IMHO: MC's Technical Editors Debate Current Issues

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Will we see a Windows 95 version of Client Access anytime soon? If history is any indication, maybe not! Is this a real issue for AS/400 shops, or are we jumping on a bandwagon that is still being built? Midrange Computing's technical editors examine the issues, their importance, and their priorities in this new column called "In My Humble Opinion" (IMHO).

Whether you like it or not, Microsoft Windows is the dominant client environment. Hey, if it was up to me, everyone would have a nice Power PC Macintosh sitting on their desk, but it's not up to me. My job as a professional is to support the environment most businesses are using, not the one I'd like to be using. If IBM wants to stay in business, that's part of their job too.

It seems to be part of the petty game that IBM and Microsoft are playing. IBM punishes Microsoft for dumping OS/2 by not supporting Windows, but those of us who use and support the AS/400 are the ones who pay the price. The good news is that maybe in February 1995 IBM will finally give us adequate support for Windows 3.1 (only about three years too late).

Spare me the arguments about a specific time, but sometime this year, Windows 95 is going to be available. And we're going to be stuck, probably for years again, with sub-par support for the operating system that 50 percent of the Fortune 500 said they would switch to in the first six months.

Can you hear that sound, that rumbling in the distance? It's the sound of a stampede starting, away from the AS/400 and toward servers that support the client environment that most businesses use.

- Jim Hoopes

PC Support has been running under Microsoft Windows for several years now, though not as well as it should have. IBM took a band-aid approach to making this work by implementing the router and other functions as DOS TSRs. This has proven to be a big problem for Windows users because of the constraints it places on conventional memory. With Client Access for Windows 3.1, IBM finally delivers a native Windows router that solves the problem-for now.

Later this year, Windows 3.1 users will undoubtedly begin migrating in droves to Windows 95, Microsoft's new 32-bit operating system. While Client Access initially only supports DOS, Windows 3.1, and OS/2, IBM has stated that they'll release new versions of Client Access for other operating systems as they emerge as dominant players in the industry. Windows 95 looks like a sure bet. Let's hope that IBM makes good on their promise by delivering a native 32-bit version of Client Access for Windows 95 in a timely fashion.

- Robin Klima

There is a complaint that V3R1 Client Access doesn't support a Windows 95 Client and that IBM doesn't seem capable of telling us when they will. And in a few short months millions of AS/400 customers will be switching to Windows 95, creating problems for the AS/400's Client/Access users. When is IBM going to get on the stick? It took too long just to get a native Windows 3.1 client! Will it take that long to get a 32 bit version of Client/Access for the new operating system? Where is IBM's brain anyway? Shouldn't they be in there now, building the APIs and rewriting their code now?

Sure! But let's get real for just a moment folks!

How many years have we've been waiting for Microsoft's 32 bit operating system? Since the early days of OS/2-in fact, even during the time when Microsoft and IBM were in cahoots-Microsoft has been saying it would have a competitive, parallel 32-bit operating system by "such and such a date." First it was going to be a product called Windows NT. Then-after NT was released-it was going to be called Chicago. Now Bill Gates says Windows 95 is the real ticket! Any confusion here? Everybody's chain has been yanked at least three times now. Still no flush!

At COMMON, I asked a Rochester developer (who was instrumental in the Client/Access product) why it took them so long to develop a native Windows 3.1 Client for the AS/400. This answer was extremely revealing. "We didn't feel it was wise to invest our resources in a product that we thought was going to go away."

"Go away!" I said. "Who told you Windows 3.1 was going to go away!" "Microsoft told us," she said. "We wanted to build our Client on their 32-bit operating system. You know, first it was NT, then it was Chicago, now it's Windows 95.... Finally, we couldn't wait any longer. Our customers needed some sort of native Windows client. So we hooked up with Wall Data, and we also built our own. We couldn't wait any longer."

"And what about Windows 95?" I asked.

"When the target stops moving, we'll start shooting." If hindsight truly develops any measure of wisdom, then perhaps Rochester has learned something: you support what's supportable, you promise what's deliverable, and you plan for the future that you can shape. When Windows 95 is a real product, IBM's long term strategy for the AS/400 dictates that it will develop a native client. And until Windows 95 is a real product, it behooves us to continually pressure IBM with our intentions to migrate our users from Windows 3.1 to a 32-bit version. Will it be Window 95?

Bill says, "Yes you will!"

Lou says, "Let my customers decide."

- Thomas M. Stockwell

Here's the scenario: 5,000 years from now, archeologists have unearthed the remains of IBM's corporate headquarters, destroyed in a catastrophic accident late in the 20th century.

The future specialists come upon a building with a sign proclaiming "AS/400 Client/Access Project." They pry open the door to the building, expecting to see the preserved remains of forward thinking leaders in what used to be called client/server technology. And, yes, there they are, perfectly preserved in their natural state!

With their heads buried in the sand, like ostriches.

I'd like to think that this scenario is simply the product of my warped imagination, but looking at how IBM has addressed the issue of AS/400-to- Microsoft Windows compatibility, I'm not so sure. Yes, there is a native Window's client due for release. And, yes, it will support Windows 3.1. Just in time...for Windows 95.

IBM is attempting to position the AS/400 as a client/server Everyman (Everymachine?). But, with a late and under-publicized release of a native Windows client for the AS/400, IBM is sending the wrong message at the worst possible time. IBM's message seems to be, "Oh, yeah, Windows. Hmm."

Windows is the basis on which the majority of PCs (read: clients) are operating. That's a fact of everyday life. And while I'm not advocating the position that everything the comes from Microsoft is absolutely jam-packed with Mom's apple pie, I am saying that IBM needs to 'fess-up to the fact that Microsoft won and IBM lost. People want Windows. They'd like to see it (and all future versions) running in native mode on the AS/400. If it does, they'll stay with the AS/400.

If it doesn't, IBM may as well stick their heads in the sand. Again.

- Kris Neely

Hey Jim, talk about stuck. Do you realize that Microsoft has promised Windows 951/2 a total of five times since 1992; while we tolerate endless GPF interruptions?

IBM knows it must support the dominant client environment (no matter what it is) in addition to any other substantial desktop operating system IBM AS/400 customers use. You can find significant evidence of this in the May 1994 announcement of the new Client Access/400 product. According to that announcement, Client Access/400 supports DOS, Microsoft Windows and OS/2. In response to customer requirements, IBM also intends to provide additional Client Access/400 products that will support other popular desktop operating systems such as AIX, UNIX, future Windows and Macintosh.

A new client offering, Client Access/400 for OS/2 2.1, will be the first 32-bit Client Access offering and will be well-integrated into the OS/2 environment. Another new client offering, Client Access for Windows 3.1, eliminates the need for most TSR programs and runs in Windows enhanced mode. Both of these new offerings use Multiprotocol Transport Networking (MPTN) architecture that communicates across both SNA and TCP/IP networks and supports the AnyNet products.

Although it took some time for PC Support to work well in the Windows environment, remember that there are weaknesses in the underlying architecture of Windows. Part of the problem IBM faces is the weakness of the Windows operating system. PC Support has worked fine in the DOS environment for years. I have numerous other communications applications that work great in DOS, but blow up if I use them in Windows.

Remember, too, that IBM has its own desktop environment, OS/2. From a technical standpoint, OS/2 has been ahead of Windows 3.1 for some time. It's even superior to Windows 95 and, in some ways, superior to Windows NT. A stable client environment under OS/2 for the AS/400 has been around for years. Maybe that's why many critical client/server applications in corporate environments use OS/2. So why not look at an alternative desktop operating system to take care of the deficiencies of Windows?

It's obvious that IBM is very interested in staying in business by supporting whatever client environment its customers want. Besides simply following the masses, they're also offering their own client environments to those that don't just accept what everyone else is doing.



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