Is RPG Dead? Do We Still Have To Ask?

Guess what, folks? It’s that time of year again when people debate the future of RPG. Is RPG dead? Think about it: Does anyone ever ask that question about any other programming language? Why do some people still insist that RPG does have a future?

To start with, let me make one assertion: Of all participants in this debate, I’m one of the very few who is both knowledgeable about RPG and who does not have a financial stake either way. Some commentators make their living by moving people off of IBM i. Others make a living doing RPG programming or training others. If anything, I don’t relish the idea of RPG disappearing because of my long involvement with RPG development.

RPG is very much unlike practically all other programming languages in use for application development. It is one of the few programming languages that is available on only one operating system. That’s right! If you want to do RPG programming, you need a system with the IBM i operating system. And IBM i is one of the last of the traditional proprietary operating systems.

What do I mean by that? Look back at the history of computers: In the 1950’s and 1960’s, there were a lot of computer companies, colloquially called “IBM and the Seven Dwarfs”. After a couple of mergers, they became “IBM and the BUNCH” (Burroughs, Univac, NCR, Control Data Corporation, and Honeywell). Each one had their own mainframe computer products. And each computer ran its own proprietary operating system, each incompatible with all the others. Over time, almost all of these proprietary operating systems have disappeared. Today, there are just two left: z/OS and IBM i.

Today, most computers run either Windows, or some variant of Unix or Linux. Even the machines that run the O/S relics z/OS and IBM i now also run Linux, with significant cost savings over the dinosaurs.

So here’s the current situation: The fact is that the main reason for running IBM i is to run RPG applications. And to be fair, a lot of them are still running. Without RPG, there’s no reason to choose IBM i. And without IBM i, there’s no way to run RPG apps.

Is there a future for IBM i? When I was looking for work back in 2007, one headhunter specifically told me that the bottom had fallen out of the i job market. Indeed, over the course of about 8 months, I saw only three listings for iSeries jobs in the greater Toronto area. If there are so few IBM i job openings in the 8th largest metropolitan area in North America, what hope is there for IBM i programmers elsewhere?

Frankly, in this day and age, if you want to develop a new application, it just doesn’t make any sense at all to limit yourself to one particular operating system. Especially one that is clearly in decline. Other languages like C, C++, PHP, and Python can run on practically any operating system. If you want to protect the value of your software development investment, clearly, any of these other languages is the way to go.

I have more to say about RPG, but I’ll save that for another blog post. Stay tuned!

Cheers! Hans

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