Even if, as seems possible, the System 36 has only two or three more years of active IBM marketing in it, the estimated worldwide installed base of some 100,000 machines will provide business for software houses and plug-compatible peripheral manufacturers for many years to come – if the example of the System 34 is anything to go by. Six years on from its last major enhancement, the System 34 is still estimated to have an installed base in excess of 40,000, and many of its users have gone on buying applications as, at least one company, Amalgamated Software of North America Inc, has found out. Founded in late 1981 by husband and wife David and Anne Ferguson, ASNA develops and markets system software for the System 34 and, latterly, System 36 as well. The 18-person Malibu, California – soon to move to nearby Newport Beach – company’s main products are Acceler8 and versions of RPG III for the System 34 and 36. Acceler8 replaces IBM’s ISAM – index sequential access method – file structure with a B-Tree data compression system that speeds up disk access time, eliminates the need for file-rebuilding and keysort operations and, therefore, avoids the performance degradation traditionally associated with heavy System 3X use for anything other than inquiries. Acceler8/34 was introduced in 1983 and has since shipped over 5,000 copies; Acceler8/36, a completely rewritten version of the original and, according to Anne Ferguson, a much tougher job to produce, has only been shipping two months although she claims that it is attracting unprecedented interest. That interest is understandable.
ASNA’s RPG III
After all, the five-fold performance improvements claimed by one user are not to be sniffed at. What is less understandable is the comparative success – 1,400 copies in the field – of ASNA’s RPG III for the System 34. Less understandable because, despite its importance to IBM’s System 38, RPG III has been shunned by Wang, Honeywell, ICL, Sperry and every other manufacturer that offers RPG II on its hardware. Even IBM has not seen fit to make the language available on any machine other than the 38. Anne Ferguson attributes RPG III/34’s success not, as might be expected, to installations seeking to convert their RPG II programs prior to migration to the 38, but to sites wishing to take advantage of the structured nature and the added functionality of RPG III. Maintenance of spaghetti code written in RPG II is, therefore, avoided. The new RPG III/36 enables System 36 users to call programs and to pass parameters between programs, thus avoiding the 64Kb program limitation on the machine. ASNA’s literature claims that RPG III/36 can save up to 60% of the time normally required for maintenance operations on the 36. To sell its products in Europe, ASNA has opened a UK subsidiary based in Slough, Berkshire. Acceler8 is available either on a rental basis with no minimum rental period at UKP130 per month or for a one-time charge of UKP2,700 on the 36 or UKP2,000 for the 34, while RPG III/36 costs UKP800. All customers receive 24-hour telephone support, although Anne Ferguson says that most of the hotline’s calls are about disk crashes or concurrency problems that have nothing to do with ASNA’s software. Husband David, who wrote PI Sort for the IBM 360 range back in 1968, is now working on further System 36-orientated products, but he will not, says his wife, be turning his attention to the 38 in the future.