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Open Source on i: Introduction and Thoughts

Why is open source great for IBM i? In particular, the new languages bring a lot of business value.

"Open Your i" in white against a purple banner, white chat bubble in righthand corner, with multicolored patterned lines against a black background below.

Greetings, and welcome to the inaugural post of the Open Your i blog! First things first, I want to extend my thanks to the great folks at IBM Systems Magazine for making this happen! They have been easy to work with, and I’m honored to be writing alongside some industry greats!

Allow me to introduce myself. I’m a proud IBMer who’s been with the company as a regular employee since 2006. Before that, I worked for an IBM customer (first AS/400, then iSeries). My entire professional career has been on this platform, which I love. I wrote my first RPG code at the age of 18, and was running open-source software on the box soon after. At IBM, I’ve worked on several projects, including many in the open-source arena. In October 2016, I was named business architect of open source for IBM i.

Why is open source great for IBM i? In particular, the new languages bring a lot of business value. If you’re looking to add more web and mobile technologies, they can be a spectacular fit. The thousands of readily available packages for Node.JS, Python, PHP or Ruby allow you to deliver stable, reliable solutions while reducing time to market.  If you’re looking to bring more skill onto the platform, these languages make it simple to find the people you need.

We’ve also enabled these new languages to be integrated with the rest of IBM i. We’ve delivered a high-performance database connector for every major language. We’ve also delivered toolkits that let you call ILE programs (and much more) with ease. This means your existing investment in ILE or DB2 can be leveraged within these languages. Providing access to open-source technology for your database or RPG makes it even more valuable!

This couples well with other moves IBM has made in the application development space. Take RPG, for instance. Its origins trace back to punch card programming. When I was a teenage programmer learning a column-based language, I could see the ancestry! I also quickly saw that RPG is an incredibly powerful language: great for business logic and what I call “heavy lifting.” Over the course of time, the language got more features, built-in functions and optimizations. Most significantly, it now boasts a fully free-form syntax, making it easily understood by a new set of developers. With modern RPG, open-source languages and continuous database enhancements, the possibilities for your applications are virtually limitless.

And open source is not just valuable for application developers. Thanks to open source, we now have industry-standard compression/decompression tools. We have OpenSSL, a trusted solution for securing connections. OpenSSH provides a powerful (and secure) way to access your system. When you add in others like rsync, bash and wget, it becomes apparent that open source can benefit nearly anybody.

The Community of Open Source

I once heard open-source technology described as “the garden of open source.” I love this analogy! When we do something new, we’re planting a seed. With the proper care, that seed can grow, blossom, and produce fruit. We’ve sowed a bunch of seeds, nourished them and watched them flourish. Now, we have a garden—a community garden where anyone can add new things or invest in its well-being. Most importantly, when the garden produces something valuable, it can benefit everybody!

It’s important to know that “community” is (as one might expect) an important part of our open-source story. Numerous open-source projects are dedicated to IBM i. Some of IBM’s deliverables were developed collaboratively. The RPG/DB2 integration pieces I mentioned earlier are open sourced. We have presence on many social media platforms including LinkedIn, Twitter, Ryver, Gitter,, etc. It’s definitely been fun seeing all of the progress in this space.

Future Posts

By now I’ve established that I love this platform and open source. I especially love when they come together (sorry if I gushed too much!).

Before I conclude this post, though, I want to share what the future holds for this blog. Periodically, I will shine a spotlight on some piece of #IBMiOSS (check out this hashtag on Twitter). This could be in the form of a "tech tip," general thoughts about a particular piece of software or perhaps guest-written content. I hope to keep things simple and illustrate the power of the technology. In addition, I will be issuing a “roundup,” where I will feature the latest advancements in the technology or its surrounding community. I may also schedule corresponding webcasts, so stay tuned for those as well.

As Steve Will pointed out in his You and i blog, we can’t predict exactly what things look like five years from now, but one thing’s for sure: it’s going to be exciting. The growth of open source on IBM i is a thrilling journey, and I sincerely hope you’ll join in!
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