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These are a Few of Our Favorite (Free) Things!

July 14, 2009

Jon has been playing around with a new piece of software for his Mac, and that got us thinking about how much we've come to rely on free software in our daily lives. Since this blog is business oriented, we'll only mention those tools that fit into that aspect of our lives -- besides, sometimes it feels like all that we have time for work anyway!

Many of these tools have been mentioned in previous posts and articles, but we thought it worthwhile to consolidate them here. For you Mac users, the vast majority of these tools are available for OS/X and indeed for Linux, too. We invite you to describe your own personal favorites in comments.

1) Skype (www.skype.com

We use Skype all day, every day. We originally installed it to make "phone" calls, but over time it's replaced all our other instant messenger products since most of our friends and business contacts also use Skype. The only part of Skype that we pay for is the capability to call out to regular phone lines and cell phones and to send text messages -- and even those services are substantially cheaper than conventional phone services. Skype service has progressed over the years to the point where our Skype conference calls are often clearer than those over conventional phone lines. When we have teleconferences with our partners in System i Developer (www.SystemiDeveloper.com), we always use Skype, and since it is computer to computer it costs us nothing -- despite the fact that our team has one person in Ireland, two in Canada and two in the U.S. It's also useful when you encounter one of those annoying Web sites that only list a toll-free number that's inaccessible from your area!

2) FileZilla (http://filezilla-project.org)

FileZilla is the easy to use graphical FTP tool that handles the vast majority of our ad-hoc FTP uploads and downloads. Although we rarely have a need for it, FileZilla also provides a (Windows only) FTP server facility. FileZilla is constantly being updated and each release brings new features and improvements.

3) Jing (http://www.jingproject.com)

Jing is a wonderful screen capture tool that we use for documentation and adding demonstrations to "how-to" articles. We've even used it to show relatives how to do things on their PCs. Jing not only captures the selected portion of the screen, but captures audio at the same time and even uploads it to your Screencast.com account or to a video server of your choosing. We discuss Jing here.

4) WDSC/RDI plug-ins

The plug-in that we most often use is SoftLanding's RSE Extensions (http://softlanding.com/downloads/index.htm). It provides the capability to view spool files and message queues to RSE. It also offers a graphical compare/merge tool that is a huge improvement over the basic RSE tools. We have referenced this one before.

Another plug-in that many find useful is Arcad's 5250 emulator for RSE (http://www.arcadsoftware.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=40&Itemid=160). We haven't yet tried the latest version but we know of many happy users.

5) CGIDEV2 (http://www.easy400.net)

Easy400 offers a number of useful tools and utilities but is best known for CGIDEV2. We do a lot of our Web programming these days with PHP, but CGIDEV2 remains in our arsenal as our tool of choice for generating XML. Whether we want to generate a spreadsheet, Word document or static
Web page, CGIDEV2 is still the easiest way to go. We've seen some interesting new tools emerge recently and will report in more depth as they mature, but those of you who use CGIDEV2 for your Web programming needs should also look at Renaissance (http://www.renaissanceframework.com), an RPG application framework built on top of CGIDEV2. Renaissance provides all of the Ajax-based Web 2.0 goodies that we expect of modern Web applications. We've previously written about the various uses of CGIDEV2 here and here.

6) Scott Klement's HTTPAPI and FTPAPI (http://www.scottklement.com)

No mention of free software would be complete without noting Scott Klement's wonderful contributions to the IBM i world. Need to consume Web services? HTTPAPI can do it for you. Want to programatically automate FTP transfers? FTPAPI to the rescue. Scott has also done a lot of work in making the POI Java classes for Excel spreadsheet creation available to RPG programmers. You can find more by searching for Scott's articles.

Scott's work has also inspired others to build on his projects. For example, Thomas Raddatz had added the WSDL2RPG tool to his already impressive collection of free utilities (http://www.tools400.de). This takes a Web service's WSDL file and generates a skeleton RPG program that uses Scott's HTTPAPI to invoke the Web service. Similarly, Tommy Holden took the work that Scott did with the POI classes and developed a utility to turn any DB2 table into a spreadsheet.

7) Aaron Bartell's RPGMail and RPG To Desktop (http://mowyourlawn.com)

RPGMail provides an easy to use RPG interface to the JavaMail APIs. RPG to Desktop allows any RPG program to launch a program on the PC being used as the 5250 emulator. These are just a couple of Aaron's projects. Check them out, and don't forget to donate to his efforts to raise money for World Vision as he runs his first marathon.

8) Last but not least, PHP

We use PHP on our PCs, and on our IBM i system. Jon recently switched to Zend's new Community Edition of Zend Server on his Mac, and he's happy with that. However, many PHP distributions will match most any need. Once PHP is in place on the PC, there's a whole new world of software to play with. We've been using the PC-based versions so we can explore a number of frameworks such as ATK that we covered here. Of course we can't forget Zend Studio, which, as IBM i customers, we can download and use free of charge. We also understand that real soon now we'll be able to plug the Studio components into RDi, which will help consolidate our development into a single tool.

Well that's our top eight. What about you? Add your comments and let you fellow IBM i professionals know which free tools that you can't live without.

Posted July 14, 2009| Permalink

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