RPG Open Access Suffering from Inaccessibility
July 25, 2011 Dan Burger
You would think that in any IT community, especially one as tight as the IBM i community, there would be few, if any, secrets. But that doesn’t do justice to IBM, where apparently it is believed that loose lips sink ships. A good example is RPG Open Access. Funny how you could have something called Open Access and yet hardly anyone talks about it except the proponents of modern RPG.
Here’s a tool, officially referred to as Rational Open Access: RPG Edition, that had RPG developers overflowing sessions at the COMMON 2010 Conference. It was one of the first things off the lips of IBM i executives when they discussed the availability of the latest version of the operating system, which at that time was i 7.1.
For those who have never heard of RPG OA or are barely aware of its existence, its primary benefit is in allowing RPG opcodes, which have limited interfacing capabilities–DB2 database tables and 5250 display files are two examples–to interface with devices and resources RPG was not designed to support using its I/O model. Web browsers, mobile devices, Web services, XML files, external databases, and spreadsheets are some of the examples. This was something modern for RPG development. It showed IBM was investing in the language and in the platform.
Now what do you hear about it? Almost nothing from IBM. For a corporation that markets the heck out of “Smarter Planet,” how can they be so dumb?
I have a two-word answer for that: Rational Software. It seems like the executives there have a vendetta against the IBM i platform. Maybe it’s because IBM i users don’t buy enough Rational software. And because RPG Open Access is being used by IBM i ISVs to enhance their software, Rational might sell even less software to this market in the future. So Rational gets irrational and buries Rational Open Access: RPG Edition in the back yard.
What prevented IBM from incorporating Open Access into the IBM i operating system? Who vetoed that idea or was that idea even considered? I’d like to hear the rationale for making this an IBM software product. Could it be the profits from a $500 sale? That’s the price for ROA on a small Power Systems box. Even when ROA gets licensed for a big box, the price only tops out at $5,000. The profits in this wouldn’t even cover the cost of cleaning the executive washrooms at Rational.
Someone made the decision to make ROA so difficult to order that those who wanted it got lost in the woods and wandered around lost for weeks at a time.
That was such a misadventure that Profound Logic, one of the ISVs that has products on the market based on Open Access RPG, became an IBM reseller so that ROA buyers no longer have to put up with IBM’s inadequacies. Alex Roytman, president and CEO at Profound, would rather not be a reseller of ROA. He’d prefer that functionality be part of the IBM i operating system. He’s not alone.
Jon Paris, one of the top RPG trainers and educators, is frustrated with the way RPG Open Access has been mismanaged. Because it’s not part of the OS, a barrier to its use has been created. “A senior programmer who, in his play time, might explore what could be done with RPG OA cannot do so without asking his management to order the product,” he points out.
It has been rumored for months that a downloadable free trial of Rational Open Access: RPG Edition is forthcoming. Aaron Bartell, another well-known RPG expert and vocal supporter-vocal critic of ROA: RPG, posted a blog on July 7 that the Rational tools for Power Systems product manager, William Smith, told him that “trial licenses for Open Access for RPG (OAR) will be available in ‘just a few weeks.'”
It won’t help if the trial license period is a brief period like 30 days, Paris says with some suspicion that Rational would put that kind of limit on it. “It has to be usable in people’s spare time,” is his recommendation. “An unlimited trial with limited users would work, but I don’t see them doing it.”
It’s bewildering that Rational Developer for Power Systems (RDP), which is, at minimum, an $800 product has a 60-day trial offer, but those interested in Open Access are still waiting for something comparable.
In the end, Paris says, RPG OA belongs in the OS.
Bartell agrees it should not be a standalone product and has indicated that barriers to its use would be eliminated, or at least diminished, if it was part of a compiler purchase.
The amount of time that’s passed since Rational Open Access: RPG Edition has become available–more than a year–and the lack of going-to-market skill seems like it should be an embarrassment to IBM. I have not heard an ISV utter a discouraging word about the technology, but other than those interested in RPG OA for its Web application development benefits, which are currently being used by looksoftware, ASNA, and Seagull, there hasn’t been much action.
One exception is RJS Software, where Vern Hamberg has headed up a program to use RPG OA to simplifying remote database access. Hamberg, by the way, authored a paper on RPG OA titled Open Access for RPG Special Report: What It Is, How It Works, and Hands-On Experience. It was published by System iNews and is worth reading; you can read it at this link.
How much of this inaction can be attributed to bad decision making and weak follow-through is impossible to accurately gauge. However, noting these missteps leads to an obvious conclusion that it didn’t help matters and the opportunity to strike while the iron was really hot was missed. Until RPG OA becomes easy to acquire for the majority of RPG developers, its value will remain underappreciated.
IBM pats itself on the back for listening to its customers. This is one of those cases that proves otherwise. And the peculiar thing is that it wouldn’t take very much at all to get this right.