Mac 3270? Water and Vinegar?  How Mainframers began to use Macs

It may seem strange to think that users, application developers, and systems programmers of IBM mainframes may use a Mac 3270 solution for serious work.  Indeed, in the 1980s and early 1990s, much of the tech world was captivated by the battle between Big Blue and Apple Computer for the future of personal computing.  Big Blue was East Coast, big, bureaucratic, and specialized in big computers that seemed impersonal and perhaps distopic (e.g. Stanley Kubrick’s H.A.L. is I.B.M. minus one letter).  In contract, Apple was the scrappy start-up of California hippie types.  IBM’s open hardware standards and marketing expertise led the IBM PC standard to dominate the market.  However, this open standard would also eventually undermine IBM by waves of hardware commoditization by “IBM Compatibles” that would eventually allowed Microsoft to displace IBM as the PC hegemon, undermine the OS/2 operating system, and ensure the dominance of Microsoft Windows.

Fast forward two decades, and the competitive landscape appears quite different.  Despite creating the dominant PC architecture, IBM sold its ThinkPad division to Lenovo in 2005.  Following the return of Steve Jobs, Apple began its march back to popularity starting with the 1998 iMac, and massively accelerating following the 2001 release of the iPod, the 2007 release of the iPhone, and the 2010 release of the iPad.  Although Microsoft continues to fight both Apple in the PC and mobile market and IBM in the Enterprise market, IBM and Apple now exist in entirely separate and distinct market sectors.  Between IBM post-ThinkPad endpoint-agnosticism and the growing popularity of iOS and Mac OS X, it should therefore be no surprise that an increasing number of mainframe professionals seek to find ways to use Apple computers, phones, and tablets to administer and run mainframe environments.  In fact, a recent study has suggested that IBMers are collectively only second to Apple is the number of employees using OS X and iOS devices.

This guide seeks to help mainframe professionals maximize the use of their MacBooks when working with mainframes via 3270 terminal emulation.

Step One: Find a good 3270 Terminal Emulator

While there are countless makes and models of 3270 terminals, I have found that most mainframers running Windows use the IBM Personal Communications Tool (called PCOMM for short).  There are numerous reasons for this, including fantastic support for advanced 3270 features and built-in tools for things like FTP transfers.  However, for one reason or another, IBM has not decided to port this product to OS X, making Mac use of PCOMM only possible via VMWare or Parallels virtualization and a Windows guest.

In my opinion, the thought of running an entire layer of Windows to run a 3270 terminal emulator seems absurd.  I therefore suggest looking at the robust and long-standing Brown tn3270 terminal emulator.  This piece of software produced by staff at Brown University allowed Macs to emulate a 3270 terminal going back all the way to the early 1980s.  In short, they were Mac users long before Macs were cool.  The product is currently maintained and enhanced by Peter DiCamillo.  While there are certain advanced features missing from tn3270, such as support for LU names or 3270 graphics or a built-in FTP utility, these features will likely not be terribly missed by most.  Even better, this software is offered free-of-charge for both commercial and non-commercial use.

To download tn3270, go to the tn3270 product page on the Brown CIS website and click the HTTP download link  As of this post, 3.3b6 is the most current version.  Once you’ve downloaded the *.dmg file, open it and you’ll see a number of items, including a tn3270 X application bundle, release notes, (highly outdated) documentation, some utilities for customizing keymaps and printing, and an optional sound and font.

brown mac 3270 dmg package contents

In my case, I ignored the other files and merely installed the application by dragging the tn 3270 x application to my local Application Folder.  Once copied, the file is installed and ready for use.  Open the application and click File -> New Connection to see the following Dialog:

brown mac 3270 settings page

Type in the name or IP address of the host and the name of the connection.  You can also select SSL and other settings as needed by clicking on the other icons.  Once you’ve configured the settings, click Open Connection and you should see a familiar 3270 screen open.

brown mac 3270 default black screen

Step Two: Mac-ify the look of your 3270 through a White Background

Mac users tend to known as valuing a good-looking UI, and the built-in UNIX terminal app is no different.  Under the preferences of the OS X terminal, a user can select from any number of different looks.  However, the default “Basic” theme emphasized a plain white background that emphasizes the elegant simplicity of the UNIX terminal.  I very much like this look, and I’ve made my tn3270 terminal emulator look similar by opening up Session -> Colors and changing the background color to White.  This makes the 3270 look much for Mac-ish:

brown mac 3270 white screen

Now that we have our 3270 setup in a visually-pleasing way, let’s save these settings by clicking File -> Save Default Settings.  In addition, let’s save our connection and display settings my clicking File –> Save Settings as.  This will produce a settings file for this particular connection.  If you have to regularly connect to multiple different mainframes, you may want to dock the folder containing these settings folder in the OS X doc.  That way you only need to click on the folder and the particular settings file to auto-configure and auto-connect to the system you need at that moment.


Step Three: Free your Function Keys from Apple Hegemony

One annoyance of using a Macbook with 3270 terminal emulation is the need to hold down the fn key in order to press a function key.  Over time, I’ve come to grips with this situation, as I enjoy being able to activate OS X controls via those keys.  However, one particular problem is that, by default, OS X treats F10 as a shortcut to show Application Windows and F12 as a shortcut to shift the entire desktop to the OS X dashboard.  This needs to be disabled in order to be able to use all 12 F-Keys in tn3270.  To do this, select Keyboard from System Preferences, click Mission Control, and then disable the Application Windows and Dashboard options as follows:


Great!  Now your F-Keys have been liberated.  If you want to get to the dashboard in the future, simply use the three finger swipe to the right.  Speaking of multi-touch…

Step Four: Download Better Touch Tool and touch-enable TN3270 like a Boss

One of the greatest aspects of using a Mac is having such a fantastic touch-pad.  While MacBooks aren’t touch-screen devices, they are still quite touch-centric.  The two and three-finger gestures are amazing tools for power users.  Thankfully, there is a fantastic 3rd party tool called Better Touch Tool which allows various applications to have profiles that map touchpad gestures to keystrokes.  This is fantastic!

To download Better Touch Tool, head over to this CNET download page.  Unlike before, this app is delivered in a zip file.  Double click the compressed volume to see the Better Touch Tool app package, and then drag this app over to your Application Folder to install this tool.  Double click the app from your Application folder to start it.  You’ll now have a small icon at the top of your desktop that looks like a finger on a touchpad.  Click on this icon and select “Check for Regular Updates” to ensure that you’re on the latest version.


Once updated, click the app icon again and select preferences.  The screen will look as follows:


You’ll first need to add tn3270-specifc settings.  Do this by clicking the small + button under the Select Application panel on the left.  In the open dialog that pops up, select tn3270 and click the open button:


Now that you’ve opened and selected tn3270, click on the button labeled “Add New Gesture


Based on my experience, I suggest adding the following gestures.  These two-finger swipes will all you to use two finger swipes to navigate up, down, left, and right on a 3270 panel just like a web page in a browser.  The pinch in gesture is also mapped to F3 in order to make it easier to exit out of a program.  This may not map to Apple gestures, but until the 3270 supports zooming, I think that this is a good use of this gesture.



By following this guide, you Mac should now be able to 3270 with the best of them.  Damn the naysayers, full speed ahead!  In fact, your multi-touch settings should turn some serious heads in meetings.

Do you have any other suggestions for configuring tn3270 on a Mac? Do you know of any more suggestions for mainframers transitioning to using a Mac?  Let’s hear them in the comments!

Posted in Uncategorized.
Know Thyself

Know Thyself

This is the second installment of our five-part series on efforts to inspire, educate, and train millennials towards gainful employment in mainframe positions, such as systems programming and application development.  Yesterday we posed several questions that some consider heretical, particularly from the creator of a blog called “Millennial Mainframer:”

  • Are millennials actually receiving training in mainframe skills, finding mainframe jobs, and receiving adequate mentorship and training by experienced staff?
  • Are Millennial Mainframers merely a useful myth for dispelling concerns of a mainframe skills shortage when getting customers to upgrade their systems and software?
  • Do Millennial Mainframers actually exist in the flesh in any real numbers or are they the Unicorn or Loch Ness monster of the IT World… much talked about, but little seen in the wild?

In the Socratic tradition, this series of questions is not so much posed to draw individual answers, but more generally to encourage fundamental insight into the state of mainframe education. This dialectic is easily justified by the central role that new mainframe talent will play in ensuring mainframe vitality in the face of the impending mass retirements. Furthermore, given that one of Socrates’ most famous quotes is the maxim to “Know Thyself,” this post seeks to examine the Millennial Mainframer blog through the lens of the following question:

How successful has Millennial Mainframer been in attracting millennials to view its mainframe-centric content?

As of July 28, 2013, Millennial Mainframer has 1,457 likes on Facebook.  While this may seem impressive, closer examination of the number yields some interesting realizations.  Upon first glance, the Facebook audience seems to be fairly youthful.  In fact, more than 80% of the audience is 34 years old or younger.

A graph showing the age and gender distribution of Millennial Mainframer likes on Facebook.

However, the geographic location of the audience may be surprising to some of our readers:

A chart showing the breakdown of Millennial Mainframer Likes by country.

That’s right!  A full 55% of all Millennial Mainframer likes come from India, reflecting the fact that most recent mainframe job creation in recent years has occurred in outsourcing companies.  The United States comes in a distant second with 12% of Likes.  Egypt seems to come in third with 11.7%, but I have strong suspicions that many of those Likes are from fake Facebook-bots (curse you Zuckerberg!!!).  Brazil comes in forth with 4.3%, and the Philippines comes in fifth with 3.2%.  So there you have it.  Despite the content creators being mostly from North America, most of the audience is composed of “Indian mainframe freshers.”  This graph clearly matches Quasar Chunawalla’s perception that the numbers of Millennial Mainframers is downright “sizeable.”  From the point of view of Chennai, Bangalore, Pune, or Hyderabad, it probably seems downright silly to compare Millennial Mainframers to mythical creatures like Big Foot or the Nandi bull.

Looking at actual engagement on the Millennial Mainframer Facebook page paints a far different different picture.  In a given week, anywhere from 36 to 200 Millennial Mainframer fans may engage with our Facebook content.  However, the shocking fact is that millennials are by far the least engaged with Millennial Mainframer content.  Even though less than 20% of the Facebook Likes are from people 35 and over, this group is responsible for 58.4% of interaction with our content posted.  Additionally, there are some weird geographic oddities.  Even though the United States is only responsible for 12% of likes on the Millennial Mainframer page, they are the responsible for more than half of all interaction on our Facebook page.  This means that our fans from the United States are about 10x as likely to interact with content as our Indian fans.  Perhaps this is due to the preponderance of Millennial Mainframer being from North America or the fact that Millennial Mainframer typically posts content around the start of the business day on the East Coast of the United States.

A graph of facebook engagement on the Millennial Mainframer page.

The net result of all of this is that Millennial Mainframer’s most active fans turn out to be white men over 35 living in the United States.  Engagement with Indian millennials is low, but the number of likes suggests cultural affinity with the Millennial Mainframer blog.  This combination of being strong in Facebook likes from Indian mainframe freshers and general engagement from older US-based mainframers might suggest that our content would be popular with a group of Millennial Mainframers in the United States and other rich-world English-speaking countries, but that does not seem to be detectable in our numbers.

While it’s difficult to analyze our 242 Twitter followers to the same degree as our Facebook fans, Twitter analytics shows that around 55% of our followers live in the United States.  Given that this is similar to the geographical breakdown of our engaged Facebook fans, I think that it’s safe to assume that this group is quite possibly of a similar age demographic as well.

This trend seems to be equally reflected in our WordPress statistics.  As an example, my post last week with a Millennial’s take on the zBC12 announcement received around 300 hits.  A large number of these hits came from LinkedIn and Twitter, which I suspect is predominantly an older American audience.  Despite having quite a few Facebook likes, the actual number of folks that clicked-through from Facebook was only around 50 (Around 3% of Millennial Mainframer’s Facebook Likes).  Assuming that this traffic is similar to our long-term Facebook engagement numbers, I would predict that only around 20 of these readers were millennials.  This leads me to believe that millennials are responsible for only around 10-15% of the hits at Millennial Mainframer.

So in conclusion, the sad truth is that Millennial Mainframer largely fails to attract millennials to view its mainframe-centric content.  Older US-based mainframers seem to view the content, like it, and re-post/tweet/share it, but because they don’t have many connections with younger mainframers, this doesn’t result in a meaningful uptick in millennial exposure to mainframe content.  I believe a key reason for this is that most of the entry-level mainframe job growth has occurred in India, Brazil, and Philippines, so older American mainframers just may not know many Millennial Mainframers.  The failure of this blog to engage with millennials in places like India, Brazil, and the Philippines is most likely tied to the fact that most of our content creators are in North America, leading them to create content with a US-focus.  This clearly suggests that Millennial Mainframer must develop a new marketing strategy.  Firstly, it must more closely collaboration with IBM Academic Initiative to build a wider base of millennial mainframers around the world.  Second, it must consider ways to better serve the tastes of the Indian mainframer market without losing its global focus.

Then again, my analysis may not be spot-on, and there may be a variety of other reasons for our failure to engage Millennial Mainframers.  What do you think?  Am I correct that nearly all Millennial Mainframers are in locations like India, Brazil, and the Philippines?  Is there a way that this blog can better reach millennials in the United States and Europe?  Do you have suggestions for driving engagement with millennials in Brazil, India, and the Philippines?

Tune in tomorrow as we turn our analysis to the Master the Mainframe Contest.

Are Millennial Mainframers as mythical as Bigfoot?
Are Millennial Mainframers as mythical as Bigfoot?

For the past two years, Millennial Mainframer has sought to provide a “fresh perspective on all things mainframe.”  Nearly all of this “fresh perspective” has come from young millennials working in mainframe positions or studying mainframe topics at universities, such as Marist College or Rochester Institute of Technology, who were willing to write blog posts on aspects of the mainframe that most interested them.  Our content has been voluntarily created without solicitation or support from IBM or any other vendors as a public resource to other young mainframers. My hope and attention with this blog was to attract a younger readership than other mainframe blogs, and perhaps to eventually grow the blog into a social community and support network for trading best practices, training resources, and suggestions.

By some metrics, the Millennial Mainframer blog has been a resounding success.  The number of hits to the site have grown continuously over the past two years.  We’ve been cross-linked by a number of vendor and industry blogs and websites, re-tweeted by IBM Vice Presidents, and even listed on a variety of “Suggested Website” slides presented at SHARE.  Most importantly, we have created a space for first-time bloggers to project their voice into the generally-older mainframe blogosphere.  Considering the late nights and weekend that our content creators have spent writing and promoting this content, we have celebrated each of these small victories as vindication that our Millennial Mainframer perspective will only grow stronger as older workers retire and we assume responsibility for mainframe deployments around the world.

Despite this wonderful growth and name recognition, I have gradually come to the conclusion that Millennial Mainframer is failing its core mission of building an audience of mainframe students and other young mainframers.  While we intended to position ourselves as a medium for millennials to produce original technical content for consumption by other millennials, we’ve instead become a medium for millennials to produce content for older mainframers and IBM leadership.  This assessment is based on data from WordPress, Google Analytics, Facebook, and Twitter.  This theory leads me to some interesting conclusions, including that a majority of the hits on our entry-level “how to” posts may very well be by mainframe professionals that likely already know how to do everything that the author has written about.  I’m not sure why an experienced mainframe professional would care to read these basic articles, other than perhaps deriving some level of bemusement.

This has been a bit of a heart-wrenching realization for us.  If we’re not effectively reaching students and other Millennial Mainframers, we may not be making much of a meaning impact on the long-term vitality of the mainframe as we had previously though.  Could it be because of something we’re doing wrong?  After some introspection, I believe that there are certainly some things that we can do better to reach millennials.  However, I believe that the fundamental problem with writing a mainframe blog targeted at millennials is that our target audience of Millennial Mainframers is far smaller than expected, particularly to the level of engagement that would be interested in either reading a mainframe blog.  This potentially suggests that existing efforts have been insufficient to handle the mounting mainframe skills crisis.

Speaking with some of my peers has provided additional anecdotal support of this hypothesis, including instances of students taking mainframe courses but then going into other areas of IT, young mainframers losing their jobs during downsizing because they weren’t as ‘essential’ as older mainframers, and various so-called mainframe schools not actually offering mainframe coursework on a consistent or predictable basis.  Based on this thought, I have decided to spend some additional time looking at the IBM Academic Initiative, the Master the Mainframe contest, and the blogosphere to get a better idea at the success rate of these programs in shifting the demographics of the mainframe technical community and preventing the long-predicted mainframe skills shortage.  Are millennials actually receiving training in mainframe skills, finding mainframe jobs, and receiving adequate mentorship and training by experienced staff?  Or are Millennial Mainframers merely a useful myth for dispelling concerns of a mainframe skills shortage when getting customers to upgrade their systems and software?  Do Millennial Mainframers actually exist in the flesh in any real numbers?  Or are they the Unicorn or Loch Ness monster of the IT World… much talked about, but little seen in the wild?

Stay tuned to Millennial Mainframer this week for a detailed multi-part series on this topic:

  • On Tuesday, we’ll be providing detailed information demonstrating why we that Millennial Mainframer is failing to attract millennial interest
  • On Wednesday, we’ll be looking at the Master the Mainframe Contest
  • On Thursday, we’ll be looking at the IBM Academic Initiative and Mainframe offerings at universities around the world
  • On Friday, we’ll be tying all of these topics together for a final comprehensive conclusion and discussion