Monday, 27 April 2009

IBM, Sun, and Oracle

It was only the other week that I was happily predicting what would happen when IBM bought Sun Microsystems. Looking at points of synergy and whatever the opposite of synergy is (if you know, do e-mail me). Then the next time I look round, I find IBM has dropped out and Oracle has stepped in. So what’s going on?

It seems IBM went off the idea of buying Sun, and even after Sun came back hoping for a second chance, IBM felt that such a deal could lead to long anti-trust cases around the globe. So unlike the man from Del Monte, they said no.

So, the story is that Oracle has an agreement to acquire Sun for $7.4 billion. The total value of the deal includes the stock, the purchase of Sun's cash reserves, and the assumption of debt. According to Oracle, the acquisition will cost them $5.6 billion, net of Sun's cash and debt. The deal prices Sun’s shares at $9.50 – a 42 percent premium over the closing price the previous Friday evening.

Oracle is quite bullish about what they can do with Sun financially, saying it expects to add at least 15 cents to its bottom line in the first year after the deal closes (a summer wedding, apparently). Oracle also expects to add $1.5 billion to operating profit in the first year and more than $2 billion in the second year.

You might ask what a software company like Oracle wants with a hardware company like Sun Microsystems, but, of course, there’s much more to Sun than hardware. Oracle already uses Sun's Java software and language in some of its products, including its Fusion Middleware business, and Oracle uses the Solaris operating system for its database business. So perhaps more synergy than you might think at first.

Sun currently employs 33,000 people, while Oracle has 86,000. There have been no announcements of redundancies.

The announcement was full of all the usual warm fuzzy comments about close partnerships and natural evolution. Oracle has never had hardware before – being a software company. But the acquisition will give it access to some users that currently aren’t using Oracle products.

Of course, another way of looking at the takeover is that it combines two organizations that have strongly disputed the Microsoft onslaught. Perhaps this will make them stronger and bolder. And this led me to wondering what if Microsoft had bought Sun? After all, a move into hardware wouldn’t be too big a leap. Then Microsoft would “own” Solaris and Java – which they might very well kill off in order to make Windows and .Net the only games in town. I’m sure if Larry Ellison thought of that possibility, he’d have bought Sun as a pre-emptive strike just to stop his auld enemy from getting their hands on it.

All in all, an interesting development.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Magix Music Maker 15

Everyone enjoys being creative - it's a great way to take a break from the stresses and strains associated with work - and just about everyone likes music, so software that allows you to be creative and create music must be a winner. Magix has just released Version 15 of its Music Maker software, which does just that. Take a break, create a tune, and return to your real job refreshed and re-enthused.

So what kind of software is Music Maker 15? Well, at its simplest, it allows the user to combine pre-recorded sample loops together to make new and interesting sounds.

When you first start, the top half of the screen is empty, waiting for you to add your music loops to it:

You go to the styles selection on the left-hand side and decide whether you want Ambient, Chillout, etc. I chose Rock Alternative. Next to that are the musical instruments available with that style, and next to that are the loops available with that instrument. You find a suitable name and listen to the loop. If it sounds right, you can drag it up into the top half of the screen. That's what I've done here:

I've added loops for the drum track, the bass guitar, the lead guitar, keyboard, pads, and synthesizer. Some instruments have more loops to choose from than others, and there's nothing to stop you changing the style during the creation process. I'm showing only 12 bars of my tune, you can, of course, have more. You could also have more instruments, up to 64 of them.

Moving from Easymode (a click at the top-left of the screen) makes a number of new options available

Clicking on the Synthesizer option in the bottom half of the screen makes a number of synthesisers available to you including LiviD (shown below), Vita, and Beatbox. These can provide exciting drum samples that can be used in your own new tune.

Clicking on the Templates option brings up lots of advanced features. One of these is Audio effects. This provides things like echo and guitar reverb.

Further down the options are Visuals. This allows you to drag a video track to play alongside the audio track.

Clicking on the sound wave for a particular loop, give you the opportunity to modify it. The following screen appears:

Plenty of choices here of ways to modify the existing sound.

You might think, with so many features it might be difficult to use, but it provides an "infobox" that gives information as you mouseover a button - so you know what it does. The software also starts in EasyMode, you can get the hang of the basics before rushing on the more adventurous stuff. It's pretty easy to use, and it's a great deal of fun. Whether a professional musician would use it, I'm not sure, but if you're looking to have fun with music (and add visuals etc), then it is definitely worth having a serious look at. I liked it, and I would recommend it. If nothing else, it certainly makes a great break from the daily grind!

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Mainframe compilers

I hold my hand up to being quite ignorant about mainframe compilers. To be honest I thought of them as nothing more than a tool that you used at the appropriate time and then put back in your toolbox – like a pair of pliers that you use and then put back with the other tools until the next time you need it. Not something that you give much thought to – except when you need it.

And (can I make my ignorance seem even worse!), I assumed that everyone used compilers provided by IBM, so their code ran on IBM mainframes. And I guess, I assumed that everyone just paid IBM for the privilege.

Like everyone else, I knew that a compiler is a computer program that’s used to transform source code written in a higher-level computer language like COBOL or Assembler (which I know is pretty close to machine code) into object code that could then be executed on the mainframe (or other platform).

But I recently discovered that there are other companies in the compiler marketplace.

Dignus, at, has Systems/ASM, its Assembler compiler, which is now at Version 1.80. This can be used to create Linux/390 and z/Linux programs from traditional ASM source, allowing for an easier transition to Linux on the mainframe. Systems/ASM can assemble existing code as unchanged as possible (no new instructions or psuedo-ops to use) and also has complete support for debugging with the native Linux tools. The company also claims that Systems/ASM Assembler software allows users to develop mainframe applications, in IBM Assembler language, on a mainframe, or on Unix and Windows workstations. Systems/ASM generates object code for all IBM zSeries operating systems, including Linux for S/390 and zSeries, z/OS, OS/390, VSE, z/VSE, VM, z/VM, TPF, and z/TPF.

A company called Syspoint ( offers Syspoint Virtual Compilers. The company suggests that they are suited to companies with two or more mainframes. They go on to suggest that they can be thought of as “cloud compiling”, only in-house.

So, how does it work? According to the company, a virtual compiler is a program that functions equivalently to an actual compiler but does not require that the actual compiler be installed or licensed on the machine on which it runs. The Syspoint Virtual Compiler utilizes FTP to transmit the user’s source code to another mainframe (on which the actual compiler is installed), compiles it there, and returns the output of the actual compiler (system messages, listing, object code, etc) to the user’s specified target datasets.

So users no longer need the IBM compiler and can save on that cost, while paying less money to Syspoint.

There’s also zCobol, available from zCOBOL is an open source portable mainframe COBOL compiler available as part of the z390 open source portable mainframe Assembler for Windows or Linux. Users can download z390 and zcobol in InstallShield format for Windows for file image format for Linux from It also needs the J2SE Java runtime which can be downloaded from Sun Developer Network. Once users have installed z390 with zcobol and J2SE runtime, then they can start the z390 GUI interface or command line interface.

So, much more to compilers than perhaps you thought as well!

Monday, 6 April 2009

Good old CICS and COBOL

Many of the meetings that I’m involved in with the different organizations that I deal with revolve around the benefits of some new piece of technology, and how an organization can take financial advantage of that new piece of hardware or that new software. Once the costs of the new technology have been estimated and it has been bought and installed, its value never becomes an issue again, and, over time, becomes forgotten about.

Similar findings came out of a Micro Focus survey in 2007. Worryingly, the survey’s results indicated that less than half of the sites polled had made any attempt to put a value their IT assets. It also found that 60 percent were unaware of what their software was worth!

The most recent Micro Focus research report – Safeguarding the Corporate IT Assets – points to the fact that, despite business leaders stating that skills to modernize core IT assets are the most valuable in a recession, global organizations are failing to plan for the essential skills required to manage and maintain these systems. The report suggests to businesses that, even in tougher times, they must remain focused on recruiting and developing professionals with the right skills to evolve core IT assets into the future.

The survey was carried out in September 2008, with 450 respondents across France, Germany, Italy, UK, and USA to discover what their organizations are doing to maintain and develop their IT systems.

The survey results showed that organizations are sitting on a what Micro Focus call a potential ‘ticking timebomb’ because of a failure to guarantee the evolution of the IT systems that are most important to the success of business operations. These are the core systems that have probably been in place for many years, but are considered by those polled to continue to deliver value to the business on a daily basis. When asked, both the IT and Finance departments confirmed that it was their core IT assets – their core systems and databases, which run on the likes of COBOL and CICS – which are the most critical to the successful execution of their business operations. They were rated as 15% more critical than ERP and CRM and 20% more so than newer Web 2.0 social networking technologies.

The survey concludes that global organizations are not devoting enough time, budget, and commitment to safeguarding the vital skills required to maintain and exploit their IT – a crucial business asset. Without this asset they would fail to function, yet they run the risk of insufficient resources to maintain and evolve core IT systems, potentially causing irreparable damage to the business.

Not surprisingly, the conclusion that the Micro Focus survey came to was that organizations should modernize their existing IT systems. The report also suggests that businesses need to tell educational institutions what skills they need, as opposed to the latter telling the former what sort of skills they can provide. Failure to develop the vital skills required to manage and maintain core IT systems could lead to the failure of major businesses long-term.

The full report will be published later this week.