i 7.1 Due April 14, with Open Access for RPG, Other Goodies
March 8, 2010 Timothy Prickett Morgan
The word on the street is that the next iteration of IBM‘s i for Business operating system, i 7.1, will be announced at an unusual Wednesday press conference a little more than a month from now on April 14. While that may seem like an odd time to do an announcement, that just so happens to be the last day of the Northeast IBM i User Groups Conference, which runs from April 12 through 14.
NEUGC is celebrating its 20th anniversary, and if you didn’t want to (or couldn’t) wait until COMMON‘s 50th anniversary, which runs from May 3 through 6 in Orlando, Florida, this NEUGC event, in Framingham, Massachusetts, would be the next-biggest one at which to host an i-related announcement. We told you all about the NEUGC event and its i-star-studded lineup a month ago, and significantly George Farr, who is in charge of RPG and other compilers, will be at the event to talk about a new feature that is apparently called Open Access for RPG.
As The Four Hundred reported last fall during IBM’s October Power Systems announcements, the company started lifting the veil on what we now know is called i 7.1 to assure i shops that it was still enhancing the platform. (The company is a bit Unix obsessed these days, so it was a nice change of pace to remember the third platform that runs on Power Systems iron.) Among the enhancements coming with i 7.1 are native XML support and column-level encryption in the DB2 for i database embedded in the operating system; asynchronous replication and LUN-level switching for PowerHA clustering; improved and automated data movement for solid state disks (SSDs); enhancements to RPG that would make it easier to RPG applications to talk to mobile devices and integrate with Web services; transformation of spool files to PDF formats; and enhanced iSCSI support for blade servers.
At the turn of the year, when IBM put out a roadmap for the i product line, it reiterated these features. A few weeks later, in January, I caught wind (which is perhaps better or perhaps worse than breaking it) that i 7.1 would be delivered in the third week of April. I hadn’t done the math that the NEUGC was in April. The rumors that the software would be delivered in the third week of April could still be true, if IBM is able to ship on announcement day. And, as I said back in January, IBM could announce i 7.1 any time it wanted. Remember, the Power7-based systems were not expected to launch until May at COMMON.
Conditions change, and they keep right on a-changing.
IBM started briefing business partners and resellers on i 7.1 last week, and of course there is chatter almost immediately. People on the RPG400-L list server at midrange.com asked some questions about a feature called Open Access for RPG, something that was not mentioned specifically in the announcement letter last fall or the roadmap at the turn of the year.
Ian Jarman, manager of Power Systems software at IBM and the long-time product manager for the iSeries and System i lines when they were distinct, spoke at the RPG & DB2 Summit last October, as the i 6.1.1 interim release was just being prepped for delivery, about IBM giving some kind of “open I/O access” to RPG applications. From what my colleague, Dan Burger, reported in our Four Hundred Stuff newsletter (see Jarman Flashes Clues on Future DB2 and RPG Directions), I gathered from Jarman’s vague hints that IBM was cooking up some way to have RPG applications interface with modern things such as Twitter feeds and iPhones without having to use and then transform the 5250 green-screen protocol. Basically by letting people create their own “drivers” for RPG, much as IBM has created its own display and queue drivers for the language. In the February 2010 issue of IBM Systems Magazine, the dynamic duo of Jon Paris and Susan Gantner, who obviously know a lot more than they are letting on, discussed the “open I/O access” enhancements that are coming from Big Blue.
Something interesting and very useful looks like it is in the works. But rather than IBM doing all of the coding for zillions of possible devices and interfaces, it looks like Big Blue will be offloading the job of writing these RPG drivers to end users and independent software businesses. This may not be a bad thing, and it could turn out to be a tidy little business for someone–if what I am speculating will be part of i 7.1 turns out to be the case.
There is some talk that Open Access for RPG, as it has been called, will be available on the earlier i 6.1 and i 6.1.1 releases, too. And I hope that is the case, since IBM needs as many customers as possible moving ahead and adopting new features.