Dick Bains, Another System/38 Father, Dies at 64
January 5, 2009 Timothy Prickett Morgan
A computer architecture is only as good as the compilers that are created to take advantage of that, and the long and storied career of Dick Baines, one of the three key fathers of IBM‘s System/38 minicomputer, the great-great granddaddy of the modern Power Systems i platform, demonstrates this well. Just after The Four Hundred went off press in December for the holidays, Bains passed away after suffering a heart attack while visiting his son on December 13.
Bains, along with Frank Soltis, the just-retired System i architect and the face of the AS/400 for decades, and Roy Hoffman, were the three key architects of the System/38 platform, with Bains doing a lot of the compiler work. Bains joined IBM in 1968 after graduating from the University of Wisconsin with a master’s degree in mathematics; he started out as a contract programmer before joining Big Blue, and eventually rose to the vaulted position of distinguished engineer at the company. Bains was a key member of the Rochester Advanced Technology Programs team, which spearheaded the development of new technologies for midrange platforms at IBM.
According to his autobiography on the Website for IDE Associates (a company that Bains ran with fellow ex-IBMer and wife, Roxi), Bains co-developed the S/38 Pascal Compiler and the System/C Compiler for the AS/400; he said that these compilers helped conceptualize the New Machine Interface (NMI) for the iSeries and became the basis for all of the Integrated Language Environment compilers now sold by IBM–that’s RPG, COBOL, CL, C, and C++–and their back-end intermediate code, which he called W-Code, that is now used in the S/390 through zSeries mainframes and on Power-based servers sporting AIX or OS/400. Baines retired from IBM in 2000, and in addition to running a software and consulting company with his wife, he had a stint as a technical assistant at high availability software maker Vision Solutions.
Bains is survived by his wife, Roxi, two sons, Richard and Matthew, as well as by his five grandchildren and both of his parents. The unexpected nature of his death has come as a shock to family and friends, and after a life of hard and valued work, it seems unjust for Bains to have died so suddenly and so early.