7 Must-Have Open Source Products for IBM i
December 7, 2016 Alex Woodie
The IBM i operating system is proprietary; its Licensed Internal Code (LIC) is private, and good luck getting into the innards of DB2 for i. But for all the top-secret code running in an IBM i server, there’s a surprising amount of open source technology available for the platform, too. Here are the top seven open source products every IBM i shop should have, or at least be aware of.
These products are in no particular order. But we would be remiss if we didn’t start with the big one from IBM itself.
1. Open Source Technologies on IBM i (5733-OPS)
Open source on the platform begins with this free product from Big Blue, which contains a veritable treasure trove of useful open source utilities for programmers. Known by the catchy 5733-OPS moniker, this package presents the IBM i professionals with ready-to-use versions of popular open source products like the Node.js Web development framework, the Python programming language, a way to store code in the Git repository, and several other products like Orion, CHROOT, and cloud-init. Much of the work that IBM has been doing to extend the platform to non RPG programmers, and to give existing IBM i programmers access to the latest Web technology, is delivered through this vehicle.
Ever since the wider tech community started revolting against the high costs, vendor lock-in, invasive audits associated with relational databases and the business practices of IBM, Oracle, and Microsoft, the world has been in love with open source databases. MySQL has been the star of this show for the better part of a decade, thanks to the development between IBM and MySQL to enable the database to run under the PASE AIX runtime. Now that Oracle owns MySQL, the community is migrating database workloads to MariaDB, which was developed by MySQL’s original author and is plug-in compatible with that database. Rogue Wave Software, which bought PHP-backer Zend about a year ago, is leading the effort to hook MariaDB into IBM i.
Easy400.net is the home of CGIDEV2, a tool created by IBMer Mel Rotham that allows RPG and COBOL programmers to develop Web apps using familiar techniques. When Giovanni Perotti left IBM in 2005, the website surrounding the CGIDEV2 software soon fell into disrepair. And when Perotti asked IBM to give up its copyright for CGIDEV2, it relented. But thanks to a very impressive letter-writing campaign (Word doc), IBM was convinced to donate CGIDEV2 into the open source realm, where Rotham can continue to enhance it in his retirement. Today, CGIDEV2 is one of a number of free tools available at Easy400.net.
4. Apache Web Server
When you consider that you can’t serve a Web page or a Web client without a Web server, you realize how dependent the world has become on Web servers. And things aren’t much different on the IBM i platform, which has been steering toward Web enablement bliss in recent years. Every instance of IBM i ships with two instances of the venerable Apache Web Server, which are turned on by default. That makes the Apache Web server quite possibly the most used (and useful) bit of open source technology on the entire platform.
Okay, so Linux isn’t a “tool” that you can run on your IBM i. But Linux Torvald’s super successful operating system can run right next to IBM i on every single Power Systems server, so that’s a pretty big deal, don’t you think? Having a Linux OS available on the Power Systems box gives the IBM i customer access to a much wide range of applications that are available for IBM i, including cutting-edge data science tools like Apache Spark, which IBM will probably never enable on the IBM i OS. While Linux-based applications and data aren’t as deeply integrated like they would be if they were running directly under IBM i control, Power Linux is, nevertheless, a powerful capability that should not be ignored. However, most do, as only 6 percent of IBM i customers are availing themselves of Linux on the Power Systems box, according to HelpSystems’ 2016 Marketplace study, while fewer than two in five run Linux anywhere in their organization.
No story on open source software on IBM i would be complete without mention of the contributions of Aaron Bartell. Bartell, one of the original YiPS who has done much to keep IBM i relevant to the younger generation of open source-loving programmers, released his first open source product for the platform, called RPGMail, way back in 2002. But that handy little collection of RPG sub-procedures for sending email from IBM i servers via Sun’s JavaMail program was just the beginning. Today, Bartell offers a variety of utilities for the platform, including RPG Chart Engine, OpenRPGUI, and TweetMe4i, all of which can be downloaded from his website, mowyourlawn.com/.
7. PHP, Perl, Python, etc.
When IBM announced it was bringing the open source PHP scripting language to the platform way back in 2006, it was difficult to know what impact it would have. Today, there’s a whole community of users dedicated to PHP on IBM i, many of whom run the free Zend Server Community Edition for IBM i from Rogue Wave, as well as enterprise versions that are not free. Following in PHP’s steps were Perl, Python, Node.js, and Ruby, all of which are opening IBM i server to a new generation of younger programmers who are comfortable in open source, while also opening existing IBM i installations to a new pool of pre-built apps developed in those languages. It’s truly a win-win situation.