A Peek At Upcoming Open Source Enhancements In IBM i
March 28, 2016 Alex Woodie
Over the past 15 years, the open source community has driven a massive amount of innovation in IT. It has gotten to the point where IBM and Microsoft–two bastions of proprietary development–are now champions of open source. The open source wave is not quite as strong on the IBM i platform, but it appears that wave will gain momentum with the upcoming new release of the OS.
It’s hard to quantify the value created through open source development of software. Last year, the Linux Foundation released a white paper that found the total value of the development of the Linux operating system amounted to $5 billion. In 2013, IBM itself committed to donating $1 billion in cold hard cash to further development of Linux and other open source projects. When one considers that nearly all of the cutting-edge IT work being done in distributed computing (i.e., the worlds of Hadoop, Spark, Kafka, and NoSQL databases) involves open sharing of source code–mostly through the Apache Software Foundation–then the humongous value that open source brings comes into view.
That massive value from open source spills over into IBM i, despite the fact that IBM i remains a closed proprietary platform. As Tim Rowe, the IBM business architect for application development for IBM i, explained in a recent webinar hosted by IBM i software vendor BCD Software, IBM is doing a lot of work to make open source products work well in the IBM i ecosystem.
“We’ve been investing in open source on i for about 15 years now,” he said during the webinar. “We started out fairly slow if you will. Our very first project was the Apache HTTP server that was ported to IBM i. Over the past couple of years now we’ve really picked up steam in open source. . . to build the ecosystem, build the understanding and help our customers really move to being successful with open source.”
IBM views open source technology as a critical component of its modernization strategy. That’s because many of the latest languages and development frameworks are developed in open source. But it’s also because support for modern and open source technologies helps to attract younger technology professionals to the platform. IBM i can’t live on RPG and DB2 alone.
Rowe sells open source as a big timesaver for the modern world. “The reality is none of us have enough time to do everything we want,” he said. “Open source really helps contribute there. There’s a huge community building technology, building applications, leveraging frameworks, to make our job writing business applications easier. It really allows us to focus on what we know and what we know how to do, and to be able to leverage those in tight conjunction and tight logistics with our IBM i and our data.”
With subsequent TRs, IBM added two more open source options. With the June 2015 release of IBM i 7.1 TR10 and IBM i 7.2 TR2, IBM added support for Python, a widely used, high-level programming language that just passed PHP in popularity, according to the TIOBE. Then with the delivery of IBM i 7.2 TR3 and IBM i 7.1 TR11 late last year, it added the GNU Compiler Collection (GCC) to the product.
IBM has three more updates planned for IBM i Open Source Solutions toolkit, including support for newer releases of Node.js, support for an older version of Python, and support for Git, the free and open source distributed version control system that is widely used to manage a variety of open source projects.
Git Yourself Some
Git was originally designed in 2005 by Linux developers who wanted a way to manage work on the Linux kernel itself. The kernel developers had been using BitKeeper, a distributed source control management system that was proprietary. When the owner of BitKeeper revoked free access to the tool, Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, sought an alternative. Unhappy with the performance of open source options such as Subversion or CVS (which have been ported to IBM i, by the way), Torvalds led the development of what would become Git.
(If you’re wondering where the name comes from, the word “git” is British slang for “unpleasant person.” Torvalds reportedly said: “I’m an egotistical bastard, and I name all my projects after myself. First ‘Linux’, now ‘git’.” Go figure.)
Since it was released into the open source realm, Git has become extremely popular. In 2014, an Eclipse Foundation survey founded that it was the most widely used source code management tool, with nearly 43 percent of professional software developers reporting using Git as their primary source control system. Pretty much every major Web company uses Git to manage their software development projects, and soon IBM i shops will be able to too.
But There’s More
But the open source innovation coming to IBM i won’t stop at Git, Python, and Node.js. There’s a whole host of other open source tools that could be getting some air time in IBM i’s atmosphere.
But judging by Rowe’s slide (which you can see to the right), here are some other open source projects that could be in play:
Rowe says to expect any new open source projects adopted by IBM to be integrated into the IBM i OS. “Our platform is IBM i. It stands for integration,” he says. “So we’ve been looking at how we can better institute these solutions into IBM i to really make them usable, such that you can be successful with them, and be able to access your data, be able to access the important objects on the system, and be able to do that in a way that’s somewhat native” to the platform.
To view the BCD Webinar, go to bit.ly/1Zalpno.