Using SmartWare Plus to Build the Integrated Office
Linux has made great inroads into development environments, become a good X terminal, and been used in embedded applications. However, to seriously penetrate the office market, Linux needs to not look like Linux. That is, when the average office user sits down at his system, he needs to see a means for accomplishing a clerical task, not a Unix or Linux command prompt.
There are ways to address this problem with available tools. Caldera has developed a desktop and applications suite. Others, such as Dr. Greg Wettstein of the Roger Maris Cancer Center, have built their own solutions using languages such as Perl and Tcl/Tk. Here at SSC we use the Progress database (now running on Linux) and then use external Linux tools (such as vi and groff) to do the support functions. Angoss offers another alternative with SmartWare Plus.
SmartWare Plus is an integrated office environment that includes a database, spreadsheet, word processor, and more. Also included is a Rapid Application Development System that allows you to write custom applications that use the features of the various SmartWare packages in an integrated fashion.
SmartWare has been around for quite a while and boasts over half a million users worldwide and over 600 software developers. SmartWare is available for MS-DOS and Xenix and has been very popular for use in local governments.
To get an idea of what you might do with SmartWare, think about an average office—say a dentist's office. You would need a system that allowed scheduling of patients, ordering supplies, patient billing, time management and letter writing.
You could train the receptionist (who probably also does billing, orders supplies, and probably most everything else in a small office) to use a word processor, a spreadsheet, an appointment manager and a database—but this would mean s/he would have to learn how to use all these programs, as well as how to use the operating system to load the different programs and move information between them.
One solution would be to purchase an integrated package, but you are in trouble if this package doesn't do exactly what you need it to right out of the box. A vendor of mass-market software is not going to make the changes you need or give you the source code so you can do it yourself.
With SmartWare, you can write the necessary spreadsheets, develop the scheduling and accounting software using the database, and then, using the Rapid Application Development (RAD) system, tie it all together so everything can be accessed from a single menu: Figure 1..
SmartWare also includes some utilities such as file copy, erase, and print that insulate the user from the operating system. While I don't get excited about a menu option to copy a file Figure 2. , menus do allow the user to accomplish tasks without even knowing what operating system is under the hood.
The advantages of using the SmartWare Plus package are:
The same applications work under X-Windows and in character mode.
Applications are portable between platforms/operating systems.
All the necessary packages are integrated into one consistent package.
But, you pay a price for this. The disadvantages I see are:
No source code for the system itself.
The SmartWare user interface, while consistent among the different pieces of the package, is not consistent with other Linux/X applications.
Another important consideration is data security. Internal concerns need to be considered, such as access to payroll records, as well as mandated protection of confidential client records. Within the RAD system you can limit access to any application and thus any data.
Looking under the hood there is much more to SmartWare Plus than simply offering a GUI-based development environment. Also included is the SmartWare Programming Language—a complete programming environment containing standard structured programming constructs, over 200 commands and 300 built-in functions, multi-dimensional arrays and lots more. Thus, much can be done directly using the GUI-development tools but there is something under the hood if you need to do some serious programming.
When I first looked at this package I had a few misgivings concerning the installation procedure. The people at Angoss addressed them, but to be sure that the installation made sense, I asked Carlie Fairchild to give it a try. This is the result.
I then handed a copy to Bryan Phillippe, a systems technician at Zebu, a company related to SSC that produces Linux-based firewall systems. Bryan said, “SmartWare comes as a dynamically linked ZMAGIC a.out binary, tarred onto floppies. It installs easily for anyone with Unix experience, although the installation instructions themselves had some mistakes that might prevent a newbie from being able to install by following the instructions verbatim.”
Once he had the product installed, Bryan started doing some development. The “Working with SmartWare Plus” Sidebar contains the remainder of Bryan's comments about the system. Figures 3 and 4 show the database screens he has developed so far. Figures 5 and 6 show the word processor and its spell-check mode, respectively.
There are two primary markets for SmartWare Plus. The first and most obvious market is to offer Linux as a new platform for existing applications. For example, people in a dentist's office already using SmartWare but who now need a multi-user answer are the perfect candidates for a move to Linux.
Secondly, SmartWare is a good fit for office situations where the computer is a tool to perform a particular set of well-defined tasks. For example, an order-entry system could be quickly built that would meet the specific needs of a company. New features (such as letter writing from the order system) could easily be added when needed.
As these two markets have identified millions of possible places where Angoss SmartWare Plus could be a good solution, I think I will stop there. Having done requirements statements for computer solutions for government and industry, and then searched for the right solution for hundreds of systems, I want to emphasize that it is crucial to find the right tool for the job. And, for a lot of jobs, this package, along with Linux, can be the right tool.
An evaluation copy of SmartWare Plus is available over the Internet and is also included on the InfoMagic archive CD set. This copy has save and print disabled, but for $50, you can get the key to enable it.
Commercial licenses cost $685 for the development system and $299 for each additional user. Angoss Software may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone at 416-593-1122 or by fax at 416-593-5077.
Phil Hughes is the Publisher of Linux Journal, and the in-house nag for WEBsmith. He owns more than one, but less than 10, vehicles and tries to walk to work three times a year.