An Open Letter To IBM From A Developer
May 4, 2015 Garry Taylor
The only thing that I request from IBM, is the ability to develop software for their IBM i platform. Am I asking too much? I don’t think so. Allow me to elaborate. I have been developing on IBM i since 2008. In that time, I’ve used public systems, had the use of business partner’s machines, and way back in time I had my own 9401/150 developer system with all compilers installed. Recently though, I have been wishing to ramp up my efforts on IBM i, to develop more software, more seriously.
Now, on any other computer platform I can think of, I can buy hardware either new or used, and I can install the operating system and compilers. Then I can start to develop my own solutions. I’ve done that on many different systems, not just the usual Mac, PC, iPhone, Android, Linux, but also on Solaris, QNX, and other systems that can be considered “enterprise.”
With that in mind, I purchased, on eBay, an IBM System i 515. I know that although this system is 10 times faster than I need, it is considered obsolete by IBM standards. Once I had the machine, I set about contacting IBM about operating systems and compilers. This is where my difficulties began. Being in Australia, I contacted IBM Australia, and received a personal reply, including the contact details for several IBM business partners who deal with ISVs.
How many of the several business partners were unwilling to help me? Several. Quite simply, even in the ISV world, these business partners were accustomed to dealing with much larger organizations than me. IBM Australia, to their credit, replied to my emails, and I can detect a level of sympathy, if not pity, in their responses.
My System i 515 is licensed with i5/OS V5R4. However, it was understandably wiped by the previous owner before sale. I’d gladly purchase a media pack, but of course IBM is unwilling to sell me that, as V5R4 is considered obsolete. In time, I’d like to purchase V7R1, but I’d like to be able to install V5R4, just to check if the hardware even works.
IBM, in myself, has an advocate. I’m an IBM i fan. I think it’s the best server platform available, bar none. I’m youngish too, mid-30s, so I’m probably the kind of developer that IBM might like to encourage. They don’t encourage however, they’re un-cooperative to the point of provocation.
IBM stands alone in providing zero support for small ISVs like myself. We can point to PartnerWorld, lease deals, and all kinds of marketing fluff, but in the real world, there is nothing. Within the USA, I have received assurances from other developers that support is there, and good deals have been had, but for me, in UK first, and then Australia, there is effectively zero support.
The sad thing is though, I don’t want support. I don’t want help. I don’t need IBM to hold my hand. I want them to stop hindering me, to get out of the way, to stop trying to stop me developing for, and advocating for, their platform. PartnerWorld deals are powerless against eBay prices and free-as-in-beer development tools.
On Windows, I can by a brand new PC, and download, for free, Visual Studio Express, and for less than $1,000 I’m developing for Windows. I did exactly that. On the Mac, I can buy a Mac Mini, download XCode, and I’m developing for the Mac. On Solaris, I can buy a new or used Sparc machine, and use GCC to develop my applications, I’ve done that, too.
All I request from IBM is permission to spend my money at their store. I want them to sell me compilers for many times the going rate, old operating system media kits for exorbitant fees, and permit me to use the machine I already own.
In a fantasy world, I’d like IBM to sell me an IBM i machine for maybe three times the price of a PC and offer maybe 10 percent of the power. That’s what qualifies as a fantasy as a small IBM i developer. That’s right, I don’t fantasize about IBM offering comparable deals to any other company on the planet, that’s just not credible. Even fantasies have to be believable. I’m serious, I’m asking for IBM to look at a PC server for $1,000 and offer a machine running IBM i at three times the price with 5 percent or 10 percent of the power. So if that PC has eight cores running at 3 GHz, IBM can feel free to offer me a machine with one core running at 1 GHz. If that came with ILE C installed and IBM i 7.1, I’d bite their hand off.
Now, that’s a bit of a problem isn’t it? How bad is IBM’s support of developers when a developer such as myself does not ask IBM to provide similar deals to say, Dell or Hewlett-Packard, but I ask them to provide me with a deal not even remotely competitive? I’m not asking for a fair deal, I’m asking IBM to rip me off. I’m asking IBM to treat me like an idiot, and take advantage of my enthusiasm for their platform.
How woeful, and punishingly bad, is IBM treatment of smaller developers, that I’m more than happy to pay $3,000 for a machine that, if it ran Windows on an X86 processor, would be worthless, and quite literally, could barely be given away? I’m talking about the standard of machine that gets left at the side of the road, hoping someone will take it and you don’t get cited for littering.
I’ve just spent far too many words explaining something that should be simple.
It’s a simple desire. As an IBM i fan for many years, and as a software developer for many more, all I want to do is to write software for the system. To do that, I would like to use the IBM System i 515 I already own, and the operating system which is already licensed. If I was a greedy man, I’d love for IBM to sell me ILE C for far more than competitors’ products, but, I feel avaricious even writing that.