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A Closer Look at iSphere

Back in early 2013, we introduced you to a new plugin for Rational Developer for i (RDi) called iSphere. Since that time, the developers of this great little tool have been hard at work adding new features and improving existing ones—so much so that we decided to give the latest iteration of the tool a callout in our blog and, as promised in that piece, we’re going to delve a little deeper in this month’s article.

As at the time of writing, iSphere provides the following (although considering the speed at which they’ve been adding features, this list may be obsolete by the time you’ve read it!):

  • High-speed message file searching and editing
  • Binding directory editor
  • Compare/merge editor
  • Fast search feature for source files
  • Capability to open spooled files in text, HTML or PDF format
  • Capability to add task tags to your source
  • Decorators for objects in the RSE tree view

Using the Compare/Merge Editor is worthy of an article all by itself—or at least a video to show it in action—so we won’t cover it here. Refer to our original article or the iSphere documentation for the basic details. Instead, here’s a more detailed description of some of our favorite features in this great addition to the RDI user’s toolkit.

“Decorating” the RSE Tree

Even when it’s not Christmas, a little tree “decorating” can be a good thing—particularly when it helps you to navigate around an unfamiliar system. iSphere uses the description text of libraries, files, source members and other objects to “decorate” them in the RSE tree view. You can see what we mean in Figure 1). If ever you needed encouragement to use good descriptive text for your objects and source members, now you have one. You can see how much easier it makes it to locate a specific source or file.

You’ll notice in other parts of the tool, such as the source file search, that these descriptions are also shown in search results. Again, this is a useful addition.

Message File Editing and Searching

We mentioned the excellent message file editor in our earlier article, but since then there have been some improvements. First, the filtering capability has been enhanced so that you can now restrict its effect to either first or second level text (Figure 2). Second, a preview feature has been added that lets you see the message as it would normally be displayed (Figure 3). These features are highlighted in the images.

When you first select a message file and request the iSphere message editor from the context menu, the tool may initially appear to be slow in starting. This is because it retrieves all of the necessary data about each message in the file before there’s any visible sign of what’s going on. “Slow” of course is a relative term—we’re used to windows popping up as soon as we request a function. iSphere’s philosophy though is to show you a window only once it has some meaningful data to show you. When the data has been retrieved, the “Work With” style window appears (Figure 2) and you can enter your filtering criteria.

Another nice feature is the capability to select multiple messages from the list and then perform the same action (e.g., edit, delete) on all of the selected messages. One aspect of this feature that we particularly like is that if you cancel one of the operations, perhaps because you selected the message in error, only the action for that message is cancelled; all others will still be presented in sequence.

So, if the editor provides a filtering facility, why does iSphere provide a separate message search facility? Well, as you can see in Figure 4, the filtering mechanism provided for the search is much more sophisticated and can include multiple filter strings including the capability to search for messages that don’t contain a specific string (“Contains Not”). You can also specify if all or any of the conditions must be met.

If this were the only benefit of the search facility, it would be enough, but the clever people behind iSphere have added one more feature. The tool remembers the search results! So, even if you have to perform a different search before you’ve finished working with the results of the first one, you can go back and work with the results any time you like until you actually close the results window.

We love the message file facilities—they’ve made our lives so much easier and we can now retire the homegrown search tool we’d been using.

Jon Paris is a technical editor with IBM Systems Magazine and co-owner of Partner400.

Susan Gantner is a technical editor with IBM Systems Magazine and co-owner of Partner400.

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