Editorial: The AS/400 Also Rises

A warning to the AS/400 community: Your platform is gaining speed but losing altitude. Speaking at JavaOne in June, Scott McNealy, CEO of Sun Microsystems stated that the only platforms with long-term viability were Sun/Sparc/Solaris, Wintel, and Linux. Hurry up! Strap on your parachutes and jump before the plane hits the ground.

Scott's keynote speech to the crowd of mostly Java developers was long on vitriol for Microsoft but short on substance. Scott thinks he can get more applause with sophomoric attacks on Microsoft than solid information about Sun's strategic direction. And he's probably right. Not about long-term viability, but about attacks on Microsoft getting more applause than real content.

Scott and his Java denizens, plus an assortment from Apple, the Linux community, and the Justice Department think that picking on Microsoft is the way to go. Many responses to my recent anti-Linux column painted me as a stooge of the Microsoft monopoly even though I never mentioned Microsoft, or any of its products. Of course, anyone who doesn't think Java, Linux, the Mac, or the government's antitrust investigators spout the word of God must be a Microsoft partisan. Microsoft even read it that way, and called to thank me for my opposing viewpoint.

Scott McNealy could learn a few things about speech writing from the executives at IBM. For instance, it's possible to present your company's strategic direction without taking pot shots at the competition. In July, at Solutions '99, the IBM sponsored technical developer conference, Nicholas Donofrio, senior vice president of Technology and Manufacturing at IBM, delivered a keynote speech that never mentioned IBM's competitors. Actually, he mentioned Microsoft once, but only to point out that IBM products work with Microsoft's.

Scott could also pick up a few pointers from IBM's position on Java. Sun wants you to forsake all other programming languages and use Java, elevating it to the level of a religion. And the attendees at JavaOne were the high priests. To the Java cult, Microsoft is the great Satan, so MS jokes go over very well. They're also the converted, and you know what they say about preaching to them.

IBM, on the other hand, is preaching to the decidedly unconverted, especially when it speaks about Java to AS/400 programmers. As a group they're generally happy with RPG and have trouble seeing why they should switch to Java. IBM's message to the AS/400 community is that Java is complementary, not a replacement and they address this coexistence with products available today. If you're migrating RPG code to Java, use VisualAge for RPG, to re-purpose your RPG code with Java as a front-end, try VisualAge for Java and the AS/400 Toolkit for Java. Soon, WebSphere will support Enterprise Java Beans (EJB), which can call RPG programs and access dataqueues, or anything else the AS/400 supports.

The point is that Sun sees Java as a harbinger of doom for legacy systems. IBM sees it as light at the end of the tunnel, developing an Application Framework for e-business in which Java figures prominently. They can take pride in the fact that they did something Microsoft couldn't: co-opt Java. Sun handed IBM the keys to the vault, and IBM robbed them blind without violating their Java license. So there's nothing Sun can do about it.

As for Scott's choice of platform viability, he left one out. According to David Andrews, managing partner of D.H. Andrews Group, a Cheshire, Conn.-based consulting firm, IBM's revenue from AS/400 hardware, software, and services is approximately the same as Sun's total revenues, and growing at about the same rate. Add V4R4's cutting edge technologies and I smell long-term viability. Scott McNealy can stick his head in the sand and ignore the AS/400, but if he does, the tide might roll over him.