To a general computer user in an environment with a variety of IBM hardware or operating systems, the concept underlying Systems Applications Architecture, previewed last week, must seem very attractive. The promise of a future where only one set of keystrokes, screens, and menu presentation and selection methods needs to be understood and remembered instead of the current multitude. A single applications interface – in IBM-speak: Common User Access – covering System 370, System 3X and the Personal Computer. But, and it is a big but, Common User Access is only a promise for the future. True, we can expect to see the first glimpses of SAA with this week’s Personal Computer launches, but will commercial and in-house software developers start to use it? The applications and maintenance backlog in most installations is such that programmers will simply say they haven’t got the time to start changing interfaces on existing software, whatever users want. And, IBM will have to rid itself of its it is a privilege for you to be allowed to do business with us attitude if it really hopes to persuade third parties to develop new, or redesign old software. Already, several months before the machine’s scheduled delivery, some potential 9370 resellers in the UK are expressing doubts about IBM UK’s third part strategy, something System 38 houses, who have long been asking for the sort of financial incentives and support that their US counterparts receive, have been questioning for some years. It also has to reverse the trend by software houses to develop DEC VAX-based applications. As things stand then, IBM, at least in the UK, has little chance of getting the level of SAA-based development of new applications areas it needs from the third parties. To make matters worse, SAA is initially targeted at producing common office applications only, although, other industry-specific applications will be announced later. The second of the four SAA elements, the Common Programming Interface, consists of languages and services for developing SAA applications. It contains the ANSI Cobol X3.23 1985 Intermediate Level to which there has already been much resistance. Less problematically, Common Programming Interface also includes ANSI Fortran 77, ANSI draft X3J11 C, the REXX procedures language, Application Generator, database interfaces ANSI Structured Query Language QL X3.135 1986 and IBM’s own version of SQL, a query interface based on extensions to Query Management Facility, Graphic Device Display Manager to provide text and graphics on displays, printers and plotters, and the Ez-Vu screen interface for the definition and management of text and menus. Combining with the Common User Access and the Common Programming Interface to produce what it is hoped will be Common Applications, – what SAA appears to be all about, is Common Communications Support. So far, Common Communications Support consists of 3270 and IBM printer data streaming protocols, Document Content Architecture and Document Interchange Architecture, SNA Distribution Services, Network Management Architecture, Type 2.1 node low-entry peer-to-peer and LU 6.2 program-to-program communications, the CCITT-defined X25 packet switching protocol, Synchronous Data Link Control and the IBM Token Ring. As with Common Programming Interface, Common Communication System will be enhanced and extended.
Won’t run efficiently
At first sight, Systems Applications Architecture appears to be IBM’s answer to the uniformity of the DEC VAX line. But, there is a major contradiction in SAA. It is, according to the Customer Letter that accompanied the SAA announcement, IBM’s intent to develop common applications across the SAA environments. If that is the case – in other words, as an example, System 36 programs should run with only minor changes on either the Personal Computer or on a 370-type mainframe – what possible reason does IBM have for maintaining different hardware architectures, unless, of course, programs written for one IBM machine won’t run efficiently on other IBM machines. And, that woul
d mean that SAA doesn’t work.