So what were two college students, well-versed in HTML and other facets of Web design, doing at COMMON in Baltimore this past week?
Nate Cosgrove and Erik Mitsch, both seniors at the University of Delaware, were trying to learn more about what they call "the best Web and Java machine in the world" the iSeries 400, formerly the AS/400.
John Carr, the man who first introduced the students to the platform, also sees a possible paradox in their interest in both Web development and the 400. "It used to be a dull, boring business machine. It doesn't do Doom," said Carr, a consultant and educator from Virginia.
Carr arranged for Cosgrove and Mitsch to volunteer and setup for COMMON last week. They took in a few sessions, but academic obligations kept them from attending more. Carr, however, introduced them to some luminaries of the platform whom he has met over his 20 years in the industry. "I introduced them to Frank Soltis, the father of the AS/400. They were amazed that they were actually meeting the people who develop the technology," Carr said.
Cosgrove and Mitsch are so hooked on the 400 they are trying to get their university to participate in IBM's Partners In Education program. One reason for visiting COMMON this week was to gather information to help convince school officials, Mitsch said.
"The university was sold on Unix years ago. That is one of the reasons why I am not a computer science major," said Cosgrove, a philosophy major. "In an academic environment, you don't learn what businesses are actually using such as the iSeries 400."
Cosgrove got his first taste of iSeries, not in a computer lab surprisingly enough, but in Carr's home. It all began just before last Christmas when Carr's new model 170 arrived at his house while Cosgrove was visiting. (He's a friend of Carr's daughter.) Knowing Cosgrove's interest in computers, Carr showed him the machine. Cosgrove ended up installing the system using the start-up materials and was surprised how easy it was to do. Yet, he was amazed when the machine automatically converted his 48-bit applications to 64-bit without "relinking, rebinding or recompiling."
"That separates the AS/400 from the Unix and Windows worlds," he added.
Later, Cosgrove discussed the platform with Mitsch and another friend, all of whom would like to start a Web development business some day. "I brought up the benefits of the AS/400. I showed them its stats and its Java benchmarks. They were very impressed," Cosgrove said.
"I really like all its uptime, how stable it is," Mitsch said. "Things like e-business stability is extremely important. You lose dollars for every minute you are down."
Both Cosgrove and Mitsch will graduate this May and hope to get jobs working on the iSeries 400. Their problem and the reason behind their push for the PIE program is a desire to gain access to an iSeries 400 to practice and learn on.
This is one of the major problems with the platform, Carr said. There is no "OS/400 lite" for people interested in the platform to explore unlike with Unix or Windows, which are taught in colleges. One of the major strengths of the iSeries 400 platform may be a hindrance in this case, Carr admitted.
"With a Unix system, you can go down to the kernel and do computer science projects based on that. You can't do that with the AS/400," Carr explained. "You can't get under the cover and play with it. You can't see the index structures. This makes for a good business machine since users can't foul it up."
Carr voiced his concerns about getting more young people into the platform at Soundoff this week. Tom Jarosh, IBM's manager of midmarket systems, said so-called "cool" technologies such as Linux and Java will bring more young people to the 400. Many of them hear AS/400 and think "green screen, legacy, old technology," he said. But Big Blue hopes the newly rebranded iSeries 400 will equate to "an IBM eServer with a great Java application."
"But that's only half the job," Carr said. "They aren't telling young people why they should be on the platform."
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Learn more about IBM's Partners in Education program
Read some good backgrounders on the iSeries 400 by visiting these Search 400 Editor's Choice Picks.