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NEWS V6 #1

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In this Issue:

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Hydratec First to Market with Vinny Product!

Hydratec, Inc., of Windham, NH, will release a Visual NPL (“Vinny”) version of their Hydraulics product on April 1, according to Steve Downing, General Manager. Niakwa believes that this is the first Vinny-ized commercial package to reach the market, and that Hydratec is to be commended.

Hydratec’s engineering package assists engineers in designing commercial building sprinkler systems, and can be considered in two pieces, both of which are tightly integrated with Windows AutoCAD programs. The first is used in the calculation of water flow through piping, and will be released in a Vinny version April 1. The second is used to print manufacturing specification drawings for the piping, and will be released in a Vinny version later this year.

Faced with pressure to have their entire product line be Windows based, Hydratec converted Hydraulics to use Vinny while converting their NPL Release III based product to Release IV and implementing a modular design. “Modules and Vinny are relatively easy, its just a different way of thinking about an old problem. Modules are like program overlays and windows events are like special function keys. There’s no reason to fear either one, Release IV and Vinny just make the programming process easier,” Downing said. He then added “If an old country boy like me can understand it, anyone can.”

One of Downing’s programmers attended Release IV training, and Steve himself attended Visual NPL training in November. Development was performed using NPL 4.20, Visual Basic 4.0, and Windows95.

Their ability to adapt to Windows while maintaining their logic engine, along with their progressive approach to software design, will undoubtedly keep Hydratec in the lead in their market.

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NPL Developer Survey:

Your Input is Vital

by Alan Green, Director of Research & Development

In my Open Letter last year I stressed that Niakwa wanted input from developers like you to make NPL a better environment.

Apparently that message struck a chord, because we’ve received literally hundreds of phone calls, faxes and letters from NPL developers around the world with ideas, suggestions (and even a few complaints!) We recorded everything we received and implemented some of your action items right away (check the feature list for Visual NPL, NSM-7, NPL 4.20 and our upcoming NPL 4.21 to see what I mean.)

Now we’re ready to tackle some bigger projects. But before we proceed, we want some more input from you.

Enclosed with this newsletter is our 1996 NPL Developer Survey. It’s short (2 pages), sweet (lots of cool ideas!) and to the point (we’re asking about things we really need to know your views on.) Please invest a few minutes to fill it out and fax it back to me before April 5.

We’ll take the survey results, combine them with your previous input and our own ideas on these topics, and synthesize the direction your language will take over the next 12 months (and beyond). I’ll then report that direction to you in two ways: a thumbnail sketch with the next issue of this newsletter, and in detail in a follow-up Open Letter II shortly thereafter.

This last year has been extremely important for NPL. Lots of exciting things have happened, some visible now, some to unfold for you in the fullness of time. But if you haven’t gotten our two messages yet I’m sure you soon will:

    Message 1: Niakwa is in the language business for the long haul... we believe in NPL... and we’re racing to take NPL back to the cutting edge of software technology where it belongs.

    Message 2: We view NPL as your language. We need your input to define its future.

So keep those cards and letters coming. But first send me your Survey... we’re counting on you!


WEB NOTE: We still want your input - please call, fax, or email it to us!

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NPL Development Update

Many significant NPL products were released in 1995, and we have several currently in the works for 1996 (our development team never rests!). The 1996 list is subject to modifications following the survey results we receive (Page 2).

1995 - Products Released

Niakwa Screen Manager (Ongoing devlpmnt.)

    - NPL written fully portable screen manager for text-based and a GUI Windows environment - released in a series of monthly releases beginning in March of 1995. Latest version was released in January of this year, with two additional releases planned based on developers’ input.

SCD Package Update Revision 2.4 (March 1995)

    - Addition of support for MS-Windows version of 2227 Asynchronous communications drivers, and a number of 2227 enhancements.

NPL Gateway to ODBC SDK (March 1995)

    - Allows developers to make calls to any MS-Windows based ODBC (Open Database Connectivity) database drivers, thus allowing applications access to a wide variety of database formats. Also allows extensive use of SQL data access commands.

EDEFSOFT Imaging Library (March 1995)

    - A Library Product which allows for imaging processes to be used with NPL programs. Functions include but not limited to importing/exporting 36 raster image formats, inverting/mirroring images, multi-sizing, E-mail and more.

IBM AS/400 Enhancement for Windows Support (October 1995)

    - The AS/400 is Niakwa’s first Client/Server port, allowing NPL to operate on PCs connected to an AS/400 Server. This release allows MS-Windows PCs to be “clients” of the AS/400 Server.

VISUAL NPL (VINNY) Release 1.0 (October 1995)

    - Vinny provides a flexible, interactive link between NPL and Visual Basic (VB), to allow developers to integrate a true Microsoft Windows GUI into their existing NPL applications. Vinny also provides access to the world of prewritten VBX routines to quickly add new and flashy functionality to existing NPL programs.

NPL Release 4.20 for Intel DOS/Windows based platforms (November 1995)

    - NPL Release 4.20 provides support for Windows 95 and Windows NT platforms, as well as more flexible security for other “NetBIOS” based platforms. Other enhancements to NPL are also included.

1996 - Development In Process Now

NPL 4.21 for DOS/Windows Based Platforms, Intel Xenix/UNIX, RISC Platforms

    - This release features a no return upgrade, improved install feature, improved Windows features, Field Level User Limit Reset, and more. Details in newsletter scheduled next month.


    - This release will take advantage of VB4, provide OCX support, and include additional enhancements.

NSM (two additional Releases)

    - This release will focus on UNIX platforms as well as developer requested enhancements.

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The Next 500 Years

by An Anonymous NPL Historian

    In the 5th century BC, the Greek historian Herodotus wrote of the "Phoenix" ... a fabulous bird that would periodically regenerate itself. According to legend, as the bird neared the end of its 500-year life, it would lay itself upon a funeral pyre. From the ashes, a new Phoenix would rise to live again.

The near-universal acceptance of Microsoft's WindowsTM operating system has accelerated the life-cycle of most NPL software. Millions of users are clicking their way through freshly installed copies of Microsoft Office while sub-$500 "graphic netstations" make their way to market. The death of text-mode application software (at least in the Windows world) is imminent.

Since NPL was primarily a text-oriented language, its future under Windows was looking rather dim... until two new products came along to help NPL developers take their applications to the world of visual, data-independent software:

The first of these is Visual NPL, released in 1995, which drives Visual Basic forms and controls from NPL.

Soon another exciting tool will become available to provide data-independence to aging applications. Best of all, it's very easy to implement.

This article addresses these two developments:

First, it presents some tips on gearing up to a graphical environment so that you may use Visual NPL.

Following that is a discussion of the concepts behind “Project Phoenix”, the new data-independence tool, explaining how you can prepare for its impending release.

Build a fire, lean back, and read on!

Using Visual NPL: The 10% Solution

Adding graphical displays to applications is not an "all-or-nothing" process. Since 10% of your software usually does 90% of the work, find the functions that you regularly "demo" to prospects and concentrate your efforts there.

Look hard and long at your software to find the areas where "Windowizing" through Visual NPL would have the greatest impact. Then use "bound controls" (Visual Basic controls, such as text fields, which are tied directly to specified fields in a VB-compatible data base) to create graphical displays in less time than it took to create the original, text-mode versions. In this way, you can renovate your offerings with minimal effort.

Assembling A Visual Development Platform

If you don't already own an NPL v4.2 Windows RunTime, get a "combo" version right away (some of the upcoming tools temporarily require 32-bit code). Then sign up for Niakwa's Visual NPL SDK (which provides a link to VB's features while preserving your existing NPL code).

To do any kind of serious Windows development work you'll need a Pentium PC, 16+MB of memory, a huge hard disk and a CD-ROM drive. Unless you have the eyes of a Phoenix (which Herodotus described as "an eagle"), a 15"+ monitor capable of noninterlaced 1,024 x 768 resolution is a must. Finally, install Windows (preferably Windows95) and Visual Basic Pro v4.0 and then work your way through the training sessions found only on the CD-ROM versions.

Hint: Sign up as a "Reseller" with a large distributor (e.g. Merisel), then buy Microsoft's "Not For Resale" editions at discounts of 80% or more!

As long as you’re adding useful pieces to your system, consider Crystal Reports Pro v4.5+, which will come in handy once your application has become “data-independent” (as explained in the second half of this article).

Learn The Tricks Of The Visual Trade

The Visual Basic world of VBX and OCX controls (third-party add-on modules that “plug” into VB applications) adds nothing to your cost per sale while substantially increasing the value (and selling price) of your system to new and existing clients. The current release of Visual NPL works with VBXs and the upcoming Visual NPL 1.1 will support OCXs.

Consider these add-ons as “components” which allow you to quickly assemble new modules that add new functionality to your applications. Advice: Call 800-788-4794 for a free VBxtras catalogue and then subscribe to VB Programmers Journal (415-833-7100). You'll learn all the "buzzwords" and get a raft of money-making ideas, too.

Get Ready

Before you can create sizzling displays, you'll need some time to practice. As easy as it may be to create 3D high-glitz versions of your old text screens, plan on spending a few days getting used to the idea of mousing your way to success. The learning curve is short...but it’s there, and practice makes perfect. When it comes to adding document management, graphs and other components, we advise planning on a man-week per project (using Visual NPL and VBXs/ OCXs).

Data-Independence: Don’t Fight, Switch!

The remainder of this article is geared to those of you who have not yet made the leap into the brave new world of NDM (Niakwa Data Manager), but who have been intrigued with the idea of industry-standard data management. It also will be of interest to those who require faster data access and/or support of a “Client/Server” environment.

Buried beneath the surface of every software application is the support system for storing and retrieving information ... commonly known as the "data manager". Whether KFAM, SPEEDTM, or a proprietary wonder, the capabilities of the underlying data manager define the limitations of your software. Switch to a Microsoft-supported data base (Btrieve, dBASE, etc.) and hundreds of low-cost tools suddenly become available to add power and graphics to your code.

Windows-based screen and report writers (such as Crystal Reports) make fast work of putting on a pretty face. Create impressive, multiple-font reports while a prospect watches. Link up with VB (via Visual NPL) and you can change a display with just a few clicks and drags. It's an exciting world that opens the instant you convert to an "industry-standard" data manager.

From Here To There ... Quick!

Although the possibilities of "data independence" have long been tantalizing, until now getting there was like pulling teeth. Some resellers waded through obscure data manager manuals, modified reams of code and developed all manner of conversion tools. SPEEDTM resellers licensed FourDTM and BtrieveTM, purchased upgrades and then performed tedious, on-site conversions. Others simply conceded defeat or planned for an early retirement.

If only someone had found a way to make the transition to data independence as simple as "press a key and stand back". Well ... someone finally did.

In the very near future, Niakwa Resellers will be able to convert their existing applications and data to a Microsoft-compatible data base format. Many will perform this miracle in minutes, with no coding required. Others (those using proprietary data managers) will succeed with a one-time effort typically requiring just a few days of programming. Once data independence is at hand, adding a graphical look and feel to your software is as simple as clicking and dragging with VB (a task currently mastered by an estimated 4 million programmers.)

Plan For Increased Sales

With data independence comes immediate sales opportunities. Upgrading networks for Windows and/or "Client/Server" data management provides chances to sell hardware, consulting and installation services. Design custom reports on a "time and materials" basis or market your training skills at premium rates.

As you implement fully graphical displays, your upgrade and new sales opportunities will expand dramatically. Add revenues from application and RunTime upgrades, installation fees and ... well ... you get the picture.

The Big Tease

Some of you may remember the days when firms like Niakwa didn't announce a product delivery date until the day it was 100% tested and ready for shipment. Like it or not, the old days are back. There are no available "beta" slots nor prerelease copies of documentation to be had. PLEASE don't call or write to "get to the head of the train" -- because this train won't leave the station until it's fully fueled!

Editor's Note: A group of our community’s leading lights has undertaken “Project Phoenix”, the goal of which is to eliminate or substantially reduce the effort needed to make existing NPL programs data independent. The next Niakwa Newsletter will provide detailed information on "Project Phoenix" (including names? delivery date? wait and see!)

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NPL-4 & Vinny Fast Forwards VCR Customers into the Future

Recently, Niakwa's Alan Green and Tim VeArd collaborated to convert VCR's Graphical User Interface (GUI) over to Visual NPL. VCR's existing GUI is a NPL-4 style Module designed to enhance the appearance of their Expert System Generator called Enable, AIMS-6 and API software packages. Regardless if customers use DOS, Windows, UNIX or other platforms, the GUI yields a consistent, but modern interface. The interface features pull down menus, buttons, tool bars, 3D shadow boxes and other graphical elements controlled by a mouse or keyboard. According to Tim, just switching to NPL IV Modules made it much easier to add new features because all printing and keyboard & mouse interrupts were now in one place. More important, all of his programs shrunk in size by at least 35-50% and run substantially faster, especially on multi-user environments like Novell, Windows NT and UNIX.

VCR develops Expert Systems for many types of clients, but specializes in medical, Corporate Intelligence (CI) and Risk Management systems. Many hospitals and government agencies still use UNIX, but are now migrating to networks. So, it was critical to be able to deliver a true Windows product for a network, and also look good in UNIX. The real payoff for re-engineering Enable to use NPL IV Modules came when Alan and Tim created a "plug compatible" Windows version of the GUI using Vinny. VCR's clients with "mixed" operating environments can now choose between using a true Windows or a GEM-like GUI - even on the same workstation.

VCR has already installed Enable at 78 Army hospitals, with dozens to go. They are now deploying systems for another 450 hospitals managed or owned by another client. This ability to switch GUIs on "the fly" recently helped TechnaCode, Inc. (VCR's dealer in Utah) land a large contract that should result in about 1,000 installations of their Medical Coding & Billing Expert System. When the smoke clears, VCR plans to share their GUI with other developers by making it a Niakwa Library product.

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Al Gorithm’s Tech Corner

Hi! Al Gorithm here with more news and views about our NPL community.

This month I’ve got a special treat for you. Television has its Tool Guy and so do we, our very own Mike Liston of ASC, creator of the ASC System Support Toolkit.

Before I tell you about Mike’s Toolkit, though, let me tell you the story of why he created it.

Once upon a time, when many of us were a lot younger, there was a dandy mini-computer called the 2200. This machine could run circles around anything else in its class. Many talented programmers found their way to 28K partitions on D terminals and commenced to bang out reams of red-hot code in a language called Basic-2. Now Basic-2 had just about everything a programmer needed: a fast interpreter, a vast arsenal of verbs, and built-in debugging functions like TRACE.

What Basic-2 lacked, however, were high-level utilities to do everyday disk, file and program management such as squeezing out the unused sectors at the end of a file. Oh, sure, there were the ISS Utilities which could be mildly useful some of the time. And AIMS+Plus and TOM Software each provided some nice utilities if you happened to be one of their resellers. But a powerful, standalone set of general purpose, load-and-go utilities was not to be found.

So, like many of us, Mike Liston set about writing his own, little snippets of code that would squeeze out those unwanted sectors, for example. Now something you should know about Mike is that when he starts something, he keeps at it (and at it, and at it!) until the job’s been done right. And so it was with his utilities. By 1984, he had assembled a couple of dozen menu-driven utilities into a package for ASC’s own programmers that he called the Toolkit.

And even though his company’s mission is to provide high-end software for the banking industry, Mike saw a chance to help others in the Basic-2 community, so he documented and packaged the Tookit and sold it to all comers for a few hundred bucks a pop. I myself was an early and delighted user of the Toolkit, recognizing that at my age I had no time to waste doing housekeeping functions the old-fashioned way. (My favorite utility was then, and still is Compare Program Files, which highlights the differences between any two programs or range of programs.)

By 1988, Mike had migrated the Toolkit to the brave new world of Niakwa’s Basic-2C, along the way mastering the intricacies of parsing code in $SOURCE and $OBJECT format. Revising the Toolkit with every new release of Basic-2C (now NPL), Mike made sure it could handle new wrinkles in the language while still supporting legacy code from older versions. Today Toolkit version 2.4.2 will successfully manage programs written in NPL 3.x and 4.x.

The Toolkit is organized into 26 separate operations grouped into three categories:

Diskimage Management
Change Device Equivalence Table,
List NPL Internal Information, (very useful),
• List Sorted Files,
• List Disk Usage Statistics,
• Create File Index/Extent,
• Enlarge File Index,
• Change Catalog End,
• Rehash Index,
• Remove Free Sectors From Files,
Recover Available Disk Sectors,
Copy Files to Another Disk,
• Copy Sectors Between Disks,
• List Sector Contents,
• Change Sector Contents,
• Compare Files by Sector, and
• Compare File Names
Disaster Recovery
Verify Index Integrity,
• Recover Sectors to Another Disk,
• Recover Damaged Index, and
• Change Index Entry
Programmer Productivity
Search for Text in Programs,
• Search and Replace Program Text, (I can’t work without it!),
• List Program Source Code,
Compare Program Files,
• Execute Native System Command, and
• Compute System Performance Factor

My opinion is that this is one of the nicest general-utility sets in any language, let alone NPL. So what’s ASC charging for it these days? Take a deep breath... They’re giving it away “in hope that other developers will in turn offer some of their techniques to the NPL community.”

You may download a copy from the Niakwa BBS (and soon from our Web page). To download from our BBS, dial 847-634-6227 from your modem, then enter: your first and last name or GUEST, your password (if a regular user) or blank (if GUEST), “J3" to join conference “General”, “F” to show the file menu, “1” for the download menu, “D” to download, the filespec ASCTOOLS.ZIP, and finally the appropriate protocol information to complete the download.

If you like the Toolkit (and you will!) drop Mike a line at ASC and let him know. Better yet, also send us some of your tried-and-true code snippets in downloadable form and we’ll make ‘em available to the rest of the community on our BBS and Web page.

So “Thanks, NPL Tool Guy!

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Today’s Niakwa News

Today’s Niakwa News is published periodically by Niakwa, Incorporated, 1850 W. Winchester Road, Libertyville, Illinois, 60048. Phone (847)816-7400. Fax (847)816-7420.

Comments, questions and suggestions are welcome and can be directed to the Editor, Today’s Niakwa News, Niakwa.

Copyright 1996 - 2000 by Niakwa. Printed in the USA. All rights reserved. All product names, company names and/or logos are property of their respective companies.