PowerWindows for Linux
PowerWindows has most of the typical reports you would want to see from this type of application, aging reports, BOM, vendor lists, payroll reports, etc. The reports are nothing fancy, but they do display the data nicely. The demo version I had for review did not allow actual printing, so I was unable to see how they looked on paper.
The help system uses HTML, a plus in my book. I did have to add an environment variable, AGBROWSER, to /opt/appgen/.profile:
Once this was done, the on-line help came up in Netscape as expected. This should probably be wrapped in one of the Netscape wrapper scripts; otherwise it tries to launch another instance of Netscape when one is already running, instead of opening another window. Again, the demo version does not have extensive on-line help. There is also context-sensitive help when you are in a field on a data screen. Clicking on the "?" icon opens another window with a description of the field in question and possible options.
PowerWindows is much like the MRP system we use at work, although not quite as full featured. You do have the basic things needed to run a business: accounting, payroll, inventory control, job cost tracking and BOM. In the text-based client, you maneuver with the arrow keys, Tab, function keys, and the Return or Enter key. F1 or the word "End" backs you out of menus and screens (it would be nice to map this to the "End" key).
There were a couple of occasions where I got into a screen and was unable to get back out, and in one case I had to kill the session from another terminal. I can envision having to do this a lot in a manufacturing environment. The GUI client responds to the same keystrokes, as well as to the mouse, and it has icons to pull up Help, the Quick Menu and a screen dump.
As you would expect from this type of product, PowerWindows keeps track of who is accessing/modifying records and prevents two people from making changes at the same time. The second user trying to access the data is informed the record has already been opened by the first user. The second user is then offered the opportunity to open the record as read-only. The system does not notify you when the record again becomes available for editing.
PowerWindows uses a feature it calls Cross-Reference. In any screen dealing with codes (customer code, job code, etc.), you can type the first three letters of any word in the name and a pop-up will appear with the possible choices. You can also press F8 to get a list of choices.
AppGen PowerWindows is not a package you'll have up and running in an afternoon. It's a serious business-class package, and as such you will need to do some planning and involve the whole organization to get it set up and running. If you're a Linux consultant or VAR, PowerWindows may be a great avenue to expanding your business base. I chatted by e-mail with an AppGen VAR who told me AppGen requires all of their VARs to attend training courses on the software, and they also release source to their VARs. Consequently, there are a lot of custom add-ons and modifications in circulation within the AppGen VAR community. Some of these add-ons have expanded the package into areas such as MRP, POS and medical records, as well as native-language versions for those of you working with languages other than English. A single-user installation can run $1,500--2,500 US, while a 16-seat license can go for as much as $15,000 US. Retail pricing is set by the VARs. While this may sound like a lot of money to us free-software folks, it is pretty much in line with other applications of its class.
AppGen also provides multiple levels of VAR support, including training, help desk support, custom programming and sales support materials for advertising and trade shows. For those of you looking at getting started with AppGen development in Linux without dropping a lot of money, AppGen offers the Linux BAG (Business Applications Generator), a subset of their development package, at $99 US or $39 US for students.
As mentioned, I had a little trouble with the demo install on my older Mandrake distribution. It would have been nice if AppGen had included instructions or had enhanced the autoag script to fall back to text-based operation if the Java runtime failed. In addition, I'd like to see the documentation focus a little more on the Linux/UNIX side of things, or give equal coverage, at least. Those complaints aside, AppGen PowerWindows looks to be a solid offering and a welcome addition to the Linux application base. If you're looking for a Linux-based business solution or are interested in exploring opportunities in the VAR channel, it may pay to give PowerWindows a look.
Stew Benedict is a systems administrator for an automotive manufacturer in Cleveland, Ohio. He also is a freelance consultant, running AYS Enterprises and specializing in printed circuit design, database solutions and utilizing Linux as a low-cost alternative to commercial operating systems and software. Stew enjoys time with his wife, daughter and two dogs at his future (not too much longer) retirement home overlooking Norris Lake in the foothills of the Smokies in Tennessee.