Little changes in 35 years of IT

A large computer and software manufacturer has discovered an employee in a dusty, long-forgotten room of its headquarters...

A large computer and software manufacturer has discovered an employee in a dusty, long-forgotten room of its headquarters building, writes Eric Doyle.

The unnamed man was appointed to a temporary posting in the days when the company promised its staff a job for life. Once installed at his desk the man apparently fell asleep and has remained so for the past 35 years.

Still wearing his official uniform of blue suit and tie and clutching a copy of the first issue of Computer Weekly, he was given a briefing on the current state of the industry and given a tour of the hardware showroom.

In an exclusive interview, the man confessed amazement at the advances made but claimed he still felt strangely at home in the 21st century.

"These microchips are a vast improvement on those new-fangled transistor mainframes we were selling - they are so fast. I spent some time trying to see how they had miniaturised the water-cooling system. Compressing so much power into such a small space must have freed up a lot of buildings for other purposes," he said.

"What's all this about 64 bits? I remember that when Cern booted out our 'frame they replaced it with a Control Data 60-bit job - 35 years to add four bits and they call that progress? Mind you, our guys only had 32-bit processors back then.

"I was always a software man, so the briefing from the so-called e-business team left me puzzled. They talk as if they invented everything - stole it, more like. I remember hearing Ted Nelson in 1965 talking about non-linear text. He even called it hypertext back then.

"I know the Arpa military guys had been hatching up a nationwide computer network. Ever since the Ruskies put that Sputnik up in 1959 they had the heebie-jeebies about secure communications. I remember hearing about plans to try out a network called Arpanet - but why everyone now wants to use a military network for business beats me.

"Networks were for the birds. In my day, we just punched out a batch of cards, took them to the high priests in the mainframe glasshouse and a few days later you got your results. If you had punched the right holes in the right places, and the clutz in the glasshouse didn't drop the card stack and get them all mixed up, the results were pretty reliable. Those glasshouse guys would transfer the good card sets onto magnetic tape reels.

"I had to laugh when the e-business guys told me about this ASP and services malarky. We used to call it bureau services but it was for those firms that couldn't afford their own mainframe - I mean, millions of dollars was a lot of money back then. Like I said before, it was all punched card stuff so you posted them off and waited for the results to come back.

"The guys tell me that what customers want today is the 'one-stop-shop' where you buy all your kit from a single supplier. So what's new about that? Turnkey systems, we used to call them. 'Out-of-the-box' functionality? Fiddlesticks. The day something works out of the box will be the day I start using a stupid non-word like 'functionality'. Out of their box, more like.

"Another thing about this ASP twaddle. Renting someone else's computer to do your processing isn't new. We used to call it timeshare. And, while we are on the subject, those thin clients I have been shown are just slightly more intelligent versions of the dumb terminals we were seeing from those upstarts at DEC [Digital Equipment] - I see they eventually got what was coming to them.

"Everything has changed but nothing has altered that much. True, more people have access to more and faster computers but the ground rules are still the same. You guys are just re-inventing the wheel - and you'd probably claim to have invented that, too, as the rotational traction device or RTD.

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