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Retrospective: A Decade of i

Our memories of the last 10 years


Ah, ’tis the season for retrospectives. This year, we’ll look back on an entire decade of highlights in the life of our favorite platform. Here are a few things that stuck in our minds as particularly memorable from the last decade of i.

What’s in a Name?

Probably the most infamous event in the life of the platform seemed to keep occurring over and over during the last decade—renaming the system. Ten years ago, it was still known as AS/400 running OS/400. Remember what life was like before the debates over what to call this system? At the beginning of the decade AS/400 became iSeries (still running OS/400) amidst an outcry from its fans that can still be heard today. It was renamed again to System i and the operating system became i5/OS—a name that was clearly destined to change since the 5 referred to the POWER5 chip used in the hardware. Sure enough, the name i5/OS did change, not to the predicted “i6/OS” but to the far simpler “i” often referred to as “IBM i” to distinguish it from the pronoun. This name removed the connection between the hardware and operating system—appropriate since it coincided with the unification of the hardware for the systems previously known as System i and System p. We’ll share more about the converged hardware platform later.

For all the consternation over the whole renaming scenario, all of the new names have at least had one consistent factor—“i”—which, as luck would have it, has turned out to be a pretty cool name thanks to Apple. We can now even connect our iPhones to our i applications.

i People

This platform is more than the hardware and software from IBM, as great as they are. The IT professionals who use this system are a close-knit community, joining together in local and national user groups and virtual communities like The community is inseparable from the platform itself.

We could include hundreds of memorable i people, but we’ll limit ourselves to a very few who stand out in our memories of the last decade.

Mark Shearer was introduced to us in January 2005 and was a rarity among those whom IBM appointed to the position of General Manager for the platform—he “got it.” He took the time to understand what made the platform great and what aroused such fanaticism among the faithful. Mark walked the halls at gatherings such as COMMON and talked to real people. He didn’t simply appear at the opening session and disappear as soon as possible. He was always accessible with no handlers running interference for him. When in Rochester, it wasn’t unusual to see Mark eating in the cafeteria along with everyone else, chatting to the developers and manufacturing crew. Mark was such a refreshing change that the community embraced him like no other GM in the platform’s recent history. He was also unusual in that he stayed in the job for years, which further endeared him to the community. Sadly the convergence of the System p and i hardware platforms caused changes in IBM’s structure and Mark’s areas of responsibility. As a result, we don’t see as much of him as we did. But the community is better for having worked with a very different kind of IBM executive. IBM would be a better company if there were more executives like Mark at the top.

Sadly, a few people are in our memories not because they joined the community, but because they left it. A more energetic and loyal friend to the platform and to the community than Al Barsa can never be found. The sense of loss at Al’s death in 2008 was keenly felt by those of us who knew him personally and even by many who had never met him in person.

Another good friend to the platform, although not as widely known, was Dick Bains. Dick was a brilliant thinker and a leader among the IBM Rochester development community and his death also left a large unfillable hole.


Jon Paris is a technical editor with IBM Systems Magazine and co-owner of Partner400.

Susan Gantner is a technical editor with IBM Systems Magazine and co-owner of Partner400.



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