If you’re a solo developer who wants to build a product, or perhaps an open-source offering, your choices were very limited. They were even more limited if your primary aim was to try "new stuff" that your current employer wasn’t interested in using on its system. Your options basically were to:
- Buy an old system at a reasonable price on e-Bay. But this limits you to old releases, so it’s not really an option for trying new stuff. Also, you often don't receive a legal license for the OS and the tools due to licensing changes made by IBM in recent years.
- If you’re a business partner, then you can purchase a system at a heavily discounted rate, but even this isn’t as attractive as it once was since IBM started charging for the compilers and some other tools that were previously free.
If your need is short-term, you can make use of IBM's virtual loaner program. Our friend Aaron Bartell wrote about this earlier this year. The big problem here is that it’s only useful for a short-term project and (due to its requirement for VPN access) not usable for projects requiring access to outside Internet connections such as Web services.
Over the years many timeshare services have come and gone, but most severely limited what you could do, and/or ran on old releases. We used John Ross' Netshare400 for many years to run our website and tackle other work, but John now runs only a very limited timeshare service on a V5R2 system.
But now there’s an alternative (actually two) that keep the costs reasonable while providing access to the "latest and greatest" in software.
The first is Holger Scherer's site. A word of warning: when you go to the site, it will come up in German. Click on the UK flag in the top left of the browser window and then click on "AS/400 Accounts" to see the details in English. We’d give you a direct link to the English page, but this site uses frames (grrrrr - we hate frames!), so we can't. Holger offers free accounts on a V5R3 system and for-fee accounts on more current releases. The price gets higher as the release number gets bigger, which seems reasonable. Be aware the prices are in Euros; currently 1 Euro is worth about US $1.30. Don't pay attention to the exchange rates at the bottom of the Web page; they’re way out-of-date. You should, however, pay attention to the Value Added Tax (VAT) at 19 percent; that isn’t included in the price and you’ll be charged that if you live outside of Germany.
While Holger's site has been around for a few years, there's now a new kid in town run by our good friend Dr. Franken (aka Larry Bolhuis) and his sidekick Igor (aka Jim Oberholtzer). Known as iDevCloud, the site offers for-fee access to recent releases (V5R4, V6.1 and V7.1) and options for shared use or private partitions--your own private system in the cloud. iDevCloud doesn’t offer free access, but the prices charged are certainly much lower than the cost of running your own machine and having the good doctor and Igor take care of all your PTF and hardware issues is a major plus. One nice thing that iDevCloud has done is to seek out corporate sponsors. Currently Zend and ProData are making their software available on the site. Other vendors will be added to the list over time.
If you’ve been looking for a home for your pet software project, or simply want to hone your development skills to boost your resume, you now have some additional options.
Support these folks--it will benefit us all in the long run.