AIX Applications—PASEmaker for AS/400?

At PartnerWorld 2000 in San Diego IBM formally announced the Portable Application Solution Environment (PASE) finally demystifying this little known OS/400 option. Available as a separately priced OS/400 licensed program since V4R?, PASE enables an AS/400 to run specially recompiled AIX applications in a separate subsystem. From a technical perspective this is an interesting proposition, but what was IBM thinking, from a marketing perspective, when it decided to develop PASE?

It seems that the primary reason that IBM would need PASE was that it didn’t feel there were enough applications available for the AS/400 platform. This makes sense because, according to IBM, there are over 13,000 applications that run on AIX. Adding even 10 percent of those applications to the portfolio of AS/400 applications would be a significant win for AS/400 users.

Getting the answer about how many AIX applications are available was easy. A quick call to IBM media relations and, voila, I received a straightforward answer. Getting the same from the AS/400 division was not so easy. In fact it’s impossible because they said that they don’t give out that information anymore. Actually they said that they don’t feel the number of applications is a valid “metric” and that they are more concerned with making sure that the right applications are available in the right regions and for the right vertical markets.

This has to be the most nebulous answer to a simple question that I have ever heard! C’mon, guys, this is the kind of answer someone gives when they think the actual answer will make them look bad. Instead of giving us a straight answer, they spout platitudes and hope that we will convey the “customer friendly” message to our readers, without comment or analysis. If you’ve been reading my editorials on a regular basis I would hope that you would know by now that I am unlikely to operate as a shill for IBM’s marketing machine.

That said, I have a much more cynical view of IBM’s apparently “customer friendly” message. I think IBM is running scared in respect to AS/400 sales and will do almost anything to give AS/400 users a reason to stay with the platform, even if it doesn’t make a lot of sense. If you can’t convince new ISVs to port their applications to the platform, make it possible for non-AS/400 applications that already exist to run on the AS/400.

At PartnerWorld I visited the PASE booth and spoke to a single ISV—SPSS Inc., a Chicago-based vendor of statistics software—that ported its application to the AS/400 to run under PASE. It runs on many other platforms, but until now, the 400 was left out due to the lack of a Fortran compiler.

It is clear that maintaining separate code bases—one for the AS/400 and one for all other platforms—was not economically feasible. I’m pretty sure though that if there was a large market for the product on the AS/400, SPSS would have done the port, no matter how difficult. IBM has always marketed the AS/400 as a commercial data processing system and has never pushed it as a platform for doing scientific computing. I wonder how big the market will be for the SPSS product on a platform that is largely used for commercial data processing.

This is strike one against IBM as getting SPSS to port its product to the AS/400 doesn’t seem to fit into the “right applications in the right regions for the right vertical markets” message.

Strike two against IBM has to do with IBM’s commitment to the AS/400 as a platform, and I don’t think that promoting a technology that allows the AS/400 to run another operating systems applications will convince people who don’t own AS/400s to buy one. People outside the installed base want to see a lot of ISVs developing for the platform so they can feel warm and fuzzy about making a commitment to the AS/400. If they want to run an AIX application, why wouldn’t they just buy an RS/6000.

IBM’s third and final strike on this matter is their disingenuous response to my initial question. You know what they say: “The truth shall set you free.” From a marketing perspective, IBM has every right to not tell us how many applications are available for the AS/400 and spin this into a “customer friendly” message. As AS/400 users I think you deserve more.

I just don’t see PASE as a way for the AS/400 to become all things to all people. The Universal OS, so to speak. The Application Server Chameleon. Sure, the availability of PASE means you can run AIX applications on your AS/400, but don’t you think it would be nice if you had a wider array of AS/400 applications available to you? Maybe IBM should spend more time telling the world why they should write applications for the 400 and less time coming up with ways for the 400 to run other OS’s applications.