Midrange News for the IBM i Community

Posted by: Bob Cozzi
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Published: 11 Apr 2011
Revised: 30 Sep 2017 - 2066 days ago
Last viewed on: 26 May 2023 (66828 views) 

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and we were wrong Published by: Bob Cozzi on 11 Apr 2011 view comments

We Wanted Faster Horses

and... #WeWereWrong

If you're like me and were an IBM customer and attended the COMMON User Group events over the last few decades (yes, I literally started in this business when I was 18) then you know we went through a lengthy period where we demanded that IBM allow the customer to tell IBM what they wanted. We wanted to control IBM's strategic direction and tell them what to produce for us, the customer. It was after all, trendy to have a "customer driven" approach to running your business.  Remember that?

We Were wrong!

Mob mentality, or group of customers (commonly known as "Group Think") is usually wrong. The mob can only move in one direction and cannot easily course-correct. So whatever direction the mob goes in, the mob feels it is the right direction. "Everyone is going this way, so this way must be the right way, right?"

They start out moving in one direction or another. When they head in the wrong direction, they end up in the wrong place.

When it came to IBM i (aka "AS/400") we've certainly ended up in the wrong place. But we did get what we asked for, mostly.

It is similar to politics in the U.S. where one side creates a boogie man on the other side to take the focus off what is really wrong with their own direction. We in the AS/400 and IBM i world often choose a certain northwestern software company as our boogie man; often saying our platform is better, cheaper, faster, ours doesn't crash, ours doesn't "blue screen".  But ours also doesn't have a GUI, doesn't run on inexpensive hardware, doesn't come in a laptop version, and is largely unknown in the contemporary IT world. We didn't move IBM in the right direction, instead we pushed for a lot of "gum and candy" features, things that would satisfy our immediate wants instead of what would be good for the long term. Here are some of those features that I remember, off the top of my head.

  • Multiple simultaneous subfiles
  • Larger arrays in RPG
  • Longer field names
  • Subfile Sorting
  • 5250/Green Screen Support/Improvements
  • Multiple File Support in CL
  • Structured Programming Constructs in CL
  • Enhancements to DDS
  • Graphical User Interface

For the most part, we got a lot of those things in our system, and I could go on, but the trend is clear. We wanted faster horses!

While the thought process of smaller, cheaper, faster was there, we have this tendency to request features that improve our legacy technology rather than provide feedback on characteristics we would like to see in technology coming down the road. We have this strange desire to make the past better than it was by trying to fix or alter history. "I remember when I was a kid, we didn't have no stinking... blah, blah, blah"  Oh really? Do you remember any of the bad things we had back then? Like DASD failures, failed tape drive production, releases of the OS that were too big to get out of its own way. No? I do.

Why isn't there an IBM i tablet (i.e., iPad) that uses IBM i as its operating system? (I know, technically the iPad runs the "i" operating system, but it is Apple's "i" O/S not "IBM i" O/S.) Because we were so busy asking for larger subfiles, we never thought about asking for a portable computing platform that had 99.9% uptime and reliability. IBM i is very well suited for an iPad-class device. Especially now that the trend is moving to full-screen apps and task-switch between them.

The Problem is... Us

Like most of today's problems, ours are self-initiated. We asked for something, got it, and are wondering how all the other kids got cooler looking devices. Sure our computer is still "better" but as my friends at NASA have told me time and time again, "Better is the Enemy of Good."

So while you can have 12 subfiles on the green screen at the same time, and feel great that you can finally open multiple files in CL, remember that the other computing devices are displaying the imagery from an MRI and are helping Doctors diagnose problems and perform brain surgery. But hey, maybe someday, you'll get that subfile sort feature you keep asking for; so keep the faith.

The problem isn't what we ask for, the problem is that we actually believe that our opinion is important, or worse, that it is "what's best". What's important is long term viability and progress. What Science calls evolution. You've heard the old "Evolve or Die" saying, well it is true for our industry as much as any other.

Henry Ford once said, "If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse". Henry was right. Today we ask for better gas mileage when we should be asking for alternatives to gasoline and automobiles. But because we keep asking for faster horses, not only will the new industries and jobs be outside of the IBM i world, so too will everything else.

It is time to stop asking for faster horses, and the only way to do that is to stop being the back end of that horse: and start moving forward.

The next time IBM asks you how many BOPS the JVM should have before you'd consider upgrading to a faster machine, answer them with this "When the damn thing is the size of a magazine and supports a graphical user interface, supports USB3 and never needs to be plugged in, ever. That last part is the where we want to be part, instead of where we are. See, I could have said "has a 5 day battery" but that's just asking for a faster horse.


-Bob Cozzi

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