In the not-so-distant past, the idea of running open source software (OSS) on the famously proprietary AS/400 was an anathema: not only was the idea technically unfeasible, it was also improbable from a business perspective. Few people would have been able to list three reasons why a customer would ever want such a thing.
But just as surely as the AS/400 has evolved into the IBM i, the requirement for OSS running on the IBM i has evolved from an interesting concept to a business requirement.
As a subject matter expert in IBM’s Rochester executive briefing center in the mid-2000s, I was part of a team that frequently told customers, “open source is free only if your time is worthless.” We were solidly in the camp of discouraging customers from considering software that came from a collective of anonymous authors. We were so focused on the threat of “free” software that we overlooked the real value OSS development: innovation and agility.
Because OSS is delivered by a community of like-minded developers, contributors to OSS tend to be passionate and focused on innovation. And because no single entity owns the software, developers only work on features that truly deliver value. The impressive pace of innovation is a direct result of a broad community of contributors.
So by 2005, some of the key architects of the iSeries began to see the value of OSS – IBM itself had been delivering the very popular Apache web server since 2001. They were looking for ways to deliver the OSS technologies customers needed without supporting everything themselves. Zend Technologies represented an ideal solution for bringing faster innovation and newer capabilities to the IBM i. Zend Server is the commercial version of open source PHP, the world’s most popular development language for web development. PHP could solve real problems for customers looking to modernize their legacy RPG and Cobol applications. And with Zend providing support, customers wouldn’t be at the mercy of some faceless community.
Thus, open source software has been available on IBM i since 2006 (yes, it’s been 10 years of #IBMiPHP!) Additional open source packages lacked that commercial-grade support, so they were slow in coming. But over the last couple of years, an open source community focused on IBM i has emerged. Although it started with a few open source evangelists, the community has grown to more than 250 on our LinkedIn group. There, you can learn how to set up a GitHub repository on IBM i, meet up with others in your local area, and much more.
You can also tap into the IBM i OSS community on Twitter by using the hashtag #IBMiOSS. Get involved, and be part of the fastest growing community of IBM i loyalists!