The AS400, Dinosaurs, Whizzkids and the Plodders

IBM i

May 19

The IBM System i has a strong following, in part because companies have not generally been required to upgrade hardware or software on an arbitrary schedule. This means that many business are running legacy computer applications (for legacy read ‘old fashioned’) that have typically been running on green-on-black terminals for many years – “if it aint broke why fix it?”

Since the 1990’s computer technology has been evolving at an incredible pace. Todays mobile phones pack in far more technology and firepower than a desktop computer from ten years ago. Even your family car with its engine computer and GPS/SatNav is doing these incredibly technological things that we now take for granted.

The IBM System i has been evolving at an equally exciting pace, now with fully integrated website support, FTP, email, support for just about every language and even integrated Windows/Linux Servers. The original programming language (RPG – Report Program Generator) has evolved into this incredibly powerful tool that can write/read websites, do incredibly complex maths and convert data to PDF’s and emails and talk to just about any other language on any other platform.

So, “why isnt it being adopted by more business?” I hear you ask.

It’s our own fault… IBM are just simply terrible at marketting this machine imho of course so speaking as a Software Developer it’s definitely down to us to promote this machine and fantasticly versatile language.

The trouble is that developers, programmers, coders or whatever you want to call it, are a fickle lot….

RPG Programmers, in particular, fall into at least three camps

Camp 1 – The Dinosaurs
RPGIII programmers who write things in the same way they were writing them back in the early 90’s. Code elegance is not important, nor is performance or any kind of visual stimulus to the user. The only important thing is getting the data off the System i (invariably referred to as the AS400 by this crowd) and giving it to the user in the form of reams of paper and query reports hundreds of pages long. Fully entrenched in green screen development, firmly in their careers twilight years and obstinately sticking to Compare-and-Branch programming style because “this is how we have always done it”.

Camp2 – The Mediators
You all know the sort… the established programmers who take pride in the code they write. Usually spotted because they will ask users “Would you rather see this report in a spreadsheet or on a piece of paper?”. Typically writing a combination of RPGIII and RPG4 code, these guys occasionally read the most recent tech magazines and understand the concepts of SOA (Service Oriented Architecture – basically meaning modular style programming – as adopted by website designers everywhere). Code is a mixture of modern style ILE and legacy column based format. Business focused and running with the pack.

Camp 3 – The Adopters
Supporting Legacy code and applications and upgrading code where it’s beneficial. New code is mostly written in RPG/FREE, JAVA or whichever language is the best for job. Focus is always on writing the neatest, most efficient modular and reusable code that’s possible. Proponents of Web Services and using the Internet for something more than emails or looking up numbers for the local pizza shop – these guys are the next generation of Software Developers. These are the shining lights of the IBM System i world, focused on business integration, an improved user experience and ultimately on making the technology work FOR the business and create PROFIT for the business.

I wish we could all be in Camp 3.

I strive to be, but fall short and occasionally mix it up with both the other camps 😉

of course, there is also Camp 4 – The TechnoGeeks
Using technology for technologies sake. Writing weird hi-tech code and taking joy in only the most complex programs and writing modules in the most machine-efficient way which runs super fast but is a nightmare to maintain. Web interfaces, complex SQL joins and laptops running the latest Beta release of Windows or Linux is the trademark. Less said about these guys the better.

*cough* – I also occasionally fall into Camp 4 😉

So where do we go from here?

You keep your laptop and desktop computers upgraded right?

You visit Windows Update, or your AVG Antirivus, Mcafee or Norton updates sites correct?

You do this to keep your computer current and running as healthy as possible. So why isnt this done with your most important computer… the one that runs your business. Your big Black Office Server should be running the most efficient code, the fastest database and presenting information to your users *and* your customers in an efficient and easy use form.

We need to follow a road map to upgrade our IBM System i’s for the new millennium.

The great thing is that everything we need is out there on this thing called the Internet: Free training, thousands of white-papers, other peoples experiences, downfalls, do’s and dont’s.

IBM has a free upgrade roadmap with lots of interesting and thought provoking features to contemplate.

Whats your excuse for not shining?

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About the Author

IBM i Software Developer, Digital Dad, AS400 Anarchist, RPG Modernizer, Alpha Nerd and Passionate Eater of Cheese and Biscuits. Nick Litten Dot Com is a mixture of blog posts that can be sometimes serious, frequently playful and probably down-right pointless all in the space of a day. Enjoy your stay, feel free to comment and in the words of the most interesting man in the world: Stay thirsty my friend.