Archive for the 'ibm' Category

Remembering the dawn of the open source movement

and this isn’t it.

attwood statistics 1975

Me re-booting an IBM System 360/40 in 1975

When I first started in IT in 1974 or as it was called back then, data processing, open source was the only thing. People were already depending on it, and defending their right to access source code.

I’m delighted with the number and breadth of formal organizations that have grown-up around “open source”. They are a great thing. Strength comes in numbers, as does recognition and bargaining power. Congratulations to the Open Source Initiative and everything they’ve achieved in their 20-years.

I understand the difference between closed source, (restrictive) licensed source code, free source, open source etc. The point here isn’t to argue one over the other, but to merely illustrate the lineage that has led to where we are today.

Perhaps one of the more significant steps in the modern open source movement was the creation in 2000 of the Open Source Development Labs, (OSDL) which in 2007 merged with the Free Standards Group (FSG) to become the Linux Foundation. But of course source code didn’t start there.

Some people feel that the source code fissure was opened when  Linus Torvalds released his Linux operating system in 1991 as open source; while Linus and many others think the work by Richard Stallman on the GNU Toolset and GNU License started in 1983, was the first step. Stallman’s determined advocacy for source code rights and source access certainly was a big contributor to where open source is today.

But it started way before Stallman. Open source can not only trace its roots to two of the industries behemoths, IBM and AT&T, but the original advocacy came from them too. Back in the early 1960’s, open source was the only thing. There wasn’t a software industry per se until the US Government invoked its’ antitrust law against IBM and AT&T, eventually forcing them, among other things, to unbundle their software and make it separately available as well as many other related conditions.

’69 is the beginning, not the end

The U.S. vs.I.B.M. antitrust case started in 1969, with trial commencing in 1975(1). The case was specifically about IBM blocking competitive hardware makers getting access and customers being able to run competitive systems, primarily S/360 architecture, using IBM Software.

In the years leading up to 1969, customers had become increasingly frustrated, and angry at IBM’s policy to tie it’s software to its hardware. Since all the software at that time was source code available, what that really meant was a business HAD to have one IBM computer to get the source code, it could then purchase an IBM plug-compatible manufacturers (PCM) computer(2) and compile the source code with the manufacturers Assembler and tools, then run the binaries on the PCM systems.

IBM made this increasingly harder as the PCM systems became more competitive. Often large previously IBM only systems users who would have, 2, 4, sometimes even 6 IBM S/360 systems, costing tens of millions of dollars, would buy a single PCM computer. The IBM on-site systems engineers (SE) could see the struggles of the customer, and along with the customers themselves, started to push back against the policy. The SE job was made harder the more their hands were tied, and the more restrictions that were put on the source code.

To SHARE or not to?

For the customers in the US, one of their major user groups, SHARE had
a vast experience in source code distribution, it’s user created content, tools tapes were legend, what most never knew, is that back in 1959, with General Motors, SHARE had its own IBM mainframe (709) operating system, the SHARE Operating System (SOS).

At that time there was formal support offerings of on-site SE’s that would work on problems and defects in SOS. But by 1962, IBM had introduced it’s own S/7090 Operating System, which was both incompatible with SOS, and also at that time IBM withdrew support by it’s SE and Program Support Representatives (PSR’s) to work on SOS.

1965 is where to the best of my knowledge is when the open source code movement, as we know it today, started

To my knowledge, that’s where the open source code movement, as we know it today, started. Stallman’s experience with a printer driver mirrors exactly what had happened some 20-years before. The removal of source code, the inability to build working modifications to support a business initiative, using hardware and software ostentatiously already owned by the customer.

IBM made it increasingly harder to get the source code, until the antitrust case. By that time, many of IBMs customers had created and depended on small, and large modifications to IBM source code.

Antitrust outcomes

Computerworld - IBM OCOBy the mid-70’s, once of the results of years of litigation, and consent decrees in the United States, IBM had been required to unbundle its software, and make it available separately. Initially it was chargeable to customers who wanted to run it on PCM, non-IBM systems, but overtime as new releases and new function appeared, even customers with IBM systems saw a charge appear, especially as Field Developed Programs, moved to full Program Products and so on. In a bid to stop competing products, and user group offerings being developed from their products, this meant the IBM Products were increasingly supplied object-code-only (OCO). This became a a formal policy in 1983.

I’ve kept the press cutting from ComputerWorld(March 1985) shown above since my days at Chemical Bank in New York. It pretty much sums-up what was going on at the time, OCO and users and user groups fighting back against IBM.

What this also did is it gave life to the formal software market, companies were now used to paying for their software, we’ve never looked back. In the time since those days, software with source code available has continued to flourish. With each new twist and evolution of technology, open source thrives, finds it’s own place, sometimes a dominant position, sometimes subservient, in the background.

The times in the late 1950’s and 60’s were the dawn of open source. If users, programmers, researchers and scientists had not fought for their rights then, it is hard to know where the software industry would be now.


(1) The PCM industry had itself come about as a result of a 1956 antitrust case and the consent decree that followed.

(2) The 1969 antitrust case was eventually abandoned in 1982.

API’s and Mainframes


I like to try to read as many American Banker tech’ articles as I can. Since I don’t work anymore, I chose not to take out a subscription, so some I can read, others are behind their subscription paywall.

This one caught my eye. as it’s exactly what we did in circa 1998/99 at National Westminster Bank (NatWest) in the UK. The project was part of the rollout of a browser Intranet banking application, as a proof of concept, to be followed by a full blown Internet banking application. Previously both Microsoft and Sun had tackled the project and failed. Microsoft had scalability and reliability problems, and from memory, Sun just pushed too hard to move key components of the system to its servers, which in effect killed their attempt.

The key to any system design and architecture is being clear about what you are trying to achieve, and what the business needs to do. Yes, you need a forward looking API definition, one that can accept new business opportunities, and one that can grow with the business and the market. This is where old mainframe applications often failed.

Back in the 1960’s, applications were written to meet specific, and stringent taks, performance was key. Subsecond response times were almost always the norm’ as there would be hundreds or thousands of staff dependent on them for their jobs. The fact that many of those application has survived to this today, most still on the same mainframe platform is a tribute to their original design.

When looking at exploiting them from the web, if you let “imagineers” run away with what they “might” want, you’ll fail. You have to start with exposing the transaction and database as a set of core services based on the first application that will use them. Define your API structure to allow for growth and further exploitation. That’s what we successfully did for NatWest. The project rolled out on the internal IP network, and a year later, to the public via the Internet.

Of course we didn’t just expose the existing transactions, and yes, firewall, dispatching and other “normal” services as part of an Internet service were provided off platform. However, the core database and transaction monitor we behind a mainframe based webserver, which was “logically” firewalled from the production systems via an MPI that defined the API, and also routed requests.

So I read through the article to try to understand what the issue was that Shamir Karkal, the source for Barbas article, felt was the issue. Starting at the section “Will the legacy systems issue affect the industry’s ability to adopt an open API structure?” which began with a history lesson, I just didn’t find it.

The article wanders between a discussion of the apparent lack of a “service bus” style implementation, and the ability of Amazon to sell AWS and rapidly change the API to meet the needs of it’s users.

The only real technology discussion in the article that I found that had any merit, was where they talked about screen scraping. I guess I can’t argue with that, but surely we must be beyond that now? Do banks really still have applications that are bound by their greenscreen/3270/UI? That seems so 1996.

A much more interesting report is this one on more general Open Bank APIs. Especially since it takes the UK as a model and reflects on how poor US Banking is by comparison. I’ll be posting a summary on my ongoing frustrations with the ACH over on my personal blog sometime in the next few days. The key technology point here is that there is no way to have a realtime bank API, open, mainframe or otherwise, if the ACH system won’t process it. That’s America’s real problem.

What makes a good technical manager?

Is it possible to engineer the perfect boss? Google was up to the task and found data that will forever change the keys to getting promoted.

A few people posted, quoted and retweeted this INC. Article on my social media streams. The “Eight Habits of Highly Effective Google Managers.” is a good list and set of checkpoints.

For me though, as longtime readers will know, I’ve long been a believer in the non-technical manager, most of my best managers and executives were managers first and technical second. On one post on Facebook it summed it up as:

A good company employs managers to manage the company for employees, and employees for the company.

If the company doesn’t have senior technical non-manager positions and technicians are becoming managers to get promoted, you and the managers are at the wrong company in the first place.

I’d tried being a teamlead very early on in my career, it wasn’t good for me or the team, but then I was just 25-years old. Later on, not being a manager became a source of pride, making it through the corporate ranks at IBM without ever being a manager. My mentoring/career presentation has it on slide-2 and slide-10.

These days I think I’d be a good manager, my patience has certainly improved, I’ve achieved everything and more, that I set out to do, and while I’m still technical, I know my boundaries and wouldn’t want to cross them.

Mainframe Assembler Language 2.0

Those that still follow my blog from my days working in the IBM mainframe arena might be interested in the following.

One of the stalwarts of software at IBM, and self described grand poobar of High Level Assembler, John R. Ehrman has a 1300-page 2.0 version of his book “Assembler Language Programming for IBM System z™ Servers ” and it’s available in PDF form here. There are a wealth of other assembler resources that John has contributed here on

(My) Influential Women in Tech

Taking some time out of work in the technical, software, computer industry has been really helpful to give my brain time to sift through the required, the necessary, the nice, and the pointless things that I’ve been involved in over 41-years in technology.

international-womens-day-logo1[1]Given that today is International Women’s Day 2016 and numerous tweets have flown by celebrating women, and given the people I follow, many women in Technology. I thought I’d take a minute to note some of the great women in Tech I had the opportunity to work with.

I was fortunate in that I spent much of my career at IBM. There is no doubt that IBM was a progressive employer on all fronts, women, minorities, the physically challenged, and that continues today with their unrelenting endorsement of the LGBT community. I never personally met or worked with current IBM CEO, Ginni Rometty, she like many that I did have the opportunity to work with, started out in Systems Engineering and moved into management. Those that I worked with included Barbara McDuffie, Leslie Wilkes, Linda Sanford and many others.

Among those in management at IBM that were most influential, Anona Amis at IBM UK. Anona was my manager in 1989-1990, at a time when I was frustrated and lacking direction after joining IBM two years earlier, with high hopes of doing important things. Anona, in the period of a year, taught me both how to value my contributions, but also how to make more valuable contributions. She was one of what I grew to learn, was the backbone of IBM, professional managers.

My four women of tech, may at sometime or other, have been managers. That though wasn’t why I was inspired by them.

Susan Malika: Sue, I met Sue initially through the CICS Product group, when we were first looking at ways to interface a web server to the CICS Transaction Monitor. Sue and the team already had a prototype connector implemented as a CGI. Over the coming years, I was influenced by Sue in a number of fields, especially in data interchange and her work on XML. Sue is still active in tech.

Peggy Zagelow: I’d always been pretty dismissive of databases, apart from a brief period with SQL/DS; I’d always managed fine without one. Early on in the days of evangelizing Java, I was routed to the IBM Santa Teresa lab, on an ad hoc query from Peggy about using Java as a procedures language for DB2. Her enthusiasm, and dogma about the structured, relational database; as well as her ability to code eloquently in Assembler was an inspiration. We later wrote a paper together, still available online[here]. Peggy is also still active in the tech sector at IBM.

Donna Dillenberger: Sometime in 1999, Donna and the then President of the IBM Academy of Technology, Ian Brackenbury, came to the IBM Bedfont office to discuss some ideas I had on making the Java Virtual Machine viable on large scale mainframe servers. Donna, translated a group of unconnected ideas and concepts I sketched out on a white board, into the “Scalable JVM”. The evolution of the JVM was a key stepping stone in the IBM evolution of Java. I’m pleased to see Donna was appointed an IBM Fellow in 2015. The paper on the JVM is here.(1).

Gerry Hackett: Finally, but most importantly, Geraldine aka Gerry Hackett. Gerry and I  met when she was a first line development manager in the IBM Virtual Machine development laboratory in Endicott New York, sometime around 1985. While Gerry would normally fall in the category of management, she is most steadfastly still an amazing technologist. Some years later I had the [dubious] pleasure of “flipping slides” for her as Gerry presented IBM Strategy. Aside: “Todays generation will never understand the tension between a speaker and a slide turner.” Today, Gerry is a Vice President at Dell. She recruited me to work at Dell in 2009, and under her leadership the firmware and embedded management team have made steady progress, and implemented some great ideas. Gerry has been a longtime advocate for women in technology, a career mentor, and a fantastic roll model.

Importantly, what all these women demonstrated, by the “bucketload”, was quiet, technological confidence; the ability to see, deliver and celebrate great ideas and great people. They were quiet unlike their male peers, not in achievement, but in approach. This why we need more women in technology, not because they are women, but because technical companies, and their products will not be as good without them.

(1). Edited to link to correct Dillenberger et al paper.

Change is inevitable

There have been a number of actions at Dell in the last few days that have resulted in people leaving the company. One of my key team members left last Friday on a voluntary basis, when we discussed her request for voluntary separation, I told her I was disappointed but given her reasoning, I said I wouldn’t act to stop her. She’s going west…

Then yesterday the remainder of one of my former teams were let go through an involuntary program, a shift of business requirements, and technology changes. I’m disappointed to see him go, but since he was in a different division, I was pretty much powerless to do anything. I wouldn’t hesitate to hire him back if and when I can. Interestingly, one of my original Austin contacts, is back at Dell after being laid off a number of times.

There has been the usual “link-bait” style hysteria about the Dell layoffs, and today, they turned to IBM. Reading through the comments(I Know , I know), there are the usual “shock horror” comments. After reading the comments on IBM today, I decided it was worth posting in the hope to move the discussion on, really, you are surprised by these layoffs?

Here is the comment I posted [with only minor typographical corrections.]

It’s a massive challenge for the technology companies, just asserting it’s for this or that reason, looking for easy finger pointing to associate blame is just naive.We have to understand that all the former hardware behemoths are suffering from the innovators dilemma. As much as HP, IBM, Dell, Oracle et al. have been broadening their products and services, changing their business models, with differing degrees of success.

Unless y’all are prepared to pay the price for traditional hardware and software, and stop migrating to the “cloud”, these things are inevitable and you are part of the problem. Thats not blame, it’s fact, after all your business is also focused on EPS or expense/revenue ratio too.

IBM made a significant shift to being a software and services company almost 20-years ago, none of this should be unexpected. Shifting workloads, skills, people is hard enough much less in an economy where there are massive geographic shifts as whole continents stabilize,  and others shift in terms of how they consume and use technology, as well as their skills and employment practices.

Even simple things like the continued shift to home working has potential huge impact on employment trends, locations and skills.

If IBM, HP, Dell, Oracle were cities, governments etc. you might be right to hold them to a different standard. But I don’t see anyone voting Goverments out because they are paying too little tax?

It’s not simply about focusing on earnings per share. While there is an argument that for the whole western industrial economy that  the CEO, Executive pay has got out of proportion, it’s important to remember that at least IBM, HP, Oracle are still public companies. Unless you’ve been paying very close intention, their EPS and share price have more than likely a direct impact on you, even if you work for a competitor. They are both direct and indirect investment funds for pension funds, Government/Health/Insurance investments etc. If they all take a dive, you can be hurt anyway, even if you don’t work at those companies.

So lets stop pretending we are surprised this is happening. Understand that everyone in the “industry” from customers to design, R&D and the Execs are responsible for finding a ways to find new opportunities and help and support good employees both those where we are working, and also for those that have been, and are being let go. It’s also going to come over time to facebook, google et al eventually they won’t be able to buy and innovate their way into markets forever in just the same way the more traditional companies can now.

And yes, I’m an Executive at Dell.

HTML5 Demo code

For those of us that grew up using teletypes, in my case a 3215 IBM golfball typewriter, and later 3270 green on black IBM terminals, where GDDM and the IBM 3279 was a state of the art graphics terminal, the HTML5 demo app in the above tweet is indeed a reminder of how far computer graphics, and more importantly, the Internet has come.

If you start the link/demo, don’t just sit there, click! The irony is I don’t really know Andrew, I worked with his Dad on said IBM 327x terminals 😉

About & Contact

I'm Mark Cathcart, formally a Senior Distinguished Engineer, in Dells Software Group; before that Director of Systems Engineering in the Enterprise Solutions Group at Dell. Prior to that, I was IBM Distinguished Engineer and member of the IBM Academy of Technology. I'm an information technology optimist.

I was a member of the Linux Foundation Core Infrastructure Initiative Steering committee. Read more about it here.

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