Archive for November, 2008

RPG and Social Security

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008

For some geek entertainment (for programmers), try this weblink to a website for RPG programmers and read some entries. Go to the RPG archive and enter the search term “cycle” or “matching record” and see what kind of discussions (arguments?) you find. It is a fine way of showing that, while the “old” techniques are in decline, they are still very much alive. It is amazing how much of the negative press regarding old programming techniques stem from sheer ignorance.

Programming, though done with the idea of controlling computers, is of necessity reflective of the biases of humans. Though RPG performs well the functions for which it was designed, it will never please everyone. If it had not had the backing of IBM and didn’t run on hardware that was rock-solid (from IBM, of course), it might not have been proliferated as much as it has. It had deficiencies (string handling being one of the worst) that would have resulted in its being discarded if its superior file-handling capabilities had not taken priority and a body of machine-specific software programs had not already been written for the IBM midrange (System3/System 32/System 34/System 36/System 38/AS400). Other companies created their own RPG compilers, but those never did catch on with business customers.

This IBM exclusivity, though, has hurt RPG. The machine it runs on currently (iSeries, or whatever IBM is calling it today) is viewed as ancient technology, even though on performance it blows the doors off any credible competitior. For reliability, to talk about reliability of iSeries versus the Wintel machines is a joke. But the Wintel boxes are cheaper, and IBM has not been able to put across the cost-benefit ratio of iSeries, which runs with the barest minimum of babysitting, versus Wintel or Unix or Linux with their relatively cheap boxes to go with an army of systems analysts and database administrators.

As a result, IBM is now pushing iSeries (system i?) as a server capable of handling multiple operating systems, which of course it does quite capably. But as a result, the body of work done for the iSeries and its forebears is in danger of being set aside. RPG is now perfectly capable of communicating with the Internet and handling Internet processing-  but the little ignorant children who find Java easy and RPG difficult (go figure) are in danger of letting RPG be discarded via attrition. RPG has an active user community- but whether or not it has sufficient clout with the people with the money to make the facts known is somewhat less clear. We hope that they do, but whether they will before the RPG graybeards like me retire is problematical.

Perhaps there is a silver lining, though- maybe we old guys can make a killing as part-time consultants after retirement, maintaining the systems we helped to create. It will take time to rewrite hundreds of millions of lines of RPG code in RPGIV (even using the CVTRPGSRC utility to do it) or in some other language inferior for the purpose of business software creation. The new recruits may find those systems too old and the Chaucerian RPG dialect too incomprehensible. Sad.