Did you miss the 2000 Symposium ?

Why do you go to a symposium? To hear about strategic trends? To gain confidence by seeing programming demos of the sort of thing you need to program? For the intellectual satisfaction of knowing how things work even when you don't need to know? To get a break from the workplace? To enjoy the social side? To hear the latest buzzwords and acronyms in context so that you can use them to impress your colleagues? To buy the latest software?

Well, skip the last two of those and you would have enjoyed the eleventh annual Rexx Symposium. The abstracts of the presentations are on this web site but they miss some of the flavor, so here are the views of someone who went.

We think of Mike Cowlishaw as the inventor of Rexx but that is only a part of the picture. The big companies like Sun, Microsoft, and IBM turn to Mike when they need to reach technical agreements amongst themselves. So when Mike tells the Symposium attendees about what may be coming, like hardware for floating point decimal arithmetic, it is not crystal gazing, it is information on what is really happening.

Mike still finds time for Rexx, now in the NetRexx form. There is no easier way than NetRexx to get into the JAVA world. Perhaps you tried NetRexx before and found the grind of compile, execute, guess why it did that, change, compile... too much like C++. Not any longer! The new NetRexx interpreter has the feel of Rexx as well as the syntax - now it is write & run with a familiar TRACE to show what happened. If your system runs a suitable JAVA then NetRexx will work with it. Whatever JAVA can do, you can do it with NetRexx. And it is free - another reason to put it top of your must-try-that list.

Like the idea of influencing the people with influence? You could have talked to the person who decides how IBM spends its money on maintaining and extending their Rexx products. Or to Rexx-friendly officials of the SHARE user organization, which has a formal special relation in feeding requirements to IBM. If you are using a free version of Rexx you might have met the owner of that version. (Only one owner attended this year but sometimes there are more.)

Have you ever thought that programming education was too expensive? The Symposium fee covers the tutorials presented by professionals - people who have a career teaching Rexx, or who teach it to university students that are studying other disciplines.

Ever thought that you like programming but hate work? Some people are lucky enough to program as a hobby and it is no surprise that they choose to program in Rexx or even to implement Rexx. Over the last three years we have heard all about the internals of Compact Rexx - the smallest and fastest Rexx implementation yet.

Have you ever imagined the sense of control felt by somebody with a collection of big mainframes, thousands of MIPS, to manage? When the mainframes are S/390s running Virtual Machine the automation will be done with a Rexx program, VMSERVE. Maybe you are not into topics like "Reversible Change Management" but there are plenty of lessons to be learned from hearing about how these crucial tasks are done, from someone with vast experience.

Have you seen toolbars where the buttons change from gray scale to color when the mouse cursor moves over them? Or the ones where information bubbles appear as the cursor reaches them? Maybe you thought some intricate programming deep in the system was needed to get these effects. Not so - we were shown how to do it with just VisPro/Rexx.

Some tasks sound too hard to contemplate. Have you considered the prospect of actually being in charge of your Windows Registry, without the operating system subverting you with differences between versions and changes made behind your back? At the Symposium we heard that with Rexx to help it isn't impossible, although it does mean garnering information from the dark corners of the Microsoft Developers Network. With automated control of the Registry comes the potential for groups of PC's which have any differences between them brought about by design rather than accident.

Consider this project: five thousand farmers are making a living by raising swine, as a service to a big company that provides the animals and the feed. The farmers don't have computers, the big company relies on computers. The application in between must guide the farmers to input data over the telephone, dynamically interpreting the noises from the phone touch pad and choosing the right messages for each step. The information gathered is to be moved electronically to the big company computers, perhaps by File-Transfer-Protocol or in an automatically constructed WORD document.

Sounds like a leading edge application that will take a team of specialist programmers years? Not with Rexx to help. We were shown the straightforward approaches that allowed competent non-specialist programmers (like you?) to deploy this application in the real world. Particularly pleasing was the fact that the programming how to was picked up at the 1998 symposium from presentations by the Rexx developers who had put the necessary interfaces into Rexx utilities.

This could be you - learn how to do it one year, apply it, and tell us how good it is the next year. It is not too soon to make the first step - your diary entry for the twelfth Rexx Symposium, May 7-9, 2001 in the Research Triangle Park between Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina, USA.

p.s. We will aim to put some of the symposium material on this web site but modern presentation styles are geared to showing and demonstrating on a PC, and not geared to prose documents, so don't expect too much. With luck though, it will include some photos of us all on horseback going to the steak house!

Brian Marks RexxLA Newsletter Editor, June 2000.