Saturday, 25 February 2012


There was a time when you had to go into the office to use the mainframe. Then, with SOA, we allowed people to access from browsers running on any devices anywhere. Nowadays, people are wanting additional flexibility and demanding that they can work using their preferred computing device, rather than one allocated to them by IT.
You can understand why. I know of a number of sites that still roll out XP laptops to staff because they didn’t like Vista. They have older software applications that stop them moving to Windows 7 and IE9. You can understand why their staff would be frustrated in that situation. People who own super whizzy iPads and Samsung Tabs, or top of the range smartphones that can do pretty much anything, find that going to the office is like going back in time – and they don’t want it. They want to use their own devices, which they’re familiar with and can carryout their own simple IT support on, to access their work applications. Hence the growth of BYOD – Bring Your Own Device.
There’s also a growing population of Mac users that find they don’t get any IT support from the usual IT channels. For them, a Google search will usually identify the cause of a problem and a solution, and so they can get on with their work. If you are a Mac user, there's plenty of Mac to MVS info at
Nowadays, users at Windows-based sites can easily connect to things like a Citrix receiver and access a virtual work desktop on their hardware device of choice.
In a further complication, Canonical is developing an Ubuntu release that can run alongside Android on high-end dual-core smartphones. When the smartphone is docked, the user gets a full desktop experience. The Linux operating system shares the Android kernel, enabling the safe sharing of resources and data by going through the same kernel access layers. This offers all sorts of advantages. Users have a phone that works, plus, once docked, have a working computing environment. It’ll be interesting to see whether we see a lot more of Ubuntu for Android. Can you imagine being able to do that with Windows?
VMware’s Horizon mobile application (announced last summer) lets workers use personal mobile devices for work, while letting IT retain security and control over work-related apps on those phones. In effect a user has the handset they want and runs their work phone virtualized on the same hardware. The user gets the handset they want, and IT get the security they need.

And you can access the mainframe with your iPad. For example, you can have 3270 emulation – MochaSoft provide TN3270 from the Appstore. Rational HATS and WebSphere Application Server (WAS) can help make CICS access from an iPhone possible. Lotus Notes Traveler accounts allow users to access Notes from iPhones or iPads.

There’s a free Quick Reference for IBM System z mobile app available for Android, BlackBerry, and iPhone, which (IBM claims) provides quick and easy access to the latest System z product information, success stories, social networks, and z experts. You can get it from
Many software vendors are making use of the browser on tablet devices and smartphones to provide access to mainframe data – I’ve written about William Data Systems software in previous blogs, but they are a good example of a vendor embracing new technology to access mainframe performance info.
My opinion is that tablet devices are not quite there yet, and, like early laptops, will be a million times more useful and usable in a couple of years time. But plenty of people have them, and it makes sense for those people to access the applications they want on corporate systems, whether that’s a copy of Excel or a CICS transaction.
Watch out for more people demanding to bring their own device!

Sunday, 19 February 2012

How to create an e-book

For those of you who’ve been living on Mars, an e-book is a book that you can read using an e-reader, such as a Kindle or using the Kindle app on your smartphone or tablet. And the great thing is that anyone can publish an e-book. You don’t need to find a publisher, you just need a computer. On the other hand, the really bad thing about it is that anyone can publish a book, no matter how little merit it my have!

Now, obviously, there must be technical standards, so that the e-book you create can be read on a standard device. But like everything in IT, there are more than enough standards. Amazon’s Kindle uses a version of mobi and calls it Kindle Format 8 (KF8). Apple has an iBook standard called EPUB for books available from its iTunes store. Barnes & Noble have their Nook standard. And there’s Kobo, Sony Reader, iRex Digital Reader, the iRiver Story, and probably lots of others - including simple PDFs. The majority of e-book formats are based on some kind of HTML (like a Web page).
So, how do you create an e-book? Step 1 is to write something! E-books generally work best with text rather than text and pictures. And it seems Word is fine as the source of the text. Once you’ve done that, you need to create a nice cover, a contents list, and all the other things that you find in the front of a book. It seems to work better if you insert a page break at the end of each partial page or blank page.
If you want to publish for the Kindle, Amazon has KindleGen software available. I must admit, I couldn’t get it to work on my laptop. I put the files in the right place, ran it on a command line, etc. Kindle Previewer software lets you see how the layout of the book will appear on a Kindle.
If you have InDesign 5 or above, you can export to EPUB (for iTunes) and there is also a Kindle plug-in available.
I used Mobipocket from to convert my file. It didn’t like .docx, but was fine with .doc. However, I did lose lots of styling when I converted, so the document had to be reworked. As I said above, it’s not too clever with pictures and text boxes in a document. And that’s a problem with e-books at the moment. It’s important to keep your document as simple as possible. One other thing, the publisher edition of mobipocket protects the distribution of copyrighted content and includes Adobe PDF, Microsoft Word, and text file import wizards.
There’s also a piece of software called Calibre, which is available from, that can be used to convert from one e-book format to another.
There are online services, like Lulu ( that can help you publish your e-book. You upload your file, then create a cover, describe your book, pick a price, and promote your book. This gives you a route to Apple’s iBookstore, as well as selling it on Lulu’s Marketplace. In terms of royalties, Apple takes 30 percent, and Lulu takes 20 percent of the remainder.
If you want to publish through Barnes & Noble you can use the online service PubIt! ( Create an account then upload your e-book and cover art. Then PubIt! converts the digital files for viewing on Nook devices. And then you can sell it. Royalty rates range from 40 percent (for any book priced under $2.98 or over $10) to 65 percent (for any book priced between $2.99 and $9.99).
If you self publish to the Kindle, you earn the highest royalty rate if your book costs between $2.99 to $9.99 range. You get 70% of the price.
Using iTunes Connect gets your EPUB format book on the iBookstore shelves. There is an approval process, and you’ll need an iTunes account.
For $19.99 (and part of your royalty) you can use BookBrewer (, which lets you upload your cover, enter a description of your book, and copy and paste chapters. The e-book can then be sold through Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Where am I in my investigation into e-books? I’ve created a book in Word that’s full of pictures with wrap-around text and text boxes with coloured backgrounds and shadows. It doesn’t convert very well. On the other hand, I have exported it as PDF and copied it onto my Android tablet into the Kindle app folder, and I can read my book using the Kindle app. (Older versions of the app don’t read PDFs.) My next task is to see whether I can ‘play’ with the HTML and create web pages that look more like my original Word pages and then go through the process again to get a good looking mobi file. At the moment, my PDF book doesn’t show up with the correct cover in the Kindle app.

If anyone’s got any suggestions, I’ll be interested to hear them.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Linux divisions

Linus Torvalds released Linux on 5 October 1991, and by 1998 IBM was experimenting with it. In 2000 it was properly available on mainframes – along with the specialty processor IFL (Integrated Facility for Linux). The rest, as they say, is history.

As well as mainframes, Linux, of course, runs on desktops and servers. The Mac OS is based on Unix, but Android – found on millions of smartphones and tablets – is based on Linux.

So what divisions am I talking about? The division between big iron and little? Well not really. In fact, interestingly, the people at William Data Systems have come out with a way of monitoring Linux whether it’s on a mainframe or server somewhere else in the world. As long as it has an IP address, they have a way of monitoring it (using z/OS as the hub).

No, the first division I want to look at is the division between the USA (or North America, I should say) and Europe. The recent Arcati Mainframe Yearbook user survey (still freely available at came up with some interesting results. The survey found that  70% of European sites surveyed didn't have Linux, whereas only 28% of North American sites in the surveyed didn’t. That’s a huge difference. And if you were IBM, you might well be wondering why Linux isn’t selling into Europe so well as North America.

Let’s speculate. Is it that North America is well ahead of the curve in terms of take up of mainframe Linux? Is it that mainframe Linux is priced differently either side of the pond so it encourages the take up in the USA but not Europe? Or could it be that IFLs are marked up or down depending on whether the customer is EMEA-based or not? Are IFLs being bundled in with upgrades or not depending on where in the world you’re based? I have recently had some nudges and winks over prices, and it could well be that European mainframe users are being charged double what their US-based counterpart might expect to pay. I’d be interested to hear what figure people, who’ve recently negotiated with IBM, have haggled them down to. You might also wonder whether now is a good time to buy shares in SuSE, who have about an 80% share of the mainframe Linux market. Will we see it suddenly explode in Europe? Or not?

The other division that’s recently cropped up with Linux is how users navigate. I guess we’re all pretty much familiar with using drop-down menus to access what we want – and we can probably use them to find our way around familiar applications without even thinking about it. Even very young childen take to that way of navigating like it was second nature. But just recently we’ve seen the introduction of Heads Up Displays (HUDs) for Ubuntu’s Linux.

What you get is a sort of semi-transparent area at the top of the screen, which acts in some ways like the ribbon with Office. HUD provides a search style interface that uses a Vocabulary UI (VUI). Users start to type or say a command, and the HUD starts a smart look-ahead search through the application and system (indicator) menus. By combining fuzzy matching with a learning function, the HUD begins to ‘recognize’ the actions of each individual user.

If you want to give it a go, HUD will be available in Ubuntu 12.04 towards the end of April.

Now I’m guessing that, like Microsoft’s ribbon, and Marmite, users will either love it or hate it. The idea that it will use voice indicates to me that we’re back to the original Star Trek computer idea – a computer that you can talk to. This was an idea that went away for a while because, to be honest, voice reconition software just wasn’t up to the job. But now we’ve had Siri on iPhones for a while, and people are coming back to the idea that talking to a computer isn’t such a silly idea after all.

I’ve only spoken to one person who’s used the HUD and he was singing its praises. But he is very familiar with Linux and the Ubuntu distro, so maybe he had a clearer idea of what to ask the HUD to do for him – in terms of getting any work done – than, for example, I might have.

Perhaps one day we’ll see a HUD on mainframe Linux. And perhaps we’ll see more mainframe Linux sites in Europe, Middle East, and Africa. Or will the divisions continue?