If RDi Was Free, Would You Go For A Ride?
August 16, 2017 Dan Burger
Some interesting developments have occurred with the Rational Developer for i (RDi) team. First came the extraction from IBM Software Group and relocation within the IBM i development organization. Then came the integration of RDi development efforts involving IBM and HelpSystems. What’s next? Perhaps a free lightweight version of RDi designed to entice more IBM i developers to trade in their old tools and take a closer look at what they can gain with RDi.
A new request for enhancement (RFE #108558) may gather enough momentum to bring a free RDi to market. That leads to the question of whether price is a real barrier to the tool’s adoption?
“RDi pricing makes management hesitant to allocate budget,” says the RFE originator Hassan Farooqi. “They can’t see the return on investment. To make ROI more obvious, we need a light version of RDi that is free and includes the basic functions of SEU: editing, compiling, running and debugging. The remaining hundreds of features can remain in the paid version.”
He goes on to say: “The goal is the get off green screen, which is an existential threat to IBM i in my experience.”
The progression from free RDi Lite to paid versions of RDi with expanded features and functionality, Farooqi says, should ultimately remove the legacy stamp from IBM i. (The RFE refers to paid versions of RDi by the fictional names RDi Pro and RDi Premium. They would be distinguished by expanded features and functionality.)
The idea that as more people are introduced to RDi more will learn the basic functions and make the case for the purchase of the fully equipped version of RDi. Currently there is a 60-day trial version of RDi, which serves as the “get to know me” offer, however, the reality is that most developers can’t carve out enough time in their schedules to learn a new tool within 60 days, especially one with all the features and functions of RDi.
Enticing IBM i developers to try a new tool has not been quick or easy. Let’s just say IBM’s track record for marketing and promoting its own software always has been underwhelming at best and leave it at that. The fact is that many developers are comfortable using SEU, the venerable (and free) green-screen development tool that anyone outside of the IBM i world would describe as a Stone Age artifact. It seems safe to say that many of the pro-SEU developers have spent little or no time with the RDi tool, which often surprises the unaware with its capabilities that allows users the convenience of seeing many more lines of code, more errors and the source of the errors in a single view.
Farooqi says he describes RDi to SEU advocates as “enhanced SEU.” The SEU advocates remain skeptical, but are mostly unwilling to make side by side comparisons.
The IBM i requests for enhancements (RFEs) program was set up for the IBM i community to make recommendations to IBM and allows the community to vote on the recommendations, which provides added weight for those that gather large quantities of votes. It also allows the community to comment on the RFE and make suggestions.
Aaron Bartell, a well-known IBM i development advocate, supports the RDi Lite idea. In his posted comment, he references existing low cost-no cost options and the importance of providing an enticement for developers to experiment with RDi.
Bartell poses the question: “If the primary goals are to get away from editing in SEU and have low cost, then doesn’t MiWorkplace.com fit that? It’s roughly $32 per year. There are other options also, like Liam Allan’s IBMiCmd, wich is free.
“With that said, if I was running the RDi product [for IBM], I would certainly have a lower-cost entry product to get users hooked in hopes they upgraded to premium.”
Regarding the current pricing of RDi, consultant Jack Woehr commented he downloaded the 60-day trial version of RDi and was impressed with the tool, but the “the pricing for my personal consulting practice is beyond any business case that I can make for RDi. Some sort of “lite” version at a more modest price would interest me.”
Susan Gantner and Charles Guarino are as familiar with RDi as anyone on the planet. Both are well-known speakers on the topic and use RDi in their consulting ventures.
Although people complain about the price of RDi, Gantner remains unconvinced that price is the primary stumbling block for most people.
“It was free when it was called WDSC and hardly anyone used it,” she notes. “Admittedly, WDSC was slow, clunky and quirky, in comparison to today’s RDi. When IBM started charging for it, I was convinced that would be the death knell of the tool. Was I ever wrong! The number of people who decided to give it a try grew almost immediately after it became a separately chargeable product–maybe not dramatically, but noticeably and steadily and the growth continues. So, if there were a free version (again) would it cause more people to make the switch? I’m not convinced it will help dramatically.”
Compared to those who are hung up on the pricing issue, Gantner believes there’s a much larger group of developers who haven’t been convinced RDi brings additional value over SEU.
“It does require an investment–not only of money, but more significantly of time and the energy to change the way they do their daily work. And changing their ways really is critical to making a successful transition and becoming more productive. Developers can continue to do things with RDi the same way they did them with SEU and not be any more productive at all.”
The key to being more productive with RDi, she says, is training and allotting the time to learn new skills instead of simply transferring less productive existing skills.
Guarino fully supports a lite version of RDi that allows any developer can maintain RPG code at all supported releases. If free RDi Lite becomes an IBM directive, Guarino says he would “hope to see the green-screen SEU and PDM tools usage plummet as RDi adoption soars.”
Some developers use cost as a reason to not adopt a product, Guarino observes. It’s possible a free version of RDi eliminates that perceived barrier. Yet there is still a commitment of time, education and trial and error.
“I speak with so many managers each year and their response in almost unanimous: “Give me a developer who is excited about using a development product and I will be the first person to authorize a license for it.”
He also supports a chargeable RDi Pro version, which includes all remaining features. However, both Guarino and Gantner are not in favor of a second chargeable version of RDi that includes third-party tools. “It should be left to the individual shops to determine which third-party tools work best in their environments,” Guarino says.