Technology: IBM updates AS/400 with Notes, Win95 support

Aging, clunky and proprietary. With those three mind-share strikes against the AS/400, IBM executives at the Common user group meeting here last week attempted to convince customers otherwise.

One upcoming change they emphasise is the June release of Version 3, Release 2 of OS/400, the AS/400 operating system.

With this release for CISC models of the AS/400, the server will be able to support Lotus' Notes and Windows 95 PCs for client/server applications and systems management functions.

In addition, software to translate AS/400 data streams to Hypertext Markup Language in real time will make AS/400-based applications ready for the World Wide Web, IBM officials say. OS/400 Version 3, Release 7, with the same features as Release 2 for newer PowerPC-based AS/400 models, is due by year's end.

Along with these moves, officials cite others designed to give the AS/400 a fighting chance against Unix and Microsoft's Windows NT servers. They include the following:

--New data mining applications, which are due late this year.

--Plans to improve the symmetrical multiprocessing scalability of the AS/400, from four CMOS processors now to eight next year.

--A promise of future support for Java applets.

IBM's release last December of PowerPC-based AS/400 models brought it back into competition with servers such as Hewlett-Packard's Unix models, although it still lags behind AlphaServers from Digital Equipmen, says Thomas Bittman, an analyst at Gartner Group, in Stamford, Connecticut.

To sustain its long-term future, however, IBM needs to give the AS/400 family a higher market profile. Specifically, it needs to win new customers and attract leading software vendors to the AS/400 at a time when they are busy examining opportunities with Windows NT, Bittman says. A recent announcement that SAP AG is porting its R/3 suite to the AS/400 was a boost, he says.

IBM's pledge to get Notes support on the AS/400 will ease the path of users who now have to replicate their data on a separate Notes server, says Parke Cummins, an IS consultant at Crowe, Chizek & Co. in South Bend, Indiana. "Groupware and the AS/400 are very complementary. [IBM] is right on target," he says.

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