Monday, March 02, 2009

3270 on the iPhone: experience report

Last week I finally decided to get an iPhone - and now I can already write I'm not disappointed of the investment! As I use Linux as my main OS, it was not completely easy to sync it with the iPhone, another post is following soon on that topic.

So I discovered that many colleagues were amazed or surprised by what I showed them today: a z/OS mainframe terminal on the iPhone, that's the perfect combination of legacy & newest technology. But was that going to work for me?

First, I was actually searching for UNIX terminals that would help me to manage my iPhone files. It exists, but you have to jailbreak your iPhone. But as the search in the Apple Store was showing me lots of SSH & Telnet UNIX terms, I found per chance a 3270 terminal. It's free, so let's try it! It's a 3270 terminal from MochaSoft. So I installed it quickly, but couldn't test it right away...

The actual problem was not getting the terminal to run, but to actually get connectivity with the host. How do I come to the host through WLAN? I manage to do that because the iPhone supports all our security settings - you have to try it yourself (& check if IT allow that of course) in your company. Once you can get a connection from the iPhone, the terminal app should access the host too. You have to enter a connection as usual. There are few possibilities to configure, but enough for me. It's easy to configure even for newcomers.

After I get my connection, first login try. There are five dark icons on the screen, the most important of them are the keyboard icons, which allow you to type in the input fields, the enter icon to submit the input, and the settings icon. The terminal screen looks similar to the one you get on your desktop, except you can scroll and zoom it like a map or, for the one that tried Safari on the iPhone, like a web site. Not bad after all. The PF keys are small buttons on the ISPF panels.

The whole is really funny, and impressing first. It cannot be used as a productive environment of course. For example my attempts to open 3.4 ended with an error message, telling me the size of the panel is not adequate. I should look deeper in that problem, maybe some configuration can solve it.
Another difficulty is to navigate between the input fields - often you have to zoom on the field first.
And before showing it to my colleagues, I locked the iPhone, which stopped my session, but kept me logged in for a while. That prevented me of course to login again, but if you're reading this part of the post, you already know that ;)

To summarize, a good, simple and funny 3270 application, that is still lacking some usability but proves that the mainframe is still modern :)

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