ASNA White Paper: The Decade of Crisis for the IBM i and RPG - part 8
IBM Is Little Help With IBM i Application Modernization
IBM is working hard to rebrand the IBM i as a major player in open source application development. Those efforts are good for the IBM i as a platform, but for IBM i shops struggling to determine the future of their existing RPG applications, IBM’s rebranding efforts are of little help. You can’t count on IBM to help you persist your business-critical RPG application.
IBM knew it had an RPG problem 25 years ago
- In the mid-nineties IBM launched a half-hearted campaign to introduce SmallTalk as an RPG replacement. Few, if any, RPG programmers ever wrote a line of SmallTalk.
- With SmallTalk in the dust, IBM launched another half-hearted campaign—this time to promote the C programming language as an RPG replacement. Again, RPG programmers weren’t interested.
- With SmallTalk and C dismissed, IBM turned to the then nearly brand-new Java language as an RPG replacement. The IBM i’s Java initiative peaked with a two-page ad in a then-popular midrange magazine that said if RPG programmers didn’t learn Java they’d soon find themselves flipping hamburgers. Most RPG programmers ignored Java (and also avoided resorting to flipping hamburgers for a living). Today, according to the 2020 IBM i Midrange Markplace Survey, 43% of respondents say they are using Java for new IBM i development.
- Next up, Enterprise Generation Language (EGL). A minor attempt was launched to woo RPG programmers to IBM’s EGL, but only to minimal take-up.
- The early 90s also saw IBM introduce VisualAge for RPG (VRPG). (“VisualAge” was also the branding that IBM used with its SmallTalk and Java efforts) VRPG was initially offered as an OS/2-based RPG environment for creating fat-client graphical applications. Its OS/2 dependence dramatically inhibited the product’s acceptance. A later Windows version, ignoring the growing need for Web development and continuing its focus on fat clients only, also had very little acceptance by RPG programmers.
Frustrated that it couldn't solve its RPG problem, IBM turned its attention to a symptomWhile Java can certainly claim some success for new development, it was never adopted as a mainstream replacement for RPG. In five attempts, IBM simply couldn't find a rational RPG replacement that RPG programmers could, or would, embrace.
ASNA was an early adopter of IBM's Open Access. ASNA's Wings and Mobile RPG both use IBM i's Open Access API as their key enabler
Nearly anything you buy today to help extend the life of your IBM i RPG application will be a third-party solutionWith customer interest in screen-scrapers waning and with the advent of OAR, IBM has essentially left the challenge of resolving IBM i user interface issues to third-party vendors. Nearly any solution you buy today to extend the life of your IBM i RPG application will be a third-party solution.
A better definition for "application modernization"
- Creating a user interface
- Refactoring a database
- Making major changes to code
- Making minor changes to code
- Making no changes to code
- Integrating new applications
- Any permutation or combination of the preceding items
Let's assign a more clear definition: Application modernization encompasses the steps you take to ensure that the persistence of your business isn't hamstrung by your inability to extend or maintain your core application of record.
IBM's Modernization Redbook misses the mark
In a world where good RPG programmers are hard to get, IBM's Modernization Redbook misses the mark. For the few shops that will rewrite their existing RPG application in RPG, the book is a must-read, otherwise it's not much help.
Fresh Faces and open source
Ten years or so after its introduction, IBM added the Portable Application Solution Environment (PASE) to its midrange platform. It took a while for PASE to get traction, but today PASE is nearly single-handedly responsible for enabling the IBM i to successfully support open source languages such as PHP, Python, and even Node.js. PASE has proved to be a primary enabler in the IBM i's role as an open source platform.
PASE has proved to be a primary enabler in the IBM i's role as an open
Open source and the opportunities it brings, as well as the talent it attracts, are great for the IBM i platform. However, these efforts do little to help the IBM i customers persist existing RPG applications
The Fresh Faces campaign is about persisting the IBM i platform, not customers' old, monolithic RPG applicationsTo be clear, though, the Fresh Faces campaign is about persisting the IBM i platform, not customers' old, monolithic RPG applications. Had IBM truly been inspired to champion young IBM i programmers, it would have been far more aggressive, and started 25 years earlier, to improve RPG (which only got full free-format syntax five years ago), get IBM i-related curriculums (and IBM i boxes themselves) in universities, and open the IBM i with programming interfaces like Open Access.
It's up to you
Whatever your IBM i RPG application modernization strategy is, IBM has left it to you and whatever partner you can find to ensure its success. ASNA would like to be that partner for you. We are uniquely qualified to help you avoid your RPG crisis decade.
ASNA is uniquely qualified to help you avoid your RPG crisis decade