IBM defends itself against keynote remarks that it has failed AS/400 users

A heated keynote address slamming IBM for making it difficult for AS/400 users to transition to e-business kicked off the 79th Common user group conference in San Diego on Sunday. IBM defended its positioning of the AS/400 the next day during a keynote saying bad press, not IBM, is to blame for the AS/400's identity crisis.

Robert Tipton, partner and director of technology at Whittman-Hart and USWeb/CKS in Chicago, delivered the keynote on the future of the AS/400e in e-business to nearly 4,000 attendees on Sunday. Tipton was given a rousing ovation for his remarks.

Tipton rallied the crowd by accusing Big Blue of neglecting AS/400 users and telling the crowd to demand better. "IBM, we aren't going to take it anymore!" he said

A drab and unappealing IBM Web site was cited as proof that IBM was failing AS/400 users with its obvious oversight of the AS/400's merits.

Tipton said IBM doesn't appreciate the AS/400's strengths: its reliability, scalability, security and support of multiple environments. These strengths, he added, keep AS/400 users from needing a lot of add-on software or consulting services -- IBM's real moneymakers.

Tipton claimed that there is not one person championing the AS/400, while Sun Microsystems Inc., Apple Computer Inc. and Microsoft Corp. all have "extremely driven, visionary men" leading their platforms.

But, IBM officials countered during Monday's keynote address with testimonials from major organizations, such as Ford Motor Co., Deutsche Poste, Gucci and Nabisco to show Common attendees how the AS/400 is thriving in the world of e-business.

IBM took aim at the long-standing perception by customers that the AS/400 has been slighted by IBM. Malcolm Haines, IBM director of AS/400 marketing, acknowledged the devotion of AS/400 users to their system. "AS/400 evokes huge passion on the part of people who know this machine," he said. He claimed that IBM has been decades ahead of other companies in terms of technology with the AS/400, and it has struck a chord with customers. However, he argued that it has not struck that same chord with journalists and consultants, because they don't want a problem-free product.

After recognizing that the AS/400 faces market share problems, Haines outlined a shift in IBM's marketing strategy for the AS/400. He described a "battleship" approach to marketing, in which IBM has spent large amounts of money targeting specific venues where there is interest in the AS/400, much like a battleship sails into a predetermined area and takes specific aim. The company is using this approach not only at Common but at gatherings such as Lotusphere, when IBM filled the Orlando and Berlin airports with AS/400 advertisements promoting the dedicated Domino server.

Frank Soltis, chief scientist for the AS/400 family, told Common members he is tired of all "the hype about new technologies," that offer functionality that the AS/400 has been offering for years. He cited the example of technology coming out of Transmeta. At the end of January, Transmeta announced the capability to keep code around to re-execute at a later date. Solits said IBM has been offering this capability for 20 years.

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