Sunday, 27 September 2009

Is an iPhone a me-phone?

I find it strange that people can have discussions about politics and even religion without getting upset and almost coming to blows, but mention whether an upright vacuum cleaner is better than a cylinder vacuum, or whether a Mac is better than a PC, and not only do people come out of the woodwork to express their opinion, they hold those opinions as fundamental values about how the world works and their place in it! So I find I’m experiencing a certain trepidation about writing about the iPhone because I know everyone will want to share their views – including members of the flat-earth society, people who have been abducted by aliens, and (this is the largest group) people who’ve never used an iPhone. But anyway, here goes…

Do I want to buy an iPhone? What are the reasons for and against making this one purchase. And this is more than a mobile (cell) phone purchase – this is a lifestyle purchase. This is not a phone to ring home on and say you’ll be there in 20 minutes; this is a phone to pull out of your pocket at meetings and watch people’s reactions to the fact you have one. There’s the me-too types, who immediately expose their iPhones to public gaze. There’s the me-never types who have made a choice not to have an iPhone and want you to know that’s what they’ve done. They could have had an iPhone if they’d wanted – they say. And there’s the group that looks longingly, know that you are a special kind of person because you have bought an iPhone – or certainly, that’s what the Apple marketing team would like us to think!

So what can an iPhone do that makes it so special? And I feel safe asking this question in a blog rather than a room full of people because I’m not going to be stuck in the corner with someone who acts like this is a religious revival meeting. I have only one sentiment for these over-enthusiastic proselyters – you didn’t invent the phone, you only bought it!

Anyway, to answer my own question, it makes phone calls, connects to the Internet, takes photos, and more recently videos, and makes it very easy to put those photos on the Internet – Youtube etc – and it plays music. Plus – and this is an incredibly important plus – it has gadgets, lots of gadgets. These are what make the iPhone so special. There’s a gadget that’s a compass (now how many times in a day have I needed to know which way is north). There’s a gadget that’s a spirit level (same comment), a gadget that’s a four-inch ruler (ditto). There’s also gadgets for connecting to Facebook, for getting Sky news, for a map of the London underground system, for seeing how many people have swine flu near you, for where you are flying over on an aeroplane, for identifying any tune that you can hear, for crushing bubblewrap, for recipes, etc etc. I love seeing a map with a dot showing exactly where I am. The gadgets are the things that turn the iPhone into something that you can use for every situation, whatever you’re doing.

Or does it? Well no. For a long time, I have used my phone as a way of taking documents to meetings. PDFs, Word documents, and Excel spreadsheets are the lifeblood of meeting. I could take PowerPoint presentation, but they usually go on a memory stick that I plug into a laptop at the far end. But for minutes of meetings and letters etc, I have gone paperless. I read the appropriate section of the document on my phone. I can’t do that with an iPhone. There are some Office apps in the AppStore, but there isn’t a Microsoft Office app. And before you start talking about the war between Apple and Microsoft, let me remind you that Office first appeared on a Mac. The other big real life problem is that iPhones play MP4s. There’s a good reason for it, but my collection of TV programmes and films are stored as AVIs, which won’t play on the iPhone, whereas they do play on my current phone. So how can I amuse myself on long train journeys? I could jailbreak and install something that would play AVI files, but I don’t feel I should have to do that.

And the other reason I don’t like it is iTunes! I thought we’d got away from nanny-knows-best software. I have to copy everything into iTunes before I can use it on my phone. Are we living in a fascist state? Can you imagine the anti-just-about-everything response you’d get if Microsoft tried to get away with that! I’m told that you grow to love it. Mmmh!

So, my primitive brain is sold on the fun part of owning an iPhone, but my intellectual brain knows that it’s not up to the job of being a business phone. I will wait until Version 4 comes out with all these gaps plugged, and then I will probably get one. As long as I can have it using the mobile network I want to use, and there’s a user-friendly alternative to iTunes.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Who said it could never happen?!

Our story starts back in March this year when Novell released SUSE Linux Enterprise (SLE) 11. Because of Novell’s alliance with Microsoft, this version supported the Mono runtime, which allows applications coded in C# and using the .Net Framework to run on non-Windows platforms without recompilation. Novell got into the open source Mono project by acquiring Ximian. What makes it particularly interesting is that SLE 11 runs on IBM mainframes.

Now let’s change the picture. Let’s pan across to Redmond where we see a rain-soaked figure scuttling out of the nocturnal storm into a brightly-lit building. Elsewhere in the same building, the much-heralded Windows 7 is being promoted ahead of its forthcoming release. Microsoft’s current version of Windows, Vista, was less than stellar in its success in terms of take-up by large organizations. So, we watch the marketing people deciding that a nominalized version of Windows is not going to sell well, and an acronymed version – remember XP and ME – seems like a retrograde step, so they put all their marketing expertise together and decide to call it “7”. Remember that “7” is very lucky in Chinese culture. They smile.

The scene changes again. A slow dissolve to an IBM presentation, where much is being made of System z’s virtualization capabilities. How it has a long and proud history and is just head-and-shoulders above any other virtualization software on any other platform. A tracking shot shows heads nodding in agreement amongst the well-informed audience.

But now, trying hard to ignore the man behind the curtain, we find an unlikely group of friends who want to consolidate their hardware assets. They know the world and his wife use laptops for their daily computing needs, and they want the same virtualization benefits mainframers enjoy to be available to them. Can the wizard help?

An out-of-focus close-up zooms out to reveal Mantissa’s z/Vos. I’ve mentioned this product about six months ago when it was announced. The software runs in z/VM and allows mainframers to run other operating systems under it including Windows.

Let’s cut away to our eager smiling heroes, who now realise that z/Vos, once properly available, offers them a way to run Windows on a mainframe, and SLE 11 Mono Extension gives them a way to run Windows .Net applications on a mainframe, although how easy that will be I’m not quite sure. It seems the big and little ends of computing have finally come together.

Fade to black.

And just to change the tone of things, here’s a haiku:

I Googled myself
and worryingly found that
again I’m not there.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Young mainframers

“Young mainframers” – now there’s two words you probably didn’t expect to see in the same sentence, unless you were reading something written more than twenty years ago! But this week, I met some of the new breed of young mainframe enthusiasts who are in their twenties.

CA – a company that needs no introduction, I’m sure – took a mixed bag of journalists and analysts to Prague this week to talk about a recent survey they had conducted and to introduce us to a scheme they have set up with universities to explain to youngster what a mainframe is and why it is so important.

Let’s take a quick look at the survey first. It was conducted by Vanson Bourne, and surveyed organizations in six European countries. If you want to read the whole thing, it’s called “The Mainframe: Surviving and Thriving in a Turbulent World” and can be found at

They came to four conclusions:
1 Organisations, using the mainframe as a fully connected resource within the distributed Web-enabled enterprise, experience significantly greater benefits than those with a disconnected comparatively-isolated mainframe environment.
2 Where the mainframe is a fully-connected resource, 65% of all respondents reported it to be an ‘incredibly secure environment’; 63% stated that performance levels are ‘excellent’; and 52% said that ‘the system never goes down’.
3 The more the mainframe is part of an enterprise-wide technology strategy, the greater the role it plays and the greater its level of utilization: the average amount of business-critical data administered by the mainframe among all ‘connected’ respondents is 64%.
4 66% agreed that the mainframe user will soon start to suffer from a shrinking workforce if the relevant skills are not available. However, 52% agreed that a Web-enabled GUI that less-experienced users could easily master would make the mainframe more attractive and help to close the skills gap.

So clearly, Web-connected mainframes are a positive business strategy for organizations. The big problem that many face is a skills issue. All those youngsters who got into mainframe computing in the seventies and eighties are getting on a bit. They may have vast amounts of experience, but many are more concerned about their retirement than anything else! IBM has an academic initiative to ensure youngster realize that there’s more to computing than Java. It, along with other software vendors, has introduced autonomic software – self repairing – and has made the interface to their software much easier to use. Excitingly, CA has also thrown its great weight into the battle for the hearts and minds of youngsters.

CA now has links with universities, giving them access to software and hardware, which the students can use for parts of their degree, masters, or PhD studies. There are then jobs available for suitable students. And suitability doesn’t mean any great knowledge of mainframes, but a willingness to learn how they work. CA then runs internal training to get these youngster – who come from all over the world, not just the Czech Republic – up to speed. They also use a mentoring system where, shall we say, more mature mainframe software experts can pass on their knowledge to the youngsters. CA has also simplified the user interface to its software. I have spoken to the next generation of mainframers, and it’s clear that they are determined, enthusiastic, and clearly very bright. Sites running mainframes can feel more relaxed about where their future software is coming from.

With IBM and CA working so successfully with younger people, it would be interesting to see what larger software houses, perhaps BMC and Progress Software, are doing.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Exploitation – good or bad?

If I read about the exploits of James Bond or Batman, or some other fictional hero, then I am usually amused and entertained by what I read. If I hear about the exploits of a politician, I am, perhaps, less enthralled – wondering what devious deeds have occurred. So the noun, “exploits”, carries a slightly more positive mixed message. But what about the words exploitation?

Wikipedia ( informs us that the term “exploitation” has two distinct meanings:
1 The act of using something for any purpose. In this case, exploit is a synonym for use.
2 The act of using something in an unjust or cruel manner.

So if the word has two meaning, what sort of problems are we, the mainframing public, going to have when we read two different opinions about a piece of software that exploits a piece of hardware? Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Yet again, I’m talking about that software bombshell called zPrime from NEON Enterprise Software. Those of you who know exactly what the software does, look away now! For everyone else, here’s a very brief overview. IBM builds mainframes and charges users by how much processing they do using the General Purpose Processor. In addition, IBM has specialty processors, which can be used for Linux, DB2, and Java. These are paid for, but then users save each month because they are not processing these applications using the GPPs. So, IBM gets its regular income from CICS, IMS, batch, TSO/ISPF, etc, etc, which do use GPPs. But what if, you could run CICS, etc in a specialty processor? Wouldn’t that save lots of dosh each month? That’s what NEON must have thought because that’s exactly what their zPrime software allows to happen. Ordinary mainframers save money – even after paying NEON for the software – but IBM loses anticipated revenue. Mainframes become more affordable, but still IBM loses revenue. What happens next?

I think that IBM is in a very difficult position with this. Obviously they can do sabre rattling about breaking licence agreements with current customers, and try to maintain the flow of revenue each month, but, if the price of running a mainframe was significantly lower, wouldn’t that attract more people to buy mainframes? Those mid-sized companies that are wresting with virtualizing their servers and solving problems that mainframers take for granted as being standard practice, might well view a mainframe as a very competitively-priced opportunity. IBM must look to the future and see this as an opportunity. And I wonder whether this is contributing to their kind of half-hearted response.

Admittedly, IBM has other considerations. For example, the more it blusters against zPrime, the more oxygen of publicity it gives it – and, as a consequence, the more sites that are likely to try it. Also, if IBM were to somehow ban the use of zPrime on its computers, that could lead to a lengthy court case. So, at the moment, IBM is simply telling customers to check their contracts to ensure they’re not breaking them by using zPrime. This seems little more than a non-specific scare tactic. After all, no contracts were written with zPrime even dreamed about. People signing new contracts might want their legal teams to check whether there’s anything in it about zPrime, but I haven’t heard of such sentences being included.

If you want my advice, and you didn’t ask, I’d get on the phone to NEON and get them to try it at my site. For NEON, exploiting specialty processors is a good thing. For IBM it isn’t. That’s their two different views of exploitation of specialty processors.

As a tailpiece of advice – while I’m in the mood – if I ran IBM, I’d be looking to buy NEON about now.