A great deal of bandwidth has been expended on both MIDRANGE-L and other forums regarding IBM’s advertising (or lack thereof) of the AS/400. The whole “Magic Box” campaign, oft referred to as the “Tragic Box” campaign, appears to have been an attempt to keep those that managed to ruin the fantastic chance OS/2 had to eclipse Windows gainfully employed.

Personally, I’ve been a big detractor of IBM advertising of the AS/400 myself. New directors of the AS/400 come forward offering ad campaigns, only to be quashed by “the powers that be” in Armonk. Anyone attend the New Orleans COMMON where the AS/400 was featured daily in ad’s in the “Times-Picayune”? Out of those, how many actually saw an ad in a local paper? I really WANTED to believe Tom Jarosh when he stated that AS/400 advertising was “going mainstream”, but felt deep down that it would never happen. I was right. I even heard a few local ad’s on the radio afterward — for about a month — yet never saw a single one in the paper that I read cover-to-cover every weekend here at home (where all of IBM’s PC production resides). No wonder I looked askance at the IBM representative in San Francisco when she claimed that Jarosh couldn’t attend this COMMON because he was in Armonk “fighting for the AS/400”. To be fair, I DID receive quite a bit of material and contact information during that particular “Soundoff” regarding getting AS/400 education into my local community college.

Even “Tragic Box” emphasized NetFinity (on which IBM has yet to figure out how to make a profit) and the S/390 (which is still completely misrepresented as a web machine). What about the midrange? I started griping about AS/400 advertising when I saw 390/6000/NetFinity ads without the AS/400 in the “mainstream” press. Now, even the RS/6000 (a poor machine to begin with) is missing — how “Deep Blue” could be represented as an RS/6000 is a mystery to me to this very day. The midrange as a whole seems to be conspicuously absent from today’s advertising by IBM.

Taking an open view, though, current hardware sales pale in comparison to the overall health of IBM. The company still leads the world in patents (thank goodness), but has really focused on the “Global Services” division as far as business is concerned. Paying third-party consultants less that they can make on their own may work for now, but not forever. Either directly (through ownership or training) or indirectly (through 401(k) or mutual funds), we in the US all own a piece of IBM. Their move away from hardware is understandable in a booming economy, but hardware is what sells in a recessive one. In a depressed economy, companies tend to not “give a hoot” about your high priced consultants when all they really NEED is a computer that runs mission-critical applications faster.

IBM cannot continue to alienate the veritable LEGIONS of loyal customers and technicians that service its’ machines. Where IS the IBM that we all know and love? Can Mr. Gerstner continue to promote profits over product during the next several years? I don’t think so. Could the AS/400 be a cornerstone of an improved hardware offering from IBM? Yes, with a few improvements of its’ own. Should we that earn a living on the AS/400 be upset with its marketing? Yes. Will those that don’t learn JAVA be “flipping burgers” instead of programming? I doubt it, if you were any good to begin with.

Wherefore art thou, IBM? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, yet the rose that buoys most of our careers and retirement plans tends to stink of late. Wall Street knoweth you not as do we who strive in your dark bastions, making your name a success and your prowess unopposed. Global Services may earn you a passing profit, but it is indeed your hardware and the dedication of thousands that DO NOT work for “Global Services” that keeps you in the forefront of the technological revolution. Why hath thou forsaken us?

About Dean Asmussen:
Dean Asmussen was a frequent contributor to midrange.com mailing lists and the moderator of the BPCS-L list. Dean passed away in the spring of 2003.