Thursday, October 08, 2009

DOJ looks at IBM "monopoly" on mainframe side (it's been going on since the 1970s)

Here’s a good story for mainframe programmers: Cecilia Kang has a brief "Post Tech" story, “DOJ Probes IBM on Mainframe Monopoly,” in The Washington Post online Oct. 8, link here.

The article says that there is an issue with IBM’s refusal to license its mainframe MVS or OS/390 to run on competing hardware. In the past, however, MVS has run on Amdahl and Hitachi mainframes.

Around 1970, IBM had mainframe competition from Sperry Univac (where I worked 1972-1974), Burroughs, CDC, and NCR, as well as RCA (where I started my “career” in 1970, which emulated much of IBM’s DOS). Univac lasted the longest, but gradually these all fell (today Unisys, still in good old Blue Bell, PA, is a contractor company). Later smaller mainframes like VAX and Data General came along, and Univac emulated IBM DOS mainframes with small reduce instruction set minis in the 1970s. IBM also had the Silverlake and AS400 machines (at one time particularly popular with mortgage applications) in the 70s and 80s.

IBM so dominated the mainframe market that programmers needed to switch from other manufacturers to IBM, and them aim for IBM-specific software expertise in areas like IMS-DB/DC, CICS, and only later DB2. IBM usually used EBCDIC instead of Octal or Ascii (check this comparison site).

IBM introduced its "360 architecture" in the 1960s, and Ross Perot took it up almost immediately when he formed EDS. IBM also had earlier computers like the 7090, which the military used a lot (like the David Taylor Model Basin, where I had summer jobs in the 1960s).

Picture: Older mainframes at the NASA Udvar-Hazy Chantilly VA museum.

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