VISIT REPORT 10 Royai National Hotel 13 June 1985


This was the first joint meeting of two of the larger ICL user groups (Data Management and Large Systems) which are to amalgamate in line with reorganisation within ICL later this year. It began with reports from three working parties of DMUG (LSUG doesn't seem to have any) which are to be published shortlyThe DOS Subgroup s report sounded interesting: it makes recommendations about good practise and proposes some major enhancements, notably interfaces between DOS and graphics packages and text retrieval systemsThe IDM3X subgroup's report, being largely about what to do when your corporate database is so huge and complex your subschemas are too big for the Cobol compiler, sounded less interesting: apparently 29 enhancements to IDHSX are detailed in it. The Applications Generation Subgroup is responsible for something called "4GL" which turns out to mean Application Master and Report Master (but not RCI); its spokesman didnt get much time to do more than say that although their report was being printed and did describe some of the shortcomings of AM, they did not feel their work was half begun yet.

These reports were followed by three presentations, two short and commercial, one long and less so. A man from Cincom, the company which gave you TOTAL (a dbms so antiquated it has 16 years experience in the field), gave quite an impressive condensed sales pitch for MANTIS. This is a fast selling 4th Generation system now available for VME machines as well as Honeywell, IBM, VAX..The next release (but not this one) will use ICL s IDMS and DOS underneath; it has its own dbms which supports a methodology not a million miles from SSADM; also its own procedural programming language described endearingly if obscurely as a "mix of Basic, PL/1, Pascal and APL"Equally ingenuously, the man said that it was a high performance system because it was "compile-free" i.e interpretive : a clanger which all subsequent speakers picked up.

Second sales pitch of the day was for MINER, oxymoronically described by someone called Mel from Savant Enterprises as "the software machine". Mimer hails from Uppsala University (one of the world's leading software research centres according to Mel, who hails from Croydon) and is not just a 4th generation package; on the contrary, "Mimer is ready to move to 5th and 6th generation systems". Such technical details as did appear amongst the hype were that the system is based on B-trees and uses lots of virtual memory (this tactic was grounds for the assertion that MIMER is "usually faster than IDMS with CAFS"); also that there was no need to reorganise the B-tree indexes because they were "automatically self-balancing". It probably is quite a good package, but putting a nice screen front end on it doesnt make it a 4GL in my book.

Highlight of the day was undoubtely a presentation (complete with live demo) by Chris Worsley from the Electricity Council of their very own home-grown ECLIPSE ("Electricity Council s Integrated Programming Systems Environment" - of course). The EC is responsible for collating and reporting to Government on the vast amounts of information produced by the different Electricity Boards, all of which (at least until recently) had completely independent data management policies, never mind the mixture of pcs, mainframes, IBM, ICL, etc. A common equipment policy has now been decided upon (which incidentally features CAFS heavily), but the evolution of a corporate database is still going on. The problem with ICL's DDS (which Worsley otherwise considered "superb") was that there was no automatic connexion betwen the top and bottom halves of the quadrant. ECLIPSE uses a code generator called DELTA (not sure where it comes from) to transform essentially documentary specifications into code (COBOL, SCL etc) appropriate to all sorts of machines. The novel thing in all this is that the ECLIPSE user is specifically disallowed access to any interface beyond documentation! Code is described in terms of LUPOs and LAMs; the system generates Delta code from this, which is in turn transformed into Cobol , Fortran, PL/1 etc. Local coding standards are rigidly enforced: attempted violations of them (such as the use of GOTOs or introduction of DML) will not be compiled. The demonstration showed how simple it was to set up a typical application, using a menu-driven screen painter like ISDA but rather smarter. A nice touch was that the Report Generator looked very much like the Screen Painter. The package is to be marketed by CAP.

After a reasonable lunch (waiter service, hot chicken, cold profiteroles, but not enough wine), assorted ICL hacks took the stand. John Sale presented a paper (attached) about release dates and product versions: some kerfuffle was provoked by the withdrawal of support for VHE 8.01 at the end of June, of which many present claimed to be unaware, likewise by the continued non-appearance of QM250, Peter Kirby gave a bland but unexceptionable chat about future trends within DOS, using the word "motherhood" (in the sense "platitude") several times, which I have not come across in an English speaker before. A recent NCC survey had shown that the proportion of ICL users using DDS was far higher than the proportion of non ICL users using any comparable product: this shows either that DDS is a market leader, or that IBM users are a bunch of wallies, or (most likely) that it is quite difficult to avoid using DDS if you are an ICL shop. Amongst the DDS enhancements specifically mentioned as in the pipeline were support for multiple projects, improved performance, text retrieval facilities, national language capabilities and (most interesting) a tailorable set of screen interfaces to allow for distributed processing at graphics workstations, document preparation systems etc.

Guy Haworth here took to the podium and gave a bright and breezy slide show (featuring I regret to say an aerial view of our very own dreaming spires cheek by jowl with a picture of QMC s IRAS satellite) about how absolutely wonderful CAFS was. He described the chief products (remembering to mention that CSO is only COBOL compatible) and showed pictures of the various industry gongs (now numbering three) which CAFS has collected so far.

The day closed with a presentation, again including a live dem, by Andrew Walker of the long awaited QUICKBUILD, now mysteriously called Quickbuild Pathway, which is not (except perhaps metaphorically) a new sort of concrete, but the latest all-singing all-dancing ICL user-interface to AM, QM, DDS, 1DMS etc etc. All the tedium of entering data into the dictionary, generating guery views, applications, schemas etc is lumped together into this product, together with a nice friendly screen driven interface with built-in help. It also, if I heard aright, generates default database definitions directly from the business model definitions, thus at last crossing from top to bottom half of the dictionary. I think we should order a copy, so long as it's free.