Recently, I was discussing with a colleague why many mainframers are so attached to their 3270 “green screen” terminals.
Some pundits in the IT world lob derogatory names at these mainframe users and call them “mainframe bigots” or “dinosaurs”.
Well, in the interest of full disclosure, I started on and spent many years on the mainframe playing with DOS, VM and MVS – right through to z/OS. And I stand with all those dinosaurs and declare that there’s a whole lot of good that can be done on a 3270. At this point in my career, I like to describe myself as “platform neutral” and feel I have broadened my horizons a bit. But there’s still no text editor like ISPF and the mainframe platform still handles way too much of our planet’s transactions and data for any serious IT professional to dismiss its benefits.
But, I do have to admit that graphical interfaces can be stunning, informative, intuitive and simply way cool!
So how do I reconcile the worlds of 3270 and GUI? Simple!
The 3270 is THE user interface for the mainframe. If you live and breathe mainframe, there is little if any logic that should cause you to abandon 3270. The Graphical users of the world can scoff but riddle me this; If I were to give a Windows or Unix Admin, only a web browser and not allow that admin to open a Windows Explorer, or Command Prompt or a terminal window, xterm, etc. what do you think THEY would say?
Before you gather the mobs, light up the torches and sharpen your pitchforks, let me say that I am not encouraging anyone to abandon GUIs or to start using 3270 displays.
Instead, I’d like to submit for your consideration the following position: There are two (at least) categories of tools/solutions in the IT world. The first is platform-specific; the second is multi-platform or enterprise.
Platform-specific solutions are intended primarily for and run on a specific platform. In the case of z/OS or mainframe in general, such tools may include SDSF or ISPF or SMP/E. You can argue that a graphical interface for such tools could be useful for users that are unfamiliar with the mainframe and 3270 but do you really think someone unfamiliar with z/OS should be “driving” SMP/E?
Enterprise solutions however, by definition, are not specific to any one platform or technology. Such solutions should, and I would argue must, be independent of platform specific technologies and interfaces. I believe such independence and insulation from platform specifics is actually a requirement for any solution to credibly call itself an enterprise solution.
There may be some difference of opinion as to what technology is best suited for platform independent user interfaces and what attributes such UIs should possess. However, these are details that will be debated forever as technology evolves. There was a time when Windows was deemed to be the undisputed platform for graphical user interfaces. Today some argue it is a web browser and others insist we have already entered the age of the tablet or the smartphone. I believe there are still good arguments to be made for all of these with some still better suited to support complex solutions intended for power users while others are the better choice for casual users. Eventually, we may choose just one but I suspect our indecision will continue with the likely addition of new interfaces we don’t even yet imagine. Regardless, these considerations are for applications and tools that are not bound to specific platforms that already have their own “standards”.
So next time you are tempted to denigrate the 3270 user, think about your own work habits and the tools you use. You may find you too have a “vi”, notepad, windows explorer, xterm or similar interface lurking in your closet.
The postings in this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent the opinions or positions of BMC Software
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