved from desk to desk within the IS department as every one wants to try it out. Fortunately itís much lighter than a desktop, so the extra mileage is no big deal.
As of today we are only using it for 5250 emulation. When a faxviewer is released the IBM Network Station will give our terminals a run for their money. We are eagerly awaiting the browser code, and the Java version of Lotus SmartSuite which will make it a serious contender for space on top of our usersí desks, in place of PCs. IBM will need to address a few issues before the Network Station will become a serious tool here at E.D. Smith. The 5250 session does not take up the full screen. There is an inch of space on the bottom and right-hand side of the screen that is wasted. I have to specify the name of the AS/400 each time I start a 5250 session even though Iím only connecting to one AS/400. I also found the keyboard mapper is difficult to use compared to PC5250 emulation. Overall, I am pleased with the direction that IBM is heading with the Network Station. Considering that itís still in beta, it was simple to configure, it worked as described, and enhancements are still coming.
Iím hard at work trying to procure a copy of Java SmartSuite. That coupled with the IBM Network Station should replace the requirement of putting a full function PC on every desk. Hopefully Iíll be able to find this elusive product and get the chance to try some PC functionality without a PC.