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The iSeries: How Uncool Is That?

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I recently asked the visitors to my RPGIV.com Web site what gadgets they could not live without on a day-to-day basis. The interesting thing is that the result of this survey leads me to believe that we iSeries professionals are workaholics.

With the exception of the top gadget you can't live without, every gadget can be applied to work or work-related activities. These were the second-, third-, and fourth-highest vote-getters on the gadgets list:

  • Your PC
  • High-speed Internet connection at home
  • Your cell phone

Does this tell me that you spend most of your free time browsing the Internet, text messaging via your cell phone, or downloading movies or music? Nope, it tells me that we work too much.

Apparently, you receive a work-related call on your cell phone, go over to your PC, launch your 5250 emulator or OpsNav, and connect to your shop's iSeries over your broadband connection. (Does your company reimburse you for that?) Once connected, you fix the problem at hand, and while you're in there, you fix up a small bug or two in that code you've been working on the last few days. My kids used to ask me "how much longer?" when I was working online on a piece of code (they would see the green-screen or CodeStudio loaded). I would reply to them with what has now become a cliché to some of the people I know: "Just one more compile."

Do iSeries professionals work harder than others in IT? Do they work longer and get things done faster and follow through on more things that need to be done than others in the IT industry?

I think you do.

Compared to other IT professionals, I think many iSeries programmers often feel powerless in their organizations, yet they seem to have a stronger work ethic and often try to do the best they can with the tools they have. Most non-iSeries professionals just "reboot the box" to "fix" problems—effectively deferring it until next time.

The most popular "gadget" that people said they could not live without is their car. I have to wonder if, with all this work-oriented focus, the reason your car is such an important gadget is because it gets you to and from work.

So what will it take to make this market cool? What gadgets should iSeries embrace to make it more attractive to a wider audience and appear cooler to be around—for both those of us who are already here and for the younger audience? And what can make it seem like the go-to solution for IT needs?

Look at all of the new media and hardware gadgets being introduced seemingly every week. Do any of them work with iSeries? No. Do any of them work with Linux, OS X, or Windows? Yes, yes, and yes.

I have to wonder if the new media technologies—such as podcasting, blogging, and Webcasting—are being largely ignored by our community because they don't intuitively work with iSeries. Even I made a business decision to move the growing video and audio library used for iSeriesTV.com to a lower-cost Linux box. The DASD costs on the iSeries are too high for video/photo/audio file storage—great for database, but not so cost-effective for media. There is certainly no technical reason that streaming video and audio and photo archives couldn't be kept on iSeries. There are only business reasons.

Many of the gadgets coming out today have more computing power in them than the original AS/400 models. For example, I've got this one gadget that I absolutely love. It's a small box with a 60 GB hard drive in it. It has an LCD screen and slots for virtually every type of memory card. When I travel, I take a lot of digital photos at the highest resolution my camera allows. At the end of each day, I insert the 2 GB SD memory card from my camera into this device. One press of a button and the photos are safely copied from the memory card to a new directory on the device's disk.

I can then reuse the SD card the next day and never worry about that infamous "camera full" message during a vacation. When I get home, I can attach the device to my PC or Mac via a USB drive and load my photos.

Cool, interesting stuff—and nothing to do with iSeries, right?

Not exactly. I often use my photos in episodes of iSeriesTV.com.

My current iSeries box (which is technically a "System i") has a USB port on it. I tried plugging in my USB photo device. Nothing. I tried plugging in a standard USB thumb drive. Nothing. Just for fun, I tried connecting one System i to another via USB. Nothing.

Unfortunately the USB port on the iSeries is apparently there to tease us. I can't use it to copy files to the IFS. I can't use it to back up files from the IFS or the database.

IBM can say, "Yes, System i has a USB port." And if I place my iPod on top of the box, I could say, "My System i has iTunes on it." Legally truthful, but not really true.

All this is too bad. Gadgets are important to the human experience, even when they don't necessarily make sense to the current bottom line.

Imagine plugging in your 60 GB iPod and backing up your important database or IFS files via the USB port on the System i. How many new gadgets would that capability enable for this market? One I can think of offhand is using System i for voting in the U.S. and then copying the voter files to a USB drive and moving that data someplace else for tabulation (not that the System i couldn't do that as well).

Think about the MP3 player market for a moment. The Sony Walkman beat the iPod to market by decades. It used magnetic tapes to store data/music. How cool/competitive would a cassette-based iPod be today? Next up is Zune from Microsoft (due any day now). It has a better screen than iPod and a 60 GB hard drive. Probably has a lot of Windows Mobile OS overhead on it too, but the jury is still out.

Without cool gadgets in the System i market, this market will never be cool. We often hear about encouraging younger people to get into this market. But if they want to plug in a 1 GB USB thumb drive to save their source code or if they want to restore something they got off the PC or Linux box, they can't. How uncool is that?

Bob Cozzi is a programmer/consultant, writer/author, and software developer of the RPG xTools, a popular add-on subprocedure library for RPG IV. His book The Modern RPG Language has been the most widely used RPG programming book for nearly two decades. He, along with others, speaks at and runs the highly-popular RPG World conference for RPG programmers.


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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