IBM To Unchain RPG Open Access?
Published: October 31, 2011
by Dan Burger
It's unconfirmed, but I have to give IBM credit for correcting its course and making the best use of RPG Open Access anyway. Last week, the company let a few people know (the press was not included) that it was no longer going to charge for Rational Open Access: RPG Edition. It's expected this will significantly boost the visibility and use of this product and the products of third-party vendors that have incorporated ROA. It's a smart move.
Just last week in The Four Hundred, I wrote an article that noted how the ISVs using ROA had sequentially contracted with IBM to distribute ROA, because their customers and prospects were complaining about the licensing process being difficult to navigate, frustratingly time consuming, and, in some cases, expensive. Profound Logic, ASNA, and looksoftware--all application modernization tool vendors--took this step. But from what I hear now, IBM told the Large User Group in a meeting last week that Rational Open Access: RPG Edition would no longer be licensed as a separate item. That pricing ranged from $500 to $5,000 per license depending on server size.
This would also mean the three IBM i ISVs with the ROA distribution agreements would no longer be in the ROA distribution business.
Details are slim at this time, but the indications are this change would take place shortly after the first of the year. We don't know what that new distribution plan will be, but it would be nice to see ROA delivered in the form of a PTF, followed by inclusion in the IBM i operating system at the time of the next Technology Refresh. Many voices in the IBM i community have suggested such a thing.
For end users in the IBM i community this brings several advantages.
The first is that Open Access is available to them for unlimited testing and experimentation and without any hassles in the ordering process, which led to the ISVs becoming distributors. Just two months ago, IBM made a 70-day trial version available, and that was a welcomed move. But this change of direction removes the trial period limitation, which was probably too short for a product that is being considered for tasks that often involve lengthy planning and testing periods. Although RPG Open Access is most frequently associated with application modernization projects, it is expected to have many uses. Removing barriers to accessing Open Access should result in its more widespread use. For more than a year, prior to the trial version, companies would have to pay to play with a product, and that just added to the bureaucratic hoop-jumping that goes on within most companies when decisions about how to move forward with IT projects are considered. In instances involving companies looking at products from third-party vendors, there was the licensing of ROA: RPG Edition and licensing of the ISV product or possibly the increased cost of the software due to bundling the ROA license fees into the pricing.
"There are two issues right now that we don't know about," says Eduardo Ross, vice president of technology at ASNA, where an application modernization product called Wings makes use of RPG Open Access. "The first is how this will be distributed. It might be a PTF that can be downloaded and installed. That would be the best we could hope for. Or they could allow it to be easily downloaded and installed from the Internet. We could have a link on the ASNA site, for instance."
Ross goes on to say, "It is my hope that in IBM i 7.2 or 8.1--whatever the next version of the operating system is called--that Open Access is included as part of the RPG runtime, part of the OS. I'm just saying what my imagination is telling me. I have no facts that this is what will happen."
For those who have already purchased ROA licenses, the product, the compiler, and the runtime have been delivered via PTFs. The use of ROA: RPG Edition requires servers running IBM i 6.1 or 7.1.
Because IBM chose to tell the LUG members about the changes, it seems reasonable to conclude that IBM has been receiving feedback from that group that ROA availability and pricing needed to be re-examined. Within the LUG there would be companies possibly interested in writing their own "handlers" (used to access devices and resources that RPG was not originally designed to support) or they may be working with ISVs where potentially hundreds of ROA licenses would be coming into play. In those cases, the costs of licensing ROA could add up significantly.
"The original plan prevented the adoption of Open Access technology that makes the platform much better," Ross says. This plan will eliminate the hurdles of adoption. At ASNA, we are very happy this has happened--not only for us, but for the platform in general. I believe the entire IBM i community has let IBM know it needed to fix the obstacles to obtaining Open Access. It is really good that IBM has listened to the community."
RPG expert Jon Paris, who was recently named an IBM Power Systems Champion, has been a consistent voice calling for IBM to make changes in the way it was handling RPG Open Access. Shortly after it became generally available, Paris was vocal in his disappointment about the technology not being built into the operating system, which would have eliminated barriers such as price and ease of access.
"As I have said to you before, I do think this is a much needed change," Paris wrote in an email to IT Jungle last week. "The software vendors were always going to go for the 'holy grail/silver bullet' uses of the tool, such as 5250 enhancement. But that's only a tiny part of what the tool can be used for. Open source proponents weren't going to do anything with a tool that required a product to be purchased before it could be used. Similarly--even in shops that have in-house tool builders who might have taken advantage of Open Access--it wasn't going to happen unless the company had need of OA for other reasons such as purchasing an Open Access-based product from a third-party vendor."
When RPG Open Access was introduced, Paris described its value to RPG developers by saying, "Part of the beauty of RPG is that it is such a simple interface for everything. Everything is a file. You can write to a screen as a file, to a printer, and a database. They are all treated the same way with the same interface. Simplicity is important, but it's also elegant. Now, with Open Access, a file can be a Web service or a Web page or an IFS file. We used to have to learn an API for all these things."
Although the report of RPG Open Access becoming a free technology is still unconfirmed by IBM, if this is the direction it is headed, the IBM i community--at least the portion that continues to depend on RPG development--should be pleased.
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