One of the most amazing thing about the short history of computers is that the early mainframes of the 1960s and ‘70s – supercomputers that took up entire rooms and required their own air conditioning systems just to keep them at the optimum temperature – were less powerful than the handheld smartphone that most of you are probably carrying in your pocket even as you read this. It’s even more amazing when you consider that the technology required to access these mainframes can now be emulated on smartphones. From 3270 emulation to Wyse and Stratus emulation, it’s all available from your handheld device. In a way, it's all come full circle.

Why Mainframes?

Indeed, technology is progressing at an astonishingly rapid rate, and nowhere is this more evident than in the realm of mobile computing. But you may be asking yourself: if the smartphones of today are more powerful than the ‘big iron’ mainframes of three decades ago, then why would we need to access mainframes at all?

The fact is, in the modern computing landscape mainframes still play an essential role. For starters, they too are much more powerful than their 1970s predecessors, with many mainframes capable of handling billions of processes per day from global corporations down to medium-sized businesses.

Why Terminal Emulation?

In order to access these mainframes back in the day, the end user had to use compatible terminal hardware. Unfortunately, these terminals are not really created anymore, so instead it’s down to creating a virtual terminal environment with software commonly referred to as a ‘terminal emulator’. There are terminal emulators that have been designed for every type of mainframe and, furthermore, they have been designed to exist on a variety of platforms, from Windows PCs and Apple Macs to, more recently, handheld devices such as the iPhone or iPad, Google Android, Windows CE and Windows Mobile.

Why Mobile Terminal Emulation?

As the prevalence of mobile computing with these handheld devices such as smartphones and tablets grows, so too will the need for the appropriate emulation software. More and more employees of organizations are accessing mainframes on the go and, as a result, terminal emulation software for these devices needs to be the best. When choosing iPhone, Android or mobile Windows terminal emulation, there are several factors you should look for, including:

  • The ability to connect to the host system from your device.
  • A wide range of emulations – some terminal emulation software will support over 80 different terminals.
  • Support for the built-in scanners often included with RFID handheld computers.
  • The ability to run multiple sessions at the same time.
  • Font type, size and color configuration to offer better readability.
  • Administrator passwords to stop intruders from accessing device configuration.
  • Keyboard mapping, where physical keys are mapped to any emulation key, macro or string.
  • Auto login, where the session is configured to log on to the host application at start-up.

Additionally, mobile terminal emulation software should be highly configurable to suit the requirements of each device, and should be based on proven underlying technology. Bear all of these features in mind when choosing a mobile terminal emulator and be sure to only settle for the best.