Sunday, November 30

Java may slay everything in its path - including Sun

The cause of Sun’s current woes is a much-debated subject and will certainly become a classic business school case study; if it hasn’t already. Reading this eWeek article - Sun Microsystems: The Innovator's Dilemma – is what made me ponder this subject for the umpteenth time.

I have frequently wondered about the usefulness of the Java language ever since the first scrolling news applet caused my Netscape browser to freeze in 1995. Java soon beat a hasty retreat from the desktop (browser) back to the enterprise server, where J2EE Application Servers seem to have proliferated like baby rabbits in the past ten years. BTW - rabbits are cute but have you seen how they can lay waste to a well manicured lawn?

Even on enterprise servers the presence of Java has only been a good thing for vendors that can profit from the extra hardware grunt and highly skilled people required to keep everything working. I forget the name of the oft-found product in IBM shops, but I think it’s called something like WebsFear. In customer land I see mere mortals struggling with the complexity of Java and failing more often than not. Even when I dig into 'successful' projects I find tales of busted budgets, reduced specifications and never again attitudes.

If Java is so universally good - it has been trying to prove itself for 13 years - then who enjoys and makes money working with it? Obviously not Sun Microsystems. Do you know how many of the software packages that you can buy from a store are written in Java? Not a lot. If future sales growth in the I.T industry is to come from the mobile device market then why does the hottest selling product – the Apple iPhone – use Objective-C not Java? And why-oh-why does my does my 1.8GHz dual-core MacBook Air with 2Gb RAM still grind to a halt every time I hit a web page with a Java applet on it?

Java may well have found favour with developers working on technical infrastructure products but its pedigree for personal or business applications is still in doubt. As a self-confessed Apple Fan Boy I am used to people pointing out that, while Mac OS X is superior to MS Windows in many ways, it is still a niche technology. Apple’s phoenix-like rise and recent triumphs are pooh-poohed by technocrats who remind me that PC’s are still more than 90% of the total market. So I have no doubt that Java will keep a niche following – like Apple does - but in my travels I am seeing that mainstream business-oriented developers are embracing the Microsoft stack (Visual Studio, C# and .NET) more often than not. I think this trend is as much to do with the failings of Java than it has to do with any particular brilliance from Redmond.

I imagine that Microsoft is pleased that stock exchanges like the NASDAQ don’t allow punctuation in ticker symbols. They are prevented from changing their ticker from MSFT to .NET – unlike Sun who switched from SUNW to JAVA last year and consequently may never shake-off this damaged brand. But at least their investors are being given a big clue to one of their core issues! If Jonathan Schwartz ever finds himself in search of another four-letter word to replace JAVA then I have a few suggestions … that I can’t print here.

Tuesday, November 25

Daily Prophet says Confundus Charm hits Rochester

Just when you thought that IBM's tool bundles for System i couldn't get any more arcane - prepare to be amazed and confounded in equal measure.

It wasn't Rita Skeeter who drew this news to my attention but the even more incisive and pithy writings of TPM at IT Jungle: As Rumored, IBM Tweaks i Development Tool Bundle.

I have followed IBM's tools strategy, bundling, licensing and pricing decisions for some years now and have looked dozens of customers in the eye as they try to decipher it all. My only conclusion is that had we all taken Defense Against the Dark Arts training at school then we might have a slim chance of survival!

TPM puts it even more eloquently when he says: "It is hard to imagine IBM making this more complicated. But, then again, IBM seems to have an infinite imagination for this sort of complexity. So don't make the mistake of underestimating the folks in Software Group."

His advice to IBM? "Charge a low, fair price for the compiler and development tool components. Let people buy what they want. Take the money. Make the customer happy. This isn't hard. Explaining this to 200,000 customers every couple of months is, and it is expensive, too."

My advice to customers? IBM isn't the only vendor selling Application Development tools for the AS/400, iSeries and System i servers. Talk to some other IBM shops who gave their trust to a third-party vendor some years ago and hear how they compare and contrast the two offerings today. You really can set yourself free from all this confusion faster than you can say Diffindo.

Thursday, November 20

For Better or For Worse?

I read about the announcement of the retirement of the "father of the System i" with mixed emotions.

There is no doubt that Dr. Frank Soltis is an accomplished orator and, as we would say in my part of the world, a scholar and a gentlemen. I've had the opportunity to listen to Frank speak on several occasions and once shared a stage and subsequent expert panel session with him.

Hanging out at S&A 2006

I remember vividly on that occasion that Frank was not afraid to buck the company line by coming to my defense when a member of the audience railed against my statement that Java on the System i had failed. Frank was kind enough to point out that Java is not a panacea and that WebSphere has its place but is by no means the answer to every question - particularly for the typical SMB sized System i shop. Needless to say that his words carried more weight than mine on this occasion ... and I left with a deep respect for a man who will speak his own mind.

But, given that the IBM i has a legacy image problem, I've often wondered whether wheeling out the same IBM speakers time and again does more harm than good? It has appeared that, for some years now, only Frank Soltis or Malcolm Haines could be counted upon to represent the brand in public. Every dog has his day and connecting with the 'youth of today' is an important part of sustaining the platform's vitality. IBM has embraced YouTube, Blogging and a whole bunch of Web 2.0 mediums so perhaps now it's time to supplant the 'grey-beards' with the 'pony tails' when it comes to public speaking opportunities on the strengths and direction of the i box.

What do you think?

Thursday, November 13

My First Podcast

Ever wondered what happens when you search the iTunes store for something esoteric like IBM midrange? Well now I can reveal that you get to listen to me and a bunch of my cronies sounding-off on a medley of topics that will be of real interest to IBM i shops.

In fact, in all honesty, it's not really my first podcast - I just do the intro and Paul Conte does all the hard work. But it's a start for me and an exciting new endeavor for my employer. I hope that the 'Midrange Medley' channel will work hand-in-glove with the 'Midrange Meddle' to constantly inform, educate and entertain our public. Our first podcast is a recording of Paul Conte presenting his IBM i Modernization Survival Guide to a live audience.

You can subscribe to the podcast series by clicking the title of this post or by using the podcast links in the right-hand column. Or just search the iTunes Store for Midrange Medley. NOTE: You will need Apple's QuickTime software, or some other equivalent MP4 player, to listen to these files on your PC. If you have an iPod or iPhone device then go via iTunes as normal.

Tuesday, November 11

Industry events: It's like waiting for a bus ..

... nothing for a while and then along come three System i oriented events in the same week! To kick-off Halloween week we had the Scoring with Power event in Manchester, England on 28th Oct. This was the first independent event in the UK for a decade and was put together by our friends at iNEWSWire UK, NiSUG and Penton Media. The event was only announced the month before but still over 100 fellow AS/400 professionals, 14 exhibitors and 12 speakers gathered at the Old Trafford stadium. Given that Manchester United is such a poorly supported team [sic] it could only have been the allure of the remarkable System i platform that motivated so many people to turn-up on the day. NOTE: Had the event been held at Stamford Bridge, home of my beloved Chelsea FC, then surely more than 500 people would have come to worship at the alter of this season's certain-to-be Premiership champions - but don't get me started!

I attended the event with my LANSA hat on and enjoyed the opportunity to present a short session in the main tent on the topic of "The Eight Pillars of an Enterprise Application Architecture". I was inspired to choose this topic after reading the draft of a new white paper from industry guru Paul Conte. We were fortunate to have Paul as the keynote speaker at our seminars in London and Birmingham later that week (refer to other post) and, having seen what he was going to say, I wanted to give the folks in Manchester a taste of what they were going to miss! Paul has now published this new white paper and interested readers can request a copy by clicking here. Below is a copy of my slide deck from Manchester.
The star of the show was undoubtedly Mike Otey, System iNEWS magazine senior technical editor who flew in from Oregon to present the event's keynote speech, "No i is an island", examining the ways the walls around the i can be torn down with integration. Mike presented two further sessions during the day on DB2 integration with SQL Server and working with .NET. There must be something special in the Oregon air because Mike Otey and Paul Conte are both residents of the Beaver State and they must be two of the most knowledgeable, articulate and yet unpretentious experts I have ever met. They are definitely more dam-busting than dam-building and always unlock some mystery for me, thanks guys.

My buddy Glenn Robinson from QCubed gave a great presentation on how to put the i in command position with AIX, Linux and Windows consolidation. This was a presentation that he repeated, and was well appreciated, at our seminars later that week. Glenn contributes to iNEWSWire UK with his regular Tech Tips column and once you've heard his level of enthusiasm for, and intimate knowledge of, the IBM platform you realise that there's nobody better in the UK for this kind of advice.

This vibrant and educational event demonstrated to everyone there that IBM midrange systems can and certainly will adapt, thrive and survive. I urge you to attend next year if a similar event is held - if not, feel free to come along to one of our free seminars instead ;-)

Thursday, November 6

When two tribes go to war...

Even organisations that used to run all core applications on their IBM midrange system (AS/400 / iSeries / System i) now have a liberal sprinkling of Microsoft servers around the gaff and information amassing in SQL Server databases as well as the old data warhorse called DB2/400. Getting these two environments to work co-operatively and share data is both a technology challenge AND a people issue.

In my experience the human factor can be the hardest to overcome. If you've ever been in a meeting with the Grey Beards on one side and the Pony Tails on the other you'll know what I mean! And, all joking aside, there are real differences that separate the needs, wants and preferences of these two tribes. Today I found an interesting article written by Chris Smith for MC Press Online entitled: Is Working with the .NET Tribe a Secret to Surviving in Paradise?
I've never seen the TV show Survivor so I can't quite relate to Chris' opening gambit, but certainly the rest of his analysis rings true with me. Now, granted, this piece is written in response to a recent LANSA product announcement so of course I'm interested. But I can't help but feel that the depth of coverage the author has given this issue means that it has struck a chord that will hopefully resonate market-wide. Helping customers to achieve greater interoperability and to extract maximum value from their existing investments certainly sounds like one good way for third-party vendors to Thrive and Survive during a recession.

Wednesday, November 5

Survey: SOA Adoption Dropping

A Gartner survey indicates that the number of enterprises planning to adopt service-oriented architecture is dropping dramatically.

It seems like us so-called laggards in the mid-market might just have side-stepped another pothole in the road. There is no question that many of the concepts embodied in the SOA design pattern represent sound software engineering principles. But it is possible to acquire an Enterprise Application Architecture that will meet the needs of most mid-sized shops, and is inherently service-oriented, without incurring the cost and complexity of rolling your own. The large enterprises seem to have a taste for the bleeding-edge and invest 1,000's of man hours on indulging their follies. Conventional wisdom suggests that Le Credit Crunch will curb such excesses and I, for one, will welcome the return of an era defined by fiscal prudence and tangible ROI for business / IT projects.

Developers want Ballmer to show money

Who'd a'thunk it? Are Microsoft developers starting to revolt?

Questions from the Australian developer community have ranged from what Microsoft's mobile phone strategy will be to the impact of fragmenting programming languages on developers' bottom line.

Jose Fajardo, a Silverlight and Adobe Flex/AIR developer at the Sydney-office of US-firm Cynergy asked whether Microsoft would offer financial incentives similar to those on offer to iPhone, Facebook and Android application developers.

"I have spent two years picking up Silverlight. It's been a long two years, but at end of that what do I have to show for it?" he told in an interview.

"If I had spent last two years learning Cocoa for the iPhone or Android, learning Google's language or building apps for Facebook, I could be pushing an app that could be sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars if I had done it right," he said.

Developer 'Dale' said that writing C# (C-sharp) had become too complex as programmers increasingly integrated applications with JavaScript, Python or Ruby languages.

A poster named Richard Banks expressed concern about the proliferation of Microsoft products. "For Visual Studio alone there is Visual Studio Express/Standard/Pro/Team Editions...The rate of change ... is wearing the 9-5 developer out and driving adoption of simpler technologies with smaller learning curves such as Ruby on Rails," he said.

Tuesday, November 4

Essential System i Seminar in London

Last week we [LANSA] held a successful series of System i related seminars in the UK. The London event held at The Cumberland Hotel was very well attended although the day before at The Belfry was also satisfactory. I have uploaded the event photos and will post comments on the speaker presentations and delegate feedback later.