Jacobson's Rule and the Future of the AS/400

Happy 10th anniversary to MIDRANGE Systems. I have read every issue during the past 10 years. As a part of this celebration, I have been asked to predict the future of the AS/400. Right up-front, I'll tell you that in the last 16 years of predicting the future of computing technology, I have been rarely wrong.

My company, Help/Systems Inc., has been in business for the same number of years and my success in predicting the future is one reason we've lasted this long. I don't claim to be good at predicting what new technologies will appear -- just what present technologies will survive in the long run.

What's the secret to my uncanny predictions? It's the Jacobson Rule of Technology Survival. I say, "If the technology saves time and money, it will survive and thrive. If it doesn't, it won't."

Unix and the AS/400

Six years ago, I predicted in a published article that the AS/400 would continue to dominate the midrange market through the year 2000. Not only that, I also predicted the AS/400 would move into the mainframe arena. I made my prediction in the face of almost all other pundits saying that Unix would win out over the AS/400, and the AS/400 would disappear by the year 2000. As you well know, I was right, and they were wrong. The AS/400 is huge both in the marketplace and in size. Unix for business is dead -- although a few misguided souls are trying to revive it.

The death of Unix was easy to predict with the Jacobson Rule because Unix operating costs are five times more than an AS/400 and programming costs are 10 times higher. If you are reading this article, you are as smart as I am to have stayed with the AS/400.

Windows NT and the AS/400

Nowadays, the pundits are saying that Windows NT will win out over the AS/400 and the AS/400 will disappear. Those pundits were wrong six years ago, and they are wrong today. Unix is based on a 1960s operating system that used green bar paper for output and punched cards for storage. Windows NT is based on a 1970s operating system that used green bar paper for output and magnetic tape for storage. So although Windows NT is a little bit better than Unix, it is just as mired in the past as Unix was. Windows NT is much more expensive than the AS/400 to operate and program. The Jacobson Rule of Technology Survival leads me to predict a bleak future for Windows NT as a business operating system. However, Windows NT has a great future as a game platform.

The AS/400 and Java

If you believe all the hype that you read, Java will replace all computer languages in existence on everything programmable, from microwave ovens to giant supercomputers. For once, the hype might be right. The good news for AS/400 users is that IBM will make the AS/400 the premier Java machine. The AS/400, together with network stations, will execute Java faster, more securely and more reliably than any other computer in existence. Plus, the AS/400 will be the cheapest Java machine to operate. The AS/400 is out in front on this hot new technology, and we finally have a native GUI language that is Internet-enabled.

AS/400 Laptops?

I predict that within seven years, the AS/400 will be the only type of computer your company owns. What about laptops? No problem. There will be an AS/400 laptop. All those other money and time guzzling operating systems will be gone. The IT departments of the world can get back to creating solutions for their companies, rather than using all their resources trying to implement unreliable retro-technology.

A Weasel on My Predictions

Bill Gates is probably the greatest marketing and business genius of the 20th Century (ethics are excluded as a factor in this evaluation). Only the greatest genius ever could get the world to adopt an operating system as bad as Windows. In contrast, IBM's AS/400 Division has kept the greatest operating system in existence a secret from the computing world.

These facts put the Jacobson Rule of Technology Survival to a real test. However, I believe that eventually a leader who wants to make money will appear at IBM Rochester, so I stick with my prediction.

Richard R. Jacobson is CEO and founder of Help/Systems Inc. (Minnetonka, Minn.), the world's largest company specializing only in AS/400 operations automation software.