editor's desk: Legacy Defined

As the new Editor-in-Chief of MIDRANGE Systems I thought I would dispense with the typical boring “Hello, World” editorial and immediately address a subject of critical importance to the AS/400 market, notably the perception of the AS/400 as a “legacy” platform. I have a keen awareness of this issue as the first magazine I worked for, Digital Review, suffered its demise at the hands of this “legacy” platform monster.

My research for this column found that the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word legacy as:

1 : a gift by will especially of money or other personal property

2 : something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past <the legacy of the ancient philosophers>

Neither of these definitions have the negative connotations that the word has come to gain in the computer industry. In both cases, something is given or transmitted, but there is no mention of whether that something is good or bad. If you look at the second definition carefully, I think you can see what a legacy really is.

In many cultures, the Japanese being the first that comes to mind, ancestors are venerated and wisdom passing from the older generations to the younger generations is highly valued. In many cultures, the oral tradition is the only method used to pass history down through the ages. Therefore, the elderly are treated with respect and when they speak, people listen.

With the United States being the seat of modern techno-culture, it is no wonder that the word "legacy" has assumed a negative connotation in the computer industry. Modern day American culture has relegated our elderly to the position of a burden, to be sequestered in nursing homes, out of the way where they won’t be a bother.

This is no different than the position that the so-called “legacy” systems like the AS/400, Digital (Compaq) VAX, HP 3000, and the IBM mainframe itself have been put in. As baby boomers start reaching retirement age, the number of elderly Americans is surging, just as the number of “legacy” systems are surging. I wouldn’t tell an aging baby boomer that they should step aside and let the young guns take over, just as I wouldn’t tell an AS/400 IT manager that they should scrap their AS/400 investment and bring in Windows NT or Unix.

Today, IBM sells more mainframes than they have in the last 15 years and the AS/400 market is quite healthy. So why are these platforms thought of as useless and outdated? Mostly because Americans adore all things new and shiny¾new music, new fashion, new literature, new operating systems. Myself, I mostly prefer the classics¾Beethoven, Brooks Brothers, Shakespeare, OS/400 (or VMS, or MVS). The reliable classics that never go out of style.

After my stint in the Digital market I made a foray into the Windows NT market. I was hot for NT, but I have to admit, near the end, I was getting a little tired of the blue screen of death. A little too frequent for my tastes, and virtually unknown in the world of the AS/400.

All types of servers and operating systems have their place in IT shops and most of the time they will have to coexist with less mature platforms like Windows NT. The key to the continued usefulness of a “legacy” system is this coexistence, as well as the ability of a mature operating system to support hot new technologies.

This is exactly what MIDRANGE Systems is going to bring you in the future. In addition to the thorough coverage of the AS/400 market that we already bring you, expect to see increasing coverage of hot new technologies like e-commerce, business intelligence, and high-speed networking and how the AS/400 can utilize these technologies for competitive advantage. We also plan to expand our product coverage with hands-on product reviews. Look for these in an upcoming issue.

As an aging baby boomer myself, I don’t plan to let go of the reigns of power just yet and like me, the AS/400 platform is far from dead and won’t be surrendering its leadership in the midrange-computing arena anytime soon. So don’t think of your AS/400 as a legacy system, think of it as a classic!