Monday, July 9, 2012

What is the Difference Between FOCUS and WebFOCUS?

A common question I see in my blog statistics is, "What is the difference between FOCUS and WebFOCUS?"

We have to go back in time for the answer. In the late 1970s, the new software vendor Information Builders began offering a “fourth-generation computer programming language” to IT organizations as a replacement for COBOL application development (which was considered to be one of the third generation). 

This "FOCUS" language did everything that COBOL could do, just with fewer lines of code. Common, repetitive coding tasks were automated so that the programmer did not have to bother with them anymore. 

The problem was, corporate coders had little desire to stop using COBOL. Making their jobs simpler and faster was not high on their list of priorities. 

However, IT management did see value in offloading end-user reporting requests to their counterparts on the business side of the house. In the 1980s, FOCUS gained widespread usage as a simple, end-user reporting tool. 

This was not the only 4GL trying to get into corporate IT shops. Information Builders had to beat out the 4GL competitors RAMIS and NOMAD. 

Information Builders created multiple versions of the FOCUS 4GL, made specifically for different computer platforms such as MVS, VM/CMS, VAX/VMS, Wang, Tandem, UNIX, and so forth. They also built almost any kind of database interface imaginable; IMS, IDMS, TOTAL, SQL/DS, Datacom, Model 204, Non-Stop SQL, etc. You name a database, Information Builders built an adapter for it.

In addition to supporting various databases as input, Information Builders added FOCUS support for all sorts of output formats. You could generate files in relational databases, flat files, FOCUS BDAM structures, word processing, Excel, and many others.    

In the mid-1990s, Information Builders was enhancing FOCUS to have an HTML output format. It became obvious that, not only could FOCUS generate web content, it could also use this new format as an input mechanism. They went on to create a web-based architecture where input and output to FOCUS could be done through a browser. 

Based on that innovation, Information Builders released an alternative for FOCUS called WebFOCUS, which is built upon the FOCUS 4GL processor.   In fact, the vendor in recent years has been able to consolidate these two products into a single code base.  The product is fairly portable and independent of any particular operating system. 

While FOCUS was a computer language hand-coded by the end users and IT developers, the WebFOCUS product suite contains a graphical development environment that automatically generates the underlying code. You can still get to the 4GL code, but the idea is to let the GUI tools generate it automatically. 

The FOCUS product was used both interactively and in batch.  From dumb terminals, online users could communicate with application menus and screens or go directly to a line command processor for simple ad-hoc requests.  FOCUS programs could also be run using JCL or other batch control mechanism with parameters passed in or determined by the program itself.

While there are ways for the WebFOCUS code to be run from batch processes such as MVS JCL and Micro Focus Enterprise Server, the scheduling mechanism probably preferred by Information Builders is their ReportCaster/Distribution Server suite. 

There are two three broad components of the FOCUS 4GL, the first being a non-procedural language for reporting, graphing, analysis, and maintaining data.  Next is a procedural scripting language (Dialogue Manager) that provides some logical control of the embedded non-procedural code, symbolic variable substitutions, and multi-step complex processes.  These are critical to enabling WebFOCUS to perform complex, dynamically-generated web applications. 

Another important component of both FOCUS and WebFOCUS is the metadata and adapter layer, which hides the complexity of the underlying data structures, allowing developers and end users to create applications while having minimal knowledge of how to actually access the data. 

Most of the FOCUS 4GL features are still available within WebFOCUS but, of course, any "green-screen" features are gone. Information Builders has been very creative and added many new features onto WebFOCUS that would have never been possible with FOCUS.  

Today, Information Builders probably does not sell much of its host-based FOCUS 4GL. Instead, most of their product sales come from the WebFOCUS BI product and their iWay Software enterprise integration products (some of which are basically the underlying nuts and bolts of WebFOCUS). 

Back in the early 1990s, many companies told me that they were dictating a ban on building FOCUS applications. While new development may have stopped, many large companies (typically with mainframes) still have legacy FOCUS applications. Five years ago, Partner Intelligence was founded based on software tools to simplify the modernization of these legacy FOCUS applications into WebFOCUS.  

If you have any other questions about the difference between FOCUS and WebFOCUS, please send me an e-mail. 

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About Me

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I am a project-based software consultant, specializing in automating transitions from legacy reporting applications into modern BI/Analytics to leverage Social, Cloud, Mobile, Big Data, Visualizations, and Predictive Analytics using Information Builders' WebFOCUS. Based on scores of successful engagements, I have assembled proven Best Practice methodologies, software tools, and templates.

I have been blessed to work with innovators from firms such as: Ford, FedEx, Procter & Gamble, Nationwide, The Wendy's Company, The Kroger Co., JPMorgan Chase, MasterCard, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Siemens, American Express, and others.

I was educated at Valparaiso University and the University of Cincinnati, where I graduated summa cum laude. In 1990, I joined Information Builders and for over a dozen years served in regional pre- and post-sales technical leadership roles. Also, for several years I led the US technical services teams within Cincom Systems' ERP software product group and the Midwest custom software services arm of Xerox.

Since 2007, I have provided enterprise BI services such as: strategic advice; architecture, design, and software application development of intelligence systems (interactive dashboards and mobile); data warehousing; and automated modernization of legacy reporting. My experience with BI products include WebFOCUS (vendor certified expert), R, SAP Business Objects (WebI, Crystal Reports), Tableau, and others.