The Class of 2000?

Those of us who have been around for a while have had the pleasure of witnessing TPF's coming of age. This graying fraternity of Assembler bigots, born out of the computer rooms in exotic locales like Tulsa and Kansas City and Miami have had the distinction of watching this child of the 60's grow up. For many of us, the work has been much more than just a job. It's been a labor of love, almost akin to a parent-child relationship. Spend a good 20 plus years working with a technology, and you'll understand what it means to be a part of a system's evolution. If you happen to be a parent, you can appreciate that it is frighteningly similar to raising a child.

The early days are always looked back on fondly. This was the time of youth and exploration. The design and development of the ancestral systems -- the PARS', and the PANAMAC's, and the SABRE's of the 1960's and 70's -- these were the beginnings of great things to come. Here on the front lines, were the Godparents of ACP. From making programs more efficient, to germinating concepts like VFA, the teams of people who worked the endless hours, and deciphered the endless streams of green bar paper deserve our recognition and our gratitude. These are the founders of the feast, and TPF4.1 is their legacy.

But the clock continues to tick, and we all continue to age. Some have moved up (?) into management, having paid more than enough dues while in the technical trenches. Some have retired to enjoy all of those things they never had the time or money to enjoy in the past. And sadly, some have passed on, and they are still missed by those of us who had the pleasure of sharing a small slice of life with them. The fact of the matter is that it's getting closer and closer to the time when the torch will be passed to the next generation. In many ways, you could look upon this as a sort of graduation. Having said that, it becomes critically important that the next generation is ready to accept that torch.

TPF education is an important part of this transition. The fact that the number of people and companies offering TPF training continues to grow is a good thing. The fact that almost all of the instructors -- the people doing the teaching -- are seasoned "old-timers" is a better thing. I say this because anyone can sit down and read through documentation to prepare a training class. Not everyone can teach! In order to be successful as a teacher, you have to have the personal experience under your belt, and not just the years on the clock. The same holds true in sales, and the same holds true in marketing. I'm using this example as an analogy for what I believe is an ongoing problem within IBM's TPF organization.

Just a few years ago, IBM took a look at TPF, and realized that there was an opportunity to not only "live longer", but to "prosper" as well. The internet was coming into its own, and the buzzword on the street was e-commerce. What an incredible stroke of luck, to be sitting on the fastest transaction processor in the world. With the right hooks, and a bit of a make-over, the old girl could possibly be the web server to beat all web servers.

So here we are a few years later, and what has IBM accomplished? Well, without rattling off a string of acronyms, they've managed to beg, borrow, and retrofit a whole Christmas list of new features into TPF4.1. They've made the product ANSII 'C' compliant, and the effort towards cross-platform exchange is becoming a reality, courtesy of MQSeries. Couple this with the "consolidation" of ALCS and TPF into one product, and one has to admit that the pundits have in fact been busy.

However, as much as I hate to beat a dead horse, I have to ask the questions:

The world is poised for it. IBM has attracted the interest and cooperation of several new (to TPF) hardware and software vendors, and the technical pieces seem to be in place. So where's the problem? Everything has changed at IBM to meet the requirements of today's technical and economic demands for a seamless integration, right? Well... not quite everything.

It's not the bits and bytes that drive sales and generate new customers. It's people. Now before I say any more, I want to point out that I'm not talking about the technicians. I have the highest regard for the men and women in the Poughkeepsie Lab. This is not their problem, and they deserve a tremendous amount of credit for bringing TPF to where it is today. My "beef " is with the sales and marketing people who still see the need to play the game by the old rules.

Someone once said; "Put a bad driver in a new car, and you've still got a bad driver." When the best that IBM can come up with is some new glossy promotional material, and a wait-and-see attitude, I start to get concerned. When phone calls and emails never get returned, I start to get very concerned. There is a problem here that is not going to go away. As long as the same players continue to play the same game, we're going to get the same results.

Whether IBM cares to acknowledge these comments or not, there are those of us who have invested the better part of our lives in ACP and TPF. We've made some significant contributions to the technology in the past 25 or so years, and have a real personal interest in seeing it accepted into the mainstream. When it became time for some of us to pass the torch to the next generation, it was done willingly and with good reason. It just might be time for IBM to take a hard look at its situation with TPF. It just might be time to have some people pass the torch, before the flame goes out completely.

Alan Sadowsky