Compuware has continued to rollout graphical front-ends to its mainframe product portfolio after it announced the release of its analysis and debugging tool Xpediter, with Eclipse 2.0.

The new version of Xpediter now comes with what is being dubbed an Eclipse plug-in. Xpediter is traditionally used by mainframe developers to get an understanding of how a particular mainframe application works. Xpediter with Eclipse 2.0 helps new developers become productive quicker by moving away from the traditional "green screen" interface and providing them with a modern point-and-click GUI environment.

"Xpediter has been around for many years as an interactive analysis and debugging tool," said Atul Bhovan, technology manager at Compuware. "But if developers are given a mainframe application to enhance or upgrade, they need to understand how it works. For that, they rely on documentation, but this often tends to be out of date. This tool looks at the source code (for example Cobol or PL1), and it looks at how program works, and then allow developer to decide how to update or enhance the application."

According to Bhovan, it also conducts impact analysis, so that a developer can see how a change to one line of code impacts the rest of the program. "And once changes are made, you need to do testing," he said. "Xpediter identifies the bugs or failures in the program, also once it has done that, it proves the level of testing has been carried out, i.e. there is factual evidence for the manager that the testing has done, kinda like a tick box."

This gives managers the confidence in new programmers that the testing has been properly carried out and also helps businesses that have outsourced their mainframe development to specialist companies. "For companies in the UK that have outsourced this work, they are able to check it to make sure right level of testing has taken place and can then make the product live," Bhovan told Techworld.

"Eclipse provides a graphical front end because a lot of programmers are not familiar with green screens, which rely on menu commands to perform certain tasks," he added. "Eclipse is menu driven, point and click, which means it is much more easier for the developers to navigate the application. This improves their productivity. We have given developers both options, either green screen or Eclipse (which is now an optional add-on), so developers who prefer a GUI can use Eclipse."

"All our mainframe products are moving towards the Eclipse interfaces," he said. "Currently 60 percent of our mainframe tools have the Eclipse interface now."

Bhovan said that customer feedback plays a vital role in the development of these tools, with customer comments feeding directly back into Compuware's product labs. With UK companies facing a mainframe skills shortage as mainframe people reach retirement age, Bhovan feels that tools of this nature are vital.

"We are finding a lot of mainframe people are coming to the age of retirement, and when they leave, it is not easy for organisations to fill their role," he said. "New people don't know the application and how it works, as the program may have been running for past 20 or 30 years. Also many people may have modified the application piece meal over those years, often in different ways, what we call spaghetti development, so people need the tools to understand how the application works, and the risk of making any changes."

Compuware was unable to provide any pricing information, as it highly dependent on individual customer requirements.