Open Source Lures The Killer App Closer
October 6, 2014 Dan Burger
Open source software is not exactly a hotbed of activity in the IBM i community. You can find all sorts of examples of it. You can find window shoppers, tire kickers, and sandbox playmates, but it’s more closely related to a small scoop of ice cream than it is to meat and potatoes.
A comment like that will draw some fire from IBM. Big Blue has megabucks invested in Linux and is tooting the Eclipse horn to prove its openness in developing software such as Rational Developer for i. Zend Technologies has had success with PHP, as has other application development vendors such as Profound Logic and BCD. And newcomer to the IBM i community, PowerRuby, has joined the app dev party as well.
What this points to is the definition of open source that you accept and whether you consider it a fad with the longevity of a firecracker.
“The RPG community really hasn’t embraced the open source concept,” says Pete Helgren, a self-described IBM i evangelist who actively supports the IBM i community. (Some of you may recognize Helgren as a board member of COMMON. He’s served in that role since 2010.) “Most of the action,” Helgren notes, “is in other languages on i. In the native environment there is, and always has been, very little.”
Notable exceptions exist. Scott Klement, a superhero in the RPG development community, is an open source contributor with widely used and continuously maintained software, particularly FTP API and HTTP API. Follow this link to Klement’s open source projects.
Another open source project that gets great community support is ARDGate, which is supported by Dieter Bender.
These projects fit Helgren’s definition of “native” open source, which distinguishes them from open source software that runs in the PASE environment. The majority of open source software available to the IBM i community runs in PASE, an AIX runtime that is integrated with IBM i.
“PowerRuby–and also the node.js partial implementation with PowerRuby–is probably about as fresh and cutting edge as anything on i. IBM has done a great job in taking code that runs on Linux and AIX and porting it to PASE. So the ‘new’ stuff tends to be the stuff newly ported to PASE even though Ruby (the language) and Rails (the development environment) are years old.
“The action in the developer space has been on the client and that means browser and mobile. The backend stuff on i has always been solid source data and processing, what is new–and has been for a few years now–is that the client end is being fed by the i in more cutting edge ways,” Helgren says.
Rational Developer for i, which is built on an open platform is in a different category of open source in Helgren’s perspective. There’s an appreciation for using an open platform, but not sharing source code is not open source.
“They (IBM Rational) missed the boat, by charging as much as they do, but on the other hand they are incenting others to develop functional alternatives to RDi,” he says while noting an increase in RDi adoption is “like claiming that there is greater adoption of Windows 8. Yeah, it’s increasing because it is the only game in town.”
Helgren’s view of PHP is that it is open despite the closed door that prevents access to the source and being able to compile it natively on i. The key to PHP’s openness is that the application development tools and the environments to run and deploy to can be open source and free. There is also plenty of free code and a broad community for free support.
“PASE competes with Linux, which is free and runs on cheap hardware. I think that is why the reception is cooler to PASE ports than if we had an RPG-based open source killer app,” he says. “What most PASE ports lack is some unique hook to the RPG world. But that is improving. The PHP Toolkit has some components that make it generic to serve stuff from PASE to the RPG world. PowerRuby takes advantage of some of that. So, it is getting better, but in order for any free open source software (FOSS) project to capture the imagination of developers on IBM i, it has to be integrated, or at least have some solid hooks, into the RPG world.”