IBM i Horror Story With A Happy Ending
December 7, 2015 Dan Burger
Users of IBM i and its predecessors have had their share of horror stories. Those on any other business computing platform can say the same. However, I think it’s fair to say the IBM midrange platform is no worse than any other and is better than its competition in many ways. But that doesn’t make it a fairy tale. Evidence of this is the IBM Entitled Systems Support. Also known as the portal to hell.
For just about anyone who has tried to order a product or a product upgrade from IBM, this is a horror story. The needle on the frustration meter jumps into the red and stays there. The pathway to ESS is dark and slippery. On your way, there’s a dimly lit sign that reads: Abandon hope all ye who enter.
This could be a barrier to IBM i users’ upgrade intentions, don’t you think?
So in a surprising reversal of fortunes, we are taking note of the recent (December 4) update to the IBM i Access Client Solutions software, which is downloadable with a simple click on the i Access website.
Will miracles ever cease? Easy download? Easy updates? What was IBM thinking?
IBM i Access Client Solutions (ACS), for those who have never heard of it, is the replacement for iAccess for Windows, a product line developed during the Client Access era when Operations Navigator was just a pup. IBM is not supporting iAccess for Windows on operating systems beyond Windows 8.1.
Regarding the question about whether miracles will ever cease, I’d just like to say (again) that it would be a miracle if IBM ever put together a decent marketing program for products like i Access Client Solutions or Rational Developer for i or Free-Form RPG. Without publications like The Four Hundred helping to get the word out, the marketing effort comes down to a handful of IBMers talking to 30 people at a time in tech conference sessions. Just because you build it, IBM, doesn’t mean that people will come.
Most users of the out of date Access for Windows product use it for 5250 emulation. Some of them have provided feedback to IBM that led to a vastly improved emulator. It provides the capability to connect to either a 5250 configured LAN or HMC console. It also includes the data transfer capability and a spool file interface. But who knows it exists? Or was the process to get the new product so difficult that users didn’t bother? They decided that putting up with a low level of satisfaction was less annoying than the pain of ESS.
You have to wonder if the same thing is true about the security liabilities in the old Access for Windows. (See “IBM Patches Pair of Security Flaws in iAccess for Windows 7.1” in the December 2 edition of The Four Hundred.) A few people will use the patches to update their software, but updating iAccess for Windows is a pain in the patootie. It requires a Windows install (queue the horror movie organ music). If you are a single user, you might consider then Windows install. It only takes about an hour. But what about the guy who has 500 workstations that need to be updated? That update is not going to happen.
How many people know that updates and installs using ACS instead of iAccess for Windows is far simpler for a single PC and the equivalent of light years simpler for installs on dozens or hundreds of PCs?
Fifteen years ago, Windows was the only client option. Today Mac and Linux and mobile are factors. Mobile is quite likely the option with the greatest demand. ACS includes a mobile interface for managing active sessions, printer output, job logs, spool files, message queues, operator messages, and the database. Forget the mobile option if iAccess for Windows is your tool and ACS has yet to appear on your radar screen.
As Windows 10 rollouts gain momentum, the lack of iAccess for Windows support will become an issue and maybe the ACS awareness will rise without IBM software having to lift a marketing finger.
In the meantime, as application developers increase the use of SQL in their code, they also may discover on their own that ACS makes it easier to test SQL scripts before it is embedded in code. And system managers might discover there are SQL services that help gather information from their systems.
ASC has a ways to go before it reaches its full potential, but when compared to iAccess for Windows it’s a bullet train compared to a steam locomotive. It’s an area of emphasis for IBM i development and as such we expect to see SQL-related features continually added.
One expected feature on the horizon is Visual Explain, a database tool that graphically represents a query request’s optimizer implementation. It identifies and analyzes database performance. It also identifies the attributes that help developers and other users understand good and bad performance. Yet another benefit is that Visual Explain allows users to view and understand the query without running it.
There’s no official word of when it will become available, but it seems a good bet that we’ll see it in 2016.