IBM i: It’ll Shine When It Shines
May 19, 2014 Dan Burger
When you think back about the Technology Refresh program IBM implemented with the introduction of IBM i 7.1, the incremental refreshes included enhancements that would have created fireworks if they were saved for the next major release of the operating system, which was just announced three weeks ago. Cloud computing, virtualization, and RPG features were all notable additions. Of all those, the free format RPG functionality arguably received the loudest cheers. Is anyone cheering 7.2?
Last week, I hope you saw the question and answer session with Alison Butterill and Steve Will that appeared in IT Jungle. If not, that’s a good place to start today because this article picks up where that one left off. Here are the two IBM i executives discussing the Technology Refresh program and how IBM i customers reacted to it.
Dan Burger: The reasons for implementing the Technology Refresh program make sense. With a longer duration between major releases of the operating system–four years instead of two–IBM i shops aren’t as likely to fall behind and when new features arrive with TRs, a shop doesn’t have to jump to the latest edition of the OS to make use of the enhancement or wait as long to get their hands on it. But do the Technology Refreshes take the shine off a major release like 7.2?
Alison Butterill: It’s all in your perspective. If you were looking at virtualization as your number one concern, the fact that free format RPG came out in TR7 probably gets a reaction like “Who cares?”
Steve Will: We are going to find out some things about how our clients are listening to us as we do the 7.2 announcement. We’ve been wondering if it will take the shine off. Our history has indicated there are clients who aren’t going to pay attention to us until we do a major announcement. We’ve had some mid-release things before and they seem to ignore them.
Seventy-five percent of what’s in 7.2 is new and 25 percent are things that have been delivered in between releases.
People have already asked me about the cloud stuff in 7.2. Most of that came out in TRs 1 through 4. It’s been two years now, but the folks who talked to me didn’t seem to know that it existed before 7.2. They must not have been paying attention.
So I am trying to take all the ‘shiny bits’ that came with the TRs and make it clear to people that all that shine is now in 7.2. It could have been on 7.1, but if you weren’t paying attention, maybe it wasn’t all that exciting to you then.
Butterill: We don’t brief everyone on what we are about to announce. It’s not like they are ready to order on announcement day. For most people what we say on announcement day is news to them. At that point, if they are excited, they begin to plan to put it into their project schedule.
We have a few immediate adopters. They say, “Give it to me six weeks before it is even ready. I don’t care.”
Free format RPG is an example. Customer reactions were . . . “That’s really cool, but how do I get it. When do I get it? How will I learn about it? It’s all a plan that must be put in place. It takes some time to build it into a schedule.
Burger: Are there indications that a lot of companies are going to do something with free-format RPG?
Butterill: For traditional programmers, many have been dying to have a free form language. They have been encouraging us to do that for a long time. We will always have some people who want to code in columns. We still have people who code in System 36 environments. A good developer, one who is not just an RPG programmer, is ready to use free format. We have seen a huge uptake and huge interest. Barbara Morris has done webcasts that draw large crowds. There has been online Web education that is well attended. It has been very popular for programmers.
The transformation tools that turn old code into the new format are another indicator of interest. We have not sold a ton of the tooling yet, but Philippe Magne [CEO at ARCAD Software, which makes an RPG transformation tool] told me there has been lots of interest. And that follows the time frame of six months for planning when to get the product and start using it. We are in the process of working on customer references for those that have converted fixed form code to free form code. And they now have Java and C++ programmers working on it. We see the level of interest steadily growing.
Will: I see this in contrast to what has happened with SQL. We’ve been telling traditional database folks to move to SQL for a long time because there are great benefits to that and we still have an annoyingly large percentage of people who want to continue with the old methods.
There doesn’t seem to be that delay in the RPG community. It seems the folks that know the value of RPG want to get to free format. It seems like the people who know what the power of RPG is want to be on the forefront.
At this stage after the introduction of free format RPG I am very excited about how many in the RPG community are in favor of free format. That is my indicator.
Butterill: Look at the investment being made that leads to the productivity gain. There is an investment in the conversion tool. But the switch to coding in free format RPG requires no additional investment in development tools, if a company already owns the Rational tools. There is an investment in columnar programmers learning free format. But this is not a radical investment.
Will: Every time we done significant enhancements to RPG in the past and demonstrated that we are investing in it and listened to the customers, we’ve seen more people realize it’s to time to modernize. RPG Open Access did that for some people, but wasn’t enough for some people. It feels like free format is being taken as an indicator that IBM is serious about this. It’s the realization that this is a good time to modernize.
Butterill: It reaffirms IBM’s commitment to RPG. And another thing, free format doesn’t require a system upgrade like PRG OA does.