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i-dentity Crisis?

January 20, 2009

We're baffled by what seems to be a fairly widespread discussion topic for groups within the  IBM i community. Predominantly this is taking place within user groups, but within some other communities as well. The topic under discussion is whether the group needs to change its identity and focus away from being exclusively an i group and become a Power Systems group (i.e., to embrace the Linux and AIX audiences in addition to IBM i). In a recent discussion among local user group leaders, it seemed that many of them have considered this option but decided to keep their target audience focused on i. We think that's a good choice but are concerned that so many seem to feel compelled to even consider the option.

We suspect one reason many local user groups are considering this is because the largest i user group--COMMON North America--has decided to change its focus from i to Power Systems. Hopefully this will work out well for COMMON, but we wonder if this move really makes sense, especially for local user groups, many of whom have been struggling to keep their heads above water.

Why do we question this diversification? To us, i has never been about hardware. Of course, before Power Systems, there was a hardware platform that was exclusively linked with our favorite operating system. So we, along with many in the community, tended to talk about being AS/400 or iSeries or System i fans (or fanatics), but most of us were really more accurately OS/400 or i5/OS fans--the hardware was really not that important. Indeed at the very "heart" of our system is the Technology Independent Machine Interface (TIMI). TIMI's whole point is to make the underlying hardware irrelevant to the programs that run on it.

The move to Power Systems proved this point. The thing that's important to us and, we believe, to most in the community, is not what hardware we're running--it's the software platform that supports our applications. If i ran on Intel instead of Power systems, would we care? (Actually yes, because then we could have desktop and laptop models, but we digress!)

We i users tend to be fanatical about our platform. It's not that we don't like the people who use Windows, AIX, Linux or other UNIX incarnations. We're sure they are great people. But they don't have many of the same interests as us and barely speak the same language. Let's face it, in an acronym-filled vocabulary, it's tough enough keeping up with one dialect, much less several.

IBM had some great reasons to make the move to a single hardware platform for several operating systems. And we reap the benefits of it--lower hardware component pricing, if nothing else.

But we fail to see how that translates into all of us becoming "Power People" instead of i people. Or how our user groups can or should focus on two or three different target audiences when many of them were struggling to be successful simply focusing on 1. Surely trying to serve multiple target groups, even if it can be done well, will at the very least have the appearance of not doing any of them well. Suppose you're looking at agendas for upcoming monthly meetings or for a full-day or conference event that offers sessions targeted to both i and AIX/Linux people (when it previously only offered i). Are you more likely to think "Wow. Look at all those AIX/Linux sessions they have added to the conference"? Or might you be inclined to think "Hmmm, all these AIX/Linux sessions --they must have cut out a bunch of i sessions to fit them in." 

Of course, there is tons of room in any community for cross-pollination. Many i folks need to know something about other platforms. Running sessions like "UNIX Concepts for i Users" or "Integrating Linux with i" is a great idea and has been done successfully in local and national user groups for years. But it has nothing to do with the fact that both platforms now run on the same hardware. And a session that focuses on hardware will, of course, be equally applicable to multiple audiences.

It's a matter of focus. Trying to focus on more than one target often results in not having a sharp enough focus on any one of them. It may work for Barnum and Bailey but we're not so sure it works well for our community.

Posted January 20, 2009| Permalink

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