It has been known as many things over the years: PC Support, Personal Communications, Client Access, iSeries Access. Now its latest name, IBM i Access for Windows, would seem to be its last.
Love it or hate it, over the last 20 years we have all grown used to it and so when I was digging through the detail of the latest IBM i announcements (v7.1 TR10 and v7.2 TR2), it was with some shock I found an entry entitled “IBM i Access for Windows client stabilisation”.
Now, those of you that don’t speak IBM’s language might think that this was IBM finally claiming to make this program more stable and so less likely to crash. Sadly, no. What this actually translates as is: “We are not putting any more effort into developing this product, so start looking for another solution.”
I suppose this should not really have come as such a shock. When IBM released IBM i v7.2, it still shipped with the v7.1 version of the IBM i Access for Windows client. And don’t panic, it is not pulling the product. Your current software will still run tomorrow and will work with both currently-supported and new releases of IBM i.
What IBM says is: “IBM does not plan to support IBM i Access for Windows on more recent Windows operating systems than indicated on the web page. The replacement product is IBM i Access Client Solutions, which includes 5250 emulation, data transfer, printer output, console support, and more.”
The web page in question is the IBM iAccess for Windows Supported OS List which goes on to list Windows operating systems up to and including Windows 8.1.
So what? I hear you cry. Windows 10 hasn’t been formally released yet. This is where I have to draw your attention back to the wording. “IBM does not plan to support IBM i Access for Windows on more recent Windows operating systems than indicated on the web page”. In short, IBM does not plan to support Windows 10. Instead, it would like us all to move over the new Java-based client, IBM i Access Client Solutions.
It is pretty much accepted that Windows 8 has not been well received by business, with Windows 7 being the platform of choice for most companies using IBM i. But Windows 7 has an expiry date itself, 2020, and that is less than five years away.
This means that in around two years time from now, you can expect companies to start move their users off Windows 7. And do you think they will go to Windows 8? I don’t. In fact, I typed this article on a Windows 10 PC and can tell you that I, for one, really do prefer it to Windows 8. So if IBM decides not to support Windows 10 then this is where things might get a little heated, as, right now, the new client does not have all the functionality of the old one.
Let me stress, this is not IBM trying to phase out the green screen. The 5250 interface is at the heart of the new client. In fact, I have nothing against the new client. The idea of having a single client that works on Windows (32 and 64 bit), Linux and OS X is a great one.
Even better, there is zero installation. You just copy the files to your desktop and you are good to go. You can even carry your own personalised version of it on a memory stick; plug it into virtually any PC and run it from the stick.
As well as the normal 5250 screen and printer emulation, it supports file transfer, spool file viewing and export. IBM i Access Client Solutions even works with the HMC and LAN consoles.
Is IBM making a mistake?
IBM does need to overhaul the current IBM i Access for Windows. It is heavy, complex and was not designed to work well in heavily secured (locked down) Windows environments or large VDI-type (thin client) environments.
IBM also realises that Windows is not the only desktop operating system any more. It knows it needs a common offering to support Windows, Mac OSX and Linux alike. Not to mention something that will easily port to the next generation of management devices – our tablets and smartphones.
In my opinion, in the long term IBM will have to kill off the current Windows-only client. So, why is it that I think this is announcement is a mistake? Put simply, it will be too much change too quickly. Two-to-five years sounds like an age, I know, but in business software lifecycles, it really isn’t. These are like oil tankers; they take a long time to turn and even longer to change direction.
Virtually all of the IBM i sites I visit have integrated IBM i Access for Windows into their business processes, whether it be a simple file transfer or a server-based real-time database interface. But regardless of the complexity of the function, many of these are business-critical. If these functions break, then the business-critical process breaks too.
While I’m sure it will be possible to reproduce these functions in the new IBM i Access Client Solutions client and while I’m sure IBM will add the missing functions to it, I just don’t think it will be done in time.
I think the simple truth is that IBM will be forced to support IBM i Access for Windows by its largest customers, the members of the LUG (Large User Group).
It is these big users that will struggle most, many of whom have the IBM i Access for Windows suite built into desktop images. And it’s these guys who are least likely to want to take the time to figure out how to incorporate anything new.
The irony is that IBM i Access for Windows 7.1 with the latest service pack seems to work just fine with Windows 10. As I mentioned, I’m using one of the beta versions of Windows 10 on my main laptop and, so far, I haven’t found a single thing that doesn’t work.
But, if I go back to speaking IBM-language, “not supported” doesn’t mean that something will not work, it just means that if it doesn’t, then IBM doesn’t have to fix it.
So, if you want to help change IBM’s mind or if you think I’ve got it totally wrong, then please feel free to post a response to this article or contact me direct. I will take your views to IBM as part of the next Common Europe Advisory Council (CEAC) meeting.
Nice to see you…
Our next i-UG meeting, the International i-Power 2015 conference, will take place at Wyboston Lakes, UK, on September 9. We’ve already confirmed a number of excellent guest speakers so I hope to see you there. More details and registration available at the i-UG website.
Steve Bradshaw is the founder and managing director of Wolverhampton, UK-based Power Systems specialist Rowton IT Solutions and technical director of British IBM i user group i-UG. He has been a key contributor to PowerWire since 2012 and he also sits on the Common Europe Advisory Council (CEAC) which helps IBM shape the future of IBM i.