The Naming of the System

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Some people insist that the current IBM i for Business OS running on current IBM Power Systems hardware has nothing to do with the initial AS/400 anymore, and as such may not be called AS/400. This is to prevent confusion, and to emphasize that the modern system has nothing to do with it's ancestor, that is commonly seen as dusty, old-fashioned, hopelessly outdated and legacy stuff[1] that must be replaced by current state of the art technology. By insisting on a new name, these people assume that those other people will eventually learn that the above systems are distinct.

While this statement is true as seen from the hardware evolution's point of view, it's not so true when considering the operating system presentation to the user. When an user does some tasks with OS provided tools via green screen, there are only slight differences. Usually the user only recognizes a certain difference in how fast the system processes requests and that's all about it.[2]

Taking into account that programmers try to modernize applications by more or less shifting user-program interaction from character based screens to web browser based solutions, users will cease to call the application "AS/400" but by another arbitrary name, like the function of the application.

So what's the difference, then?

All efforts to convince people that IBM i is not AS/400 will be negated when they recognize a classic so called green screen (Terminal Emulator Software, or even a Hardware Terminal) with character based user interface, obviously connected to the latest and greatest IBM i on Power Systems. In fact, the whole discussion most likely revolves around green screen versus Point-'n-klick UIs and apparently not so much about the system's current name, whatever it may be.

Character based UIs are considered bad by certain people while applications presenting content in a web browser's window are considered superior by the same ones. IBM i as well as the AS/400 derive most of their look-and-feel from these green screens. Most new users instinctively hate them. Most long standing users working with the system for years won't welcome changes, because they maximized speed and possibly could do most daily tasks with a blindfold. When presented with a new, browser-based UI, protest will almost certainly arise.

Seen from a sysadmin's point of view, with every new major release, there came new and often useful functionality, and additional menu items or complete screens. Only in a few occasions, IBM ceased to support certain functionality via green screen. IBM also created a windows-only clickable admin tool in the 1990s that is more or less useful, depending on the task at hand and personal taste of the admin. It provides only a comparably small subset of tasks to do. While it may be sufficient for daily routine tasks for more or less experienced users, the full functionality and flexibility to automate tasks by small programs or scripts can only be exploited by the character based interface.[3] Also, it is a common misconception that graphical UIs make everything easier. This is only partly true: In every case you need to know what you need to do to finish a given task at hand.


The AS/400 was designed as a business helper machine, to put it simple. Tasks in classical business environments revolve around structured data that has to be entered, processed, stored, reviewed and maybe printed. This hasn't changed substantially over the course of decades and so haven't the base functions of OS/400, i5/OS, IBM i, you name it.

To come around full circle: Most people[4] still call the latest and greatest IBM i on Power Systems AS/400. They do it because the application they use every day looks the same as in 1989 when it was young and fresh. They probably learned that this application runs on the AS/400.[5] They usually refer to the UI of the main application as AS/400 and not the hardware, not the OS.[6] Probably they are dimly aware that a program needs a computer to run on. How can they know that with every decade there has been a replacement of the hardware with accompanying upgrades of the OS,

  • to keep pace with increasing number of concurrent users as the company grows,
  • to keep pace with increased storage needs as databases are fed with more and more data,
  • to keep pace with more tasks the machine is expected to process, because of the last two reasons,
  • to comply with EOL policies by IBM, so if anything goes wrong, IBM can be blamed without them shrugging and telling that there's no support anymore, because everything is hopelessly too old.

For these reasons, I refuse to call the aforementioned system anything else but AS/400.[7] Everybody knows what's meant by that term and that is the most important point.

See also


  1. Not only by IBM sales people but also by certain IBM i enthusiasts.
  2. From a system administrator's point of view, there are indeed substantial differences: Added functions result in more menu items to choose from, etc.
  3. This is no different from Linux or other UNIX systems.
  4. To be precise: Most users, and interestingly consulters and techs knowing absolutely nothing about it.
  5. Probably when there's downtime needed and the IT department informs the users.
  6. That is tugged away in a dedicated room for stuff like that.
  7. Even though I declare myself as a sysadmin.