On Sun, Nov 28, 2010 at 5:33 PM, David Masover <ninja / slaphack.com> wrote:
>
> Must be some specific legacy systems, because IBM does seem to be supporting,
> or at least advertising, Linux on System Z.

Oh, they do. But it's this specific Linux, and you get locked into it.
Compile the kernel yourself, and you lose support.

And, of course, IBM does that to keep their customers locked in. While
Linux is open source, it's another angle for IBM to stay in the game.
Not all that successful, considering that mainframes are pretty much a
dying breed, but it keeps this whole sector on life support.

> Probably. You originally called this a "Mainframe", and that's what confused
> me -- it definitely seems to be more a cluster than a mainframe, in terms of
> hardware and software.

Oh, it is. You can't build a proper mainframe out of off the shelf
components, but a mainframe is a cluster of CPUs and memory, anyway,
so you can "mimic" the architecture.

>> > Sorry, "unproven, unused, upstart"? Which language are you talking about?
>>
>> Anything that isn't C, ADA or COBOL. Or even older.
>
> Lisp, then?

If there's commercial support, then, yes. The environment LISP comes
from is the AI research in MIT, which was done on mainframes, way back
when.

>> This is a very,
>> very conservative mindset, where not even Java has a chance.
>
> If age is the only consideration, Java is only older than Ruby by a few
> months, depending how you count.

It isn't. Usage on mainframes is a component, too. And perceived
stability and roadmap safety (a clear upgrade path is desired quite a
bit, I wager).

And, well, Java and Ruby are young languages, all told. Mainframes
exist since the 1940s at the very least, and that's the perspective
that enabled "Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM [mainframes]".

> I'm not having a problem with it being a conservative mindset, but it seems
> irrationally so. Building a mission-critical system which is not allowed to
> fail out of a language like C, where an errant pointer can corrupt data in an
> entirely different part of the program (let alone expose vulnerabilities),
> seems much riskier than the alternatives.

That is a problem of coding standards and practices. Another reason
why change in these sorts of systems is difficult to achieve. Now
imagine a language like Ruby that comes with things like reflection,
duck typing, and dynamic typing.

> About the strongest argument I can see in favor of something like C over
> something like Lisp for a greenfield project is that it's what everyone knows,
> it's what the schools are teaching, etc. Of course, the entire reason the
> schools are teaching COBOL is that the industry demands it.

A vicious cycle, indeed. Mind, for system level stuff C is still the
goto language, but not for anything that sits above that. At least,
IMO.

>> Unless there is a very solid business case (something on the level of
>> "if we don't do this, we will go bankrupt in 10 days" or similarly
>> drastic), there is no incentive to fix what ain't broke (for certain
>> values of "ain't broke", anyway).
>
> This is what I'm disputing. This kind of thinking is what allows companies
> like IBM to be completely blindsided by companies like Microsoft.

Assuming that the corporation is actually an IT shop. Proctor &
Gamble, or ThyssenKrupp aren't. For them, IT is supporting the actual
business, and is much more of a cost center than a way to stay
competitive.

Or do you care if the steel beams you buy by the ton, or the cleaner
you buy are produced by a company that does its ERP on a mainframe or
a beowulf cluster?

>> Google has a big incentive, and a big benefit going for it:
>
> Which doesn't change my core point. After all:
>
>> a) Google wants your data, so they can sell you more and better ads.
>
> What's Microsoft's incentive for running Hotmail at all? I have to imagine
> it's a similar business model.

Since MS doesn't seem to have a clue, either...

Historically, MS bought hotmail, because every body else started
offering free email accounts, and not just ISPs.

And Hotmail still smells of "me, too"-ism.

>> b) The per MB cost of hard drives came down *significantly* in the
>> last 10 years.
>
> Yes, but Google was the first to offer this. And while it makes sense in
> hindsight, when it first came out, people were astonished. No one immediately
> said "Oh, this makes business sense." They were too busy rushing to figure out
> how they could use this for their personal backup, since gigabytes of online
> storage for free was unprecedented.

Absolutely. And Google managed to give possible AdWords customers
another reason to use AdSense: "Look, there's a million affluent,
tech-savvy people using our mail service, which allows us to mine the
data and to show your ads that much more effectvely!"

> Then, relatively quickly, everyone else did the same thing, because people
> were leaving Hotmail for Gmail for the storage alone, and no one wanted to be
> the "10 mb free" service when everyone else was offering over a hundred times
> as much.

That, and Google was the cool kid on the block back then. Which counts
for quite a bit, too. And the market of freemail offerings was rather
stale, until GMail shook it up, and got lots of mind share really
fast.

But most people stuck with their AOL mail addresses, since they didn't
care about storage, but cared about stuff working. The technorati
quickly switched (I'm guilty as charged), but aunts, and granddads
kept their AOL, EarthLink, or Yahoo! accounts.

> I'm certainly not saying people should do things just because they're cool, or
> because programmers like them. Clearly, there has to be a business reason. But
> the fact that no one's doing it isn't a reason to assume it's a bad idea.

Of course. But if a whole sector, a whole user base, says "Thanks, but
no thanks", it has its reasons, too. Cost is one, and the human nature
of liking stability and disliking change plays into it, as well.

-- 
Phillip Gawlowski

Though the folk I have met,
(Ah, how soon!) they forget
When I've moved on to some other place,
There may be one or two,
When I've played and passed through,
Who'll remember my song or my face.