RPGPGM.com notes that 21 years ago today, RPG IV (also known as RPG ILE) was released.
The first version of RPG IV came as part of OS400 V3R1, which was released on November 25 1994. Even though the code was still constrained by columns, the new Definition specifications (D-specs) was introduced, and I could now use variable names that were up to ten characters long. It also made it possible to use Date, Time, and Timestamp data types along with operations codes to be able to easily perform math with them. And I no longer had to use indicators for reads, chains, etc.
This makes me feel a bit old as I remember when RPG ILE was the next big thing. And, without much fanfare, it has continued to evolve — in many ways more rapidly than other, more popular languages. This is both RPG’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness.
IBM have, over the years, put a great deal of effort into ensuring that, for all the new features, backward compatibility has never been broken. This means that if you are running an i on Power, you can upgrade as and when you are ready without having to worry about all of your applications breaking. There are not many reasons for not staying on a supported release, and fewer valid valid ones.
The downside of this is that there is nothing to force developers to take advantage of any of these new features. You could, if you wanted to, write programs in exactly the way you did 30 years ago. They would still compile, still run and still work as expected. And people do.
RPG today is in the somewhat unfortunate position of being a very modern language that is often perceived as being old fashioned. This is because it lets programmers get into a rut and never learn anything new.
I doubt that there is any way of squaring this particular circle. Backward compatibility is important and business critical applications shouldn’t be put at risk. But remember this: If someone claims that RPG is old, obsolete, or worse, the issue to which they are referring is not a technical one.