Yet another year is nearly here. We're sure you have a full list of to-dos for 2018, but here are a few potential things to consider adding to that list.

Get current

If you are using any of the software below, you're either out of date of very close to it! Take an inventory of your software and versions and get as close to current as you can. Security features, bug fixes, and enhancements come only to those who stay current.

  • Windows 7 has only two more years of security updates available. It reached the end of mainstream support on January 13, 2015, but security updates persist until 14 Jan 2020. Windows 8 and Windows 10 security updates are available until 10 January 2023 and 14 October 2025, respectively. You don't need to drop what you're doing to upgrade Windows 7 PCs, but you should plan to start Windows 7 upgrades sometime in 2019. When you do upgrade, go directly to Windows 10. (See the Virtual Machine section below for why Windows 10 should be your next Windows upgrade--and quickly!)
  • Windows Server 2008 R2 was dropped from mainstream support in 2015. Although Windows Server 2012 R2 has security updates through 10 October 2023, Windows Server 2016 (which gets security updates through 1 November 2027) is the better upgrade from Windows Server 2008 R2.
  • IBM i V7R1 goes to end-of-service on 30 April 2018. Plan accordingly!
  • Visual Studio 2013 reached the end of support on 11 October 2016. ASNA's formal maintenance policy is to support its products on the current version of Visual Studio and one back. With Visual Studio 2017 being the current version of Visual Studio, that means we test our products on Visual Studio 2017 and Visual Studio 2015. If you're using anything less than AVR 14.x or Wings/Mobile RPG/Monarch 8.x, please consider getting current (or closer!) in 2018.

The chart below shows our product versions with the version of Visual Studio they work with.

AVR Wings/Mobile RPG/Monarch Visual Studio version
11.x 6.x VS 2012
12.x 7.x VS 2013
14.x 8.x VS 2015
15.x 9.x VS 2017

 

AVR Classic is 24 years old this year

This is closely related to the "get current" list item above. ASNA's original Visual RPG COM-based product was introduced in 1994--it will be 24 years old in 2018! We worked very hard a few years ago on AVR 4.0 Classic updating it to AVR 5.0 Classic to make it produce COM objects compatible with Windows 7/8/10. We are confident that, at least until MS makes major changes to its Windows 7/8/10 COM model, that AVR 5.0 apps still have years of life left in them.

If you're still using AVR 4.x, we strongly encourage you to upgrade to AVR 5.0. ASNA doesn't support AVR 4.x on Windows 8/10 platforms. That said, we have some customers who insist that 4.x works on Windows 8/10. While we're happy it does for them, we don't encourage that and think it's a risky bet. The COM ecosystem is fragile and susceptible to Windows update changes that could break everything.

If you're business is heavily invested in AVR 4.x, please consider upgrading to AVR 5.0. It's a risky bet running AVR 4.x apps on Windows 8 and 10!

 

Windows 10 as a service

Microsoft is vigorously promoting its "Windows 10 as a service" (WAAS) strategy. Windows updates are often a huge hassle for network administrators, and Microsoft's new service-oriented strategy aims to help make life better for IT pros. That said, in typical MS fashion, a clarification of its WAAS strategy is a little fuzzy around the edges.

One the points that's clear is that MS aims for twice-per-year feature updates, each of which are serviced (or have an effective life) for 18 months. For businesses with many Windows desktops to maintain, pay close attention to Microsoft's WAAS announcements. Microsoft appears to be heavily committed to the initiative, and as it plays out it will affect how you deploy and maintain your Windows desktops.

 

Don't be left behind the mobile 8-ball

Mobile computing is changing workflows and business processes for your competitors. Are you keeping up? We've worked with several customers on large mobile projects this year. One comment all of these customers have made is how surprising it is to them how quickly mobile apps have helped redefine critical business operations and workflows.

Make 2018 the year your business gets serious about mobile computing. The smartphone is the new IBM i workstation. Read about ASNA Mobile RPG here.

 

HTTPS for your websites

Many ASNA customers have public-facing websites built with ASNA Visual RPG, Wings, Mobile RPG, or Monarch. If you haven't yet (and if my seat-of-the-pants surveys are correct many of you haven't!), 2018 is the time to better secure those sites with HTTPS. HTTPS encrypts the request/response data stream between the browser client and the Web server, protecting what otherwise is sent in plain text across the Internet.

For example, in a Wings app deployed to the public Internet without using HTTPS IBM i user credentials are passed in the clear across the Internet. It's probably not likely, but it's possible that your Internet traffic could yield critical info to Internet hackers and bots.

HTTPS certificates have come way down in price over the last couple of years. What was once somewhat of a specialty item is now a fully-commoditized, easy-to-get products. Vendors such as NameCheap and NetworkSolutions have commercial SSL certificates available and you can even get free ones at LetsEncrypt (which, while free, do need to be renewed often).

HTTPS isn't just good for security, it's good for your business's reputation and your site's SEO benefits. Google searches now show preference to secure sites. Make 2018 the year you get serious about your website and its security.

 

Virtual machines

Windows 10 includes Windows Hyper-V virtual machine engine. This feature was once an enterprise server-only feature and does a great job enabling and managing virtual machines. There was a time when using VM's required more trade-offs than they were worth. Screen refreshes were jerky and file IO was very slow. But, with the advent of Hyper-V on an appropriately-configured PC, virtual machines do a great job enabling you to juggle multiple environments. VMs also apply to server products as well, but that's not the focus discussed here.

Of course, there's a gotcha and it's that phrase, "appropriately configured." A good rule of thumb is that you need a PC that's no more than three years old with 16GB of memory and a process with at least four cores (which provides eight logical processors). It's also highly desirable to have an SSD on which to host VMs. SSD speeds boost VM performance. You'll spend a little extra on this laptop over a simpler model, but it will be able to host what would otherwise be several PCs. And, if you're on a budget, buy a used Dell M4600 Precision with a capable processor--it's easy to add memory and hard drives to these old workhorses. I'm on my third one and would get another old used M4600 in a heartbeat.

There are also Windows 10 licensing considerations with VMs which vary depending on how you buy Windows. Most developer shops will use either MSDN software subscriptions, an MS Software Assurance plan, or the MS Virtual Desktop Access plan. Wading through these licensing issues with MS isn't fun--but the payoff is worth it.

When you've identified the hardware you're going to use and have the licensing in place, using VMs provides new ways to fix a lot of problems. For example, you can configure a VM and have it ready to pass your software (installed, configured, and ready to run) to make available to a customer. For developers, it's an ideal world. It's easy to spin up version-specific new machine instances. For example, let's say you've built a product with AVR 14 and Visual Studio 2015, but also want to get developers busy with AVR 15 and Visual Studio 2017. Spin up a couple of VMs, one for each configuration and they are good to go. Having a pre-configured VM is also a great way to bring up a new programmer quickly. Just pass her a ready-to-go VM, and she will be productive quickly.

One caution: A Windows VM represents a single large file on its host PC. This file must be regularly and reliably backed up. If you lose that file, you lose the VM. This is the voice of experience talking here! Beyond our regular backup facilities, I now have a 6TB Seagate device perched on my desk that snags VM backups while I'm at home at night watching the Bachelor (which, beyond losing VMs to an errant backup, is clearly one of the signs of the apocalypse).