IBM Reverses Course, Keeps S/3X Compilers in i5/OS V5R5
June 26, 2006 Timothy Prickett Morgan
The thing about sagas is that they have drama, they tend to go on for a long time, and even when it feels like the tensions that make up the drama are resolved, there is always a sense that it is a fleeting resolution, but a brief respite before the story begins again. So it is with the older compilers that are buried within the i5/OS platform.
To cut to the dramatic climax for those of you who are still using the RPG II and COBOL compilers that were compatible with the System/36 and the RPG III and COBOL compilers with the System/38: IBM is not, as it had been planning to do, removing them from the next release of i5/OS, which presumably will be called i5/OS V5R5 but could be called i6/OS V6R1 or heaven only knows what else.
If you came into the theatre and missed the beginning of the saga, a brief recap is in order. With the January refresh of the i5/OS platform and the Power5+ System i5 machines, IBM put a statement of direction at the end of the i5/OS V5R4 announcements that caused some anxiety among many OS/400 shops. Specifically, IBM said that support for certain compilers that were created for the System/36 and System/38 predecessors to the AS/400-iSeries-System i line were on the way out. WebSphere Development Studio for iSeries V5R4, in fact, will be the last release to ship with the RPG II and COBOL compilers that are compatible with the System/36 and the RPG III and COBOL compilers that are compatible with the System/38. IBM advised customers who have deployed System/36 and System/38 applications in the S36EE or S38EE emulation environments to switch to ILE RPG. IBM did say that these old compilers would be available as a non-warranted PRPQ in the next release of i5/OS.
This made some AS/400 and iSeries shops who still code using these compilers pretty nervous. And maybe even a few business partners that might have old RPG II, RPG III, or COBOL code lurking in their applications.
Some people erroneously jumped to the conclusion that because the System/36 and System/38 compilers were being removed from the future i5/OS that applications written with these compilers would no longer work. At the COMMON iSeries user group meeting in Minneapolis in late March, IBM said that it had no plans to remove the S36EE runtime environment from i5/OS V5R5, which meant RPG II applications would run on the future release, even if you could not use the tools to tweak these applications and recompile them. IBM did not say anything about the S38EE runtime. Then, in April, I got further clarification on all of this from George Farr, technical development manager for System i development tools at IBM’s Toronto software labs. The future WDSc compilers would not include the System/36 and System/38 versions of RPG and COBOL, but they would be available as a PRPQ that would be supported–not unwarranted as IBM originally threatened–but would cost money. Farr said that there was “a 100 percent chance” that the price would be north of $1,000. He also suggested that IBM might increase this price over time as a means of encouraging companies to move to RPG IV.
After getting feedback from a sufficient number of OS/400 shops, the kibosh was put on that plan. “That specific proposal has been rejected, so we are not doing it,” explained Farr, who, like many IBMers, wishes that companies would just move to RPG IV and get modern. Farr and his team have worked hard to improve RPG over the years, and they just want people to move and take advantage of it. But, clearly somewhere along the way, someone said that now was not a good time to ruffle the feathers of the OS/400 shops that are using RPG II, RPG III, and old COBOL versions. (It is hard to say how many applications are still coded using these compilers, but it could be as high as 10 to 15 percent of the OS/400 and i5/OS application base.)
Of course, just because i5/OS V5R5 has the old compilers, doesn’t mean the release or version after that will.
See what I mean about sagas?
Every saga needs a hero, of course, and IBM could, in fact, be that hero if it thought a little outside of the box. (To be fair, by backing down on this compiler issue, IBM is being the hero.) For years, IBM has been trying to use positive reinforcement (RPG IV has great new features), and negative reinforcement (we are killing the old compilers), to get people to try to get companies to move ahead. There might be a better way to get people to move. For instance, what if IBM actually offered really good porting tools and services at a reasonable price to help customers make the jump? It could work with third parties to do this, of course. And what if IBM gave customers goodies if they made the jump. Say, a free six months on a lease of a new System i5? Free Web-enablement for the first 25 or 50 screens? If IBM wants customers to all be on RPG IV, it has to give them a compelling reason to do it. What if someone with some clout–someone like Bill Zeitler, who runs the Systems and Technology Group, or Sam Palmisano, chairman and CEO at IBM–actually said in a Webcast or a presentation that RPG and COBOL have a future, that these are perfectly reasonable alternatives to Java and C#, and made the case why companies should continue to code in RPG or COBOL instead of other languages?
I think IBM should be a lot more concerned about getting all those AS/400 machines converted to i5/OS and System i5 iron, and it should worry a lot less about what compilers customers use. I think IBM has to offer big and serious incentives for these customers to move ahead. And that is where it ought to be generous and make its money at the same time.