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Would a system by any other name be sweeter?

Did Prince lose any fans after he changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol? Was new Coke any less delicious than the old variety?

Duh!

IBM may be making a similar blunder if it renames the AS/400.

According to a recent user poll by Search400, abbout 88% of the 858 respondents to the survey, were critical of the name change, but were split over the reason for their dissatisfaction.

Some see the change as scrapping the well-respected brand name, in one user's words, of "the James Brown of computers ... the hardest working system in the IT business." Yet others subscribe to the perennial complaint that Big Blue needs to aggressively market the box, not mess with semantics.

Rumors have been flying for months that IBM has plans to change the name, of not only the AS/400, but its entire server line. Some suggested IBM would identify the servers under one brand-name umbrella, such as Netfinity. But, three weeks ago, an Insider Weekly article quoted IBM consultant, Al Barsa Jr., as saying that IBM was, in fact, going to change the name of the AS/400 to the I/500.

IBM has not confirmed that report, however, and is apparently up-in-arms over Barsa's comments.

But even the suggestion of a name change implies to some users IBM's lack of confidence in the box. Maybe if the new name was a significant improvement highlighting the company's pride in the product or a technological departure, said Scott Andersen of Gerkin Windows & Doors in Iowa. "I/500 is hardly a name one would be inspired with."

Yet, 11% of poll respondents think a AS/400 by another name would be sweeter. "Personally, I think IBM has squandered any opportunity to re-market the AS/400 as an AS/400. It is perceived to be equivalent to last year's sneakers by those unfamiliar with its simplicity, stability and scalability," said Pete Isaksson, a product marketing manager.

"Since new technology seems to be more important to the buying public than superior technology," Isaksson continued. "Perhaps the superior 'old' technology may re-emerge as something new."

While no one can say if a new name would be a shot in the arm for the AS/400 or a lethal injection, there are forseeable logistical concerns.

At least in the short-term, a new name would pose a confusing situation since all the manuals and other literature refers to the AS/400, said Doug Folland, a government solutions developer from Kansas.

Moreover, IBM is reportedly not planning on making system changes along with the name. Renaming, if it were to occur, should be done with the introduction of new hardware or software, suggested Tom Westdorp, an AS/400 senior programmer/analyst. "Instead, will they give us the I/500 runing OS/400 v4r5? Or an I/500 running OS/500 v1r0?"

Though carping about IBM and its lack of commitment to the AS/400 is nothing new, AS/400 user Tom Johnson of the Tower Group explored the philosophical ramifications of changing the name. "Some people get attached to names or symbols and in this case some people are linked to the AS/400," he said. "Our jobs define us and give us an identity. The tool is the AS/400, and after working with it for years, it becomes a part of who we are as professionals."

Any discussion of a name change at his point is speculative since IBM has been silent on the issue. Barsa, who split the beans on the change to the Insider Weekly, stands behind his information.

Gartner Group analyst Tom Bittman, however, is a little more skeptical. He recently told the Insider Weekly I/500 is just one option. He said IBM is considering not changing the name at all. Beyond the millions of dollars such a change will take, IBM also needs to assess whether they will lose or gain from the new moniker, Bittman said.

If you have comments about this story, e-mail Ed Hurley, assistant news editor

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