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COMMON in High Gear

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I can't believe I actually met someone at the COMMON Conference this week who was not yet born when I attended my first COMMON Conference in Cleveland in 1980. It was COMMON's 20th year (now its 46th year), and if I remember right, there were fewer than 400 attendees.

As our industry has changed over the years, COMMON has changed as well, albeit either too quickly or too slowly to leverage industrial changes, but it continues to thrive. IBM has a reinvigorated commitment to COMMON as COMMON is really the only national midrange user group.

But is IBM's commitment to COMMON too little for the System i platform? What good does it do to not support the platform outside of a large conference? Granted, IBM needs to strengthen its COMMON support, but it also needs to provide support external to COMMON and one or two other large events.

I was recently speaking with a publisher who publishes in both the IBM and Microsoft worlds (among others), and he said: "The Microsoft publication gets over 50 percent of the advertising revenue from Microsoft. The IBM publication gets 5 percent. When I talk to IBM about it, they say, 'It's just our customers. Why do we care about advertising to them?' "

Granted, if a System i customer is not going to spend any more money on third-party IT assets (software, hardware upgrades, new systems, etc.) for three to five years or more in some cases, would you continue to spend your money on brand identification marketing in that segment?

Well, I'm certainly not IBM, Microsoft is certainly not IBM, and Apple is certainly not IBM. All three companies have a different perspective on how to support their current customers as well as grow their market share.

Microsoft's approach seems to be lots of marketing, lots of events, lots of promotions, lots of resellers, lots of everything.

Apple's approach to marketing seems to be "We make you feel cooler than the other guy." But Apple is also somewhat like IBM in that it designates strategic products and shortens the lifecycle on them if they don't produce. If something does produce, Apple takes the Microsoft approach and promotes the heck out of it in hopes to increase sales even more.

Both of these companies, of late, seem to be successful in their markets and in their marketing efforts. This year, for example, the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas was held at the same time that Apple held its Macworld event in the San Francisco area. Rumor says there were two types of conference attendees that week: those who went to Macworld and those at CES who wished they had gone to Macworld.

Just about two weeks ago, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) held its event in Las Vegas. At the Venetian Hotel and Casino (a System i shop by the way), Apple held an event during NAB. It was packed.

Both of these Apple events reminded me of the days back in the 1980s at COMMON. When IBM was about to announce a new model of System/38 or even System/36, the COMMON Conference was jammed with attendees. When IBM was rumored to announce the AS/400, over 4000 people showed up (no announcement, however). Then in Miami, shortly after IBM did announce the AS/400, COMMON was again jammed to capacity.

So what's different today? Well, Microsoft continues to spend money promoting its goods as I've already described. Apple is coming on strong, although I doubt they'll be a real threat to the System i market space.

The other thing that's happened is complacency—not by IBM, but by the programmer/developer community. Most see little to no advertising or promotions for System i and feel no reason to be a System i advocate in their microcosm. But they are wrong. The number one thing you can do to ensure you have a job in the future is to make yourself valuable to your organization. It is our responsibility to stand up to the .NET and Windows server crowd (who, after all, are really not that smart) and push them back to where they belong—running the Web browser and email clients for System i applications.

The System i has everything Windows has except a graphical user interface (GUI), but today, a browser can be the GUI. Windows, Mac, Linux/Ubuntu...we System i folks don't care what the client is; it's going to be a PC for now.

Sixteen years ago, we all said, "At some point, PCs are going to get as good as the AS/400." We didn't realize that the AS/400 would get good at what the PC has traditionally been doing (Web serving, email, etc.) as well as getting even better at doing things the PC world can't seem to get right—reliability, compatibility, and integrity. And you don't have to reboot the thing.

The other thing System i has going for it over Windows/Mac/Linux programmers, is that we programmers actually like the box we code for. OK, Mac users may have drunk the Kool-Aid as well, but you get my point.

Go to your users and tell them they need that report in a Web browser. Then, instead of copying the file to CSV format and giving them an Excel file to open, write the darn thing out to the browser and let them click on it anytime they want to get the most updated data/live information from the System i. After all, System i is not only the place where your data lives, it is where you make your living.

Bob Cozzi is author of the best-selling The Modern RPG IV Language, Fourth Edition as well as RPG TNT: 101 Dynamite Tips 'n Techniques with RPG IV and is host of the i5 Podcast Network, which provides free video and audio podcasts to the i5 community. You can also see him in person at RPG World in May 2007.


Bob Cozzi is a programmer/consultant, writer/author, and software developer. His popular RPG xTools add-on subprocedure library for RPG IV is fast becoming a standard with RPG developers. His book The Modern RPG Language has been the most widely used RPG programming book for more than a decade. He, along with others, speaks at and produces the highly popular RPG World conference for RPG programmers.

MC Press books written by Robert Cozzi available now on the MC Press Bookstore.

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