PowerWindows for Linux

Product: AppGen PowerWindows for Linux, Version 5.1--Demo Manufacturer: AppGen Business Software, Inc. E-mail: sales@appgen.com URL: http://www.appgen.com/ Price: $9.95 US for demo, $1,500--$2,500 US for single-user

AppGen PowerWindows for Linux is an integrated suite of business applications for small to mid-sized Linux-based businesses. If you purchased their $9.95 US demo advertised in Linux Journal and elsewhere a while back, you may want to give it another look, as AppGen has significantly improved the Java runtime client. In this review I'm going to cover the installation of the provided demo application and discuss the potential advantages PowerWindows could provide you as an established or aspiring Linux consultant/VAR.

The Package

AppGen PowerWindows for Linux includes a CD-ROM, a one-page install sheet and three manuals: Installing and Configuring the Applications, Operator Orientation and Using the Applications.

My package was missing the first manual, so I contacted AppGen by e-mail, and they shipped out both this manual and an additional manual on open database connectivity (ODBC).

Installing and Configuring the Applications covers installation of the client/server installations for UNIX, Windows NT and Windows PC+.

The PC+ version of the software is a Microsoft Windows-based version that can run as standalone, peer-to-peer or client/server.

Installation instructions are fairly brief, particularly the set on UNIX installation. The demo version I'm using is slightly different than the full package, so I couldn't really tell if the install routine for the full package went as smoothly as the instructions imply. I'll detail the demo install below.

After installing the software, you will need to create a company. A demo company and data are provided, but you will need to go through and set things up for your, or your client's, company. Make no mistake, this is a big project. You need to make a lot of decisions on how you want things set up, and it's much easier and better to do this work up front than to go back and try to make changes once you're already using the system. The second chapter of the manual provides about 35 pages of instructions detailing the necessary steps to set up each module and how the respective modules will interface with each other. If you are setting up the package for a client, you should get all the affected departments involved in the process so the system can be set up in a manner most useful for everyone.

The third chapter provides technical information for system administrators. This information includes the AppGen data files structures, environment variables that effect the display of currency as well as date/time and database utilities for maintaining and repairing database files.

Operator Orientation takes you through the three different interfaces available: character-based GUI, client/server GUI and PC+. The PC+ interface instruction is only available with the PC+, peer-to-peer product.

For both of the GUI interfaces, all the instructional material assumes you are running a Microsoft Windows product. There is no mention of the Linux Java GUI or screenshots. The character-based interface is targeted for use with what they refer to as "low-cost" dumb terminals, but it can be used at the Linux console or in an xterm. (I don't know if you've priced dumb terminals lately, but with the plummeting price of PCs and with thin-client machines, these things aren't so cheap anymore.) I think I'd prefer to go with a diskless GUI client machine, like the one the LTSP project allows you to set up (www.ltsp.org).

Using the Applications gives an overview of the features for each application of the program, a few pages on the concepts involved, a flow diagram and text of how the application is tied together, as well as describes how it interconnects with the other package applications. Finally, it includes a few pages on typical schedules and procedures for the application you would modify based on your business practices. The applications include accounts receivable, accounts payable, general ledger, payroll processing, billing, bank reconciliation, sales order processing, inventory control, purchase order processing, job cost tracking and bill of materials (BOM).

The manual warns you it does not intend to teach accounting, manufacturing or distribution concepts, and this information is best learned elsewhere.

The ODBC manual describes the theory and installation of the AppGen ODBC server/driver. AppGen uses a two-tier setup with the UNIX-side ODBC server running on the AppGen server machine and a client-side ODBC driver that works in conjunction with the Microsoft ODBC driver manager to interface with any ODBC-aware Windows client software, such as Microsoft Access or Microsoft Query. If you are setting up the system for a client using primarily Microsoft-based desktop machines, this may be a good option to enhance the functionality of the product by allowing common desktop applications to pull up custom reports or spreadsheets for data analysis. I've used a similar approach in our material requirements planning (MRP) system at work, which is driven by OpenIngres, and it has eliminated a lot of manual data entry for folks wanting to manipulate or analyze system data outside of the system.