iSeries From The Outside

Another interesting thread on the rpg400-l mailing list and (hopefully!) another interesting article. What began as a simple question of where new RPG programmer talent would come from turned into a discussion of the iSeries position in the marketplace. The thread can be viewed here with a follow up thread here. The point made in this post by Terry Beeson is that, “AS400s tend to get a slating from Windows/Unix lovers, mainly because they don’t understand what AS400s can bring to the party. The general perception seems to be that the AS400 is old and outdated.” I think that Terry is right, the general perception is that the iSeries is old and outdated. What is important to understand is why.

I believe it is reasonable to say that a particular system’s abilities are often judged by outsiders by how that system fares in big, spectacular deployments. Nothing says spectacular like supercomputers do. The current list of the top 500 supercomputers shows a number of systems from IBM, but none that run OS/400. It appears that the vast majority run an operating system that is either UNIX or UNIX-like. Thus it is only natural for someone to believe that their UNIX system can do anything a business would need – after all, it runs the most powerful computers in the world! Manufacturers know this and use it to their advantage. Is it any surprise then that people unfamiliar with the iSeries would think it is “old and outdated?”

Let’s look at another example. In a post by Lim Hock-Chai he writes, “People … think RPG is old or out dated because it can only produce a green screen (which is true unless you are using VRPG). User[s] are not going to care whether the application is written in RPG, VB, C, C++, Java or whatever. All they know is [that] green screen is old.” Certainly RPG can do more than green screen 5250 applications (CGI being an important example), but the point that users’ perception of the iSeries is molded by the 5250 green screen is a valid one. My last article very briefly discusses an idea to enhance the 5250 green screen experience. I don’t think that the iSeries needs a GUI to enhance the users’ interaction with it, but doubtless there is room to improve the green screen. With the current rather staid look and feel of the green screen it is no wonder the iSeries is viewed as old and outdated.

Another example is taken from my own experience. When I first started working with the AS/400 and RPG I had just come from the university where really interesting things were going on. The World Wide Web was getting started, Mosaic was popular, and computer 3D modeling was really coming into its own. All of these things required (at that time) a UNIX machine and the C programming language. When I was sat down at the AS/400 and instructed to start creating DDS for database files I felt that this was an antiquated system that didn’t do anything interesting. My co-worker told me, “We don’t do rocket science here.” Knowing that we didn’t do rocket science (or anything else exciting) and that we wouldn’t be doing so in the future only cemented the antiquated perception of the AS/400.

So what can be done? Certainly there is nothing we can do about the top 500 supercomputer list. But while that is a very visible way to show a system’s capabilities (at least as they relate to supercomputer tasks), it probably isn’t necessary. As James Lampert suggests in this post we need to work with the iSeries strengths and make those known to outsiders. Before we can improve the perception of the iSeries, we need to understand why that perception exists.

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