Long, Long Time Ago, I can still remember how the

music used to make me smile

John Voris 610-873-0780

 

As you know, EPCC turns 15. When I turned 15, American Pie with its catchy lyrics of sentimental rock history had topped the music charts and made the cover of Time magazine. And now as EPCC goes through itís adolescent years, many EPCC members will bend an ear or two as they go down memory lane into the past, or prognosticate with their crystal ball predictions.  For me, I will present arguments over what the truly significant changes were in those 15 years, and I think you will be surprised at my conclusions. I was.

I have concentrated on the those industry changes which (a) arrived in those 15 years and have made a significant impact, or (b) existed 15 years ago, but are so improved as to change the face of the industry, and (c) they are not limited to just Personal Computers and Home PC users, but are changes found industry-wide. 

 

To begin, letís talk about (1) Data Warehousing. HUH? you say! The storage and retrieval of consumer buying habits is the main use of this technology, which includes "cubes" of data Ė a very different database Ė with GUI front-ends and natural-language queries.  This hidden, unspoken sales tool is tracking your buying habits and influencing everything from "time to market" decisions to auctions of excess inventory.  Though probably in existence before 1985, they are now a "standard and necessary" part of any business and are available for every platform. 

The next item on my list affected every other item on my list. What you might call "larger hard drives" (about 80Gig for $300 this week) is what I call (2) Denser Hard Drives. In business, industry, and consumer products, these allowed the term "terabytes" to move from a futuristís term into daily reality. I remember in 1995 seeing a room the size of half of a football field full of 800Meg drives get replaced by a single cabinet with 12 drives equaling a Terabyte.  Most of this technology is based on IBM research to make tracks on disks thinner than a human hair, packed as tight as possible without electron migration, where electrons may "jump" over space to infect an adjacent track. 

Accompanying the denser drives is (3) RAID5 protection for hard drives. This safety measure on a matched set of hard drives allows a drive to be recovered should a single sector or single drive fail within the set.  Although it does not replace backups, it is now the standard drive configuration, surpassed only by mirrored total-drive-redundancy. 

So far this list may seem pretty technical and unglamorous, but nonetheless important for what business systems deliver to us, the PC public. Also, for (2) and (3) we may thank the efforts of IBM R&D for developing these innovations and releasing the patents to the world.  

And before we move on, Iíll mention (4) SCSI bus cables and their follow-on fiber optic buses. From IBM Mainframes down to NT Servers, SCSI is predominant. The SCSI cables which Apple embraced early are hardly spoken of, but nonetheless are included in every order of a large machine. 

OK. Hereís one Iíll concede to the crowd - the high-speed communications that makes the web run. But I argue that (5) "Fat Pipes" are not new nor innovative, because (a) we have had fat pipes a long time - the Cable TV lines running into your house pre-date 1985 and only now are actually being used for digital or PC uses. And (b) without the advent of denser hard drives on the receiving and sending ends of the pipe, then the bit patterns flowing down cannot be stored, but only enjoyed "in the moment". Fat Pipes without larger hard drives is Cable TV, with its only offshoot video teleconferencing. 

The use of Fat Pipes in business have grown since í85 from dial-up to leased lines to Frame Relay. (ATM never took off Ė too complicated, another near-failure. And telecommuting using Virtual Private Networks over IP Internet links is still not universally accepted, despite its touted potential these 15 years.) I argue that the Fiber Optic technology which made the backbones which now crisscross the US were developed in the 60ís and 70ís and have hardly changed. Copper-based switching in a fiber-optic network is still the norm and is the slowest piece of the network. The faster Fiber / Light / Chemical switching is still an infant technology. 

As you know, many new methods are tried, with some falling out of favor while other ideas spurn newer and usually cheaper, less reliable alternatives as standards. IBM Token Ring has grown from 16 bit to 100 Mbit-whatever, but it was too little, too late, always too expensive, and like OS/2 and IBM Microchannel buses, it is seldom chosen as a corporate standard and hence a home-user standard. But without the IBM-developed marketing near misses ("failure" is much too harsh), the industry would not be where it is, since the cheaper alternatives have to meet a higher minimum expectation to offset the dollar savings.

Coupled with a Fat Pipes infrastructure, I concede the prevalence of (6) IP and FTP for file transfer.  Although IBMís SNA beats TCP/IP by 7 to 4 for reliability (7 self-checking layers to 4), it is still strong, alive, supported, and used in corporations extensively. I used it in 1985 and 2000 in the same amount for the same tasks. But the lionís share of file-transfer is FTP over IP, the same that you and your browser use. Coming out of the UNIX world, FTP over IP is not a bad transport mechanism, even if low powered with few customizing commands. SNA transfers are audit-able, and thus, not as simple as stupid FTP, but today, eBusiness systems generally assume FTP within its confines. 

My next point (7) Compression Algorithms, such as seen in US Robotics et al 56K modems, have progressed sporadically. From storage utilities like Disk-Doublers to high-speed helix tape drives (to backup the larger drives), the hidden evolution of compression has advanced. But yet, the algorithms in PKZIP are still unchanged -- removable storage media like Zip Drives has only re-worked $90 Bernoulli cartridges/drives of the 80ís. With compression, the speed enhancements are significant. 

Rounding out my Top Ten, I concede that (8) training on CDís is different than what has come before. With more interactivity than VCR tapes, and going beyond music CDís of the 80ís, and cheaper than removable storage like Bernoulli drives, these small-batch training aids have pushed more flexible learning materials out to the public than any other media.  Sorry to downplay the web and its hypertext web language, but it is just that Ė a tag language evolving as a poor standard from other precursors.  Win31, with WORD 1.0 and Excel for Mac, the new items of 1985 from MS, had linking within its WinHelp files. Even on IBM mainframes, I used ".imbed" tags in 1984 to insert (link) smaller documents into other docs. 

Inkjet Printers (9) by producing near-professional quality documents have changed every home office from being a mere playland to a resume and color publisher. 

And within corporations, (10) VoiceMail changed the business world by giving us a digital secretary to take messages while away from our desks. (Again, most algorithms to compress near-silence and "ummmm" from messages are an IBM patent. I met the team developing it in 1979.) 

Honorable Mentions: (11) alphanumeric pagers enhanced pager usage and preceded digital phone WAP technology for web-based info on a small screen. (12) Domain Name Servers (and its MS sister WINS) translate the familiar www.something.com into an unmemorable IP address and eased web surfing for us all. (13) PDF from Adobe Acrobat to make electronic documents universally readable is now a standard. That same kind of standard for portable eBooks is absent. (14) Laptop LCDs Ė continual improvements, B/W to color. 

And how do I justify the missing items from my list? LikeÖ Web surfing Ė Books and printed materials could replace the "web experience". Web Purchasing Ė the general population of computer-owners is not embracing B2C as the mail-order catalogues indicates. Security Algorithms Ė how often do you encode your email with PPG, a neat but not prevalent security method? 

And so I have recalled my PC struggles in 1981 with my TRS-1 and my TRS-3 in 1985. I remember wheeling a 10meg Compaq PC on a cart from office to office for its Lotus 123 for DOS. And I saw Commodore PC Colts and IBMís PC Juniors stacked unsold on this journey of technology. Today we see innovations from IBM Research like high-speed copper on silicon chips instead of aluminum. And yet we are burdened with the continued mediocrity from Microsoft, with the stability problems of Win98 and the problems of slow boot-ups on NT4.  

So where to now? Me. Iím taking the Chevy to the levee... Drinkiní Whisky & Rye... Speaking of Chevys, I have a 13-year-old-gold Chevy.  It gets 40 mpg, which beats most cars manufactured today. Sheís fun and comfortable and reliable. She canít be compared to any PC. How can she, when my current Win98 333MHz PC took over 2 minutes to boot up today, while the car starts on the first turn of the key? 

So me. Iíll take the Chevy any day, any time. To me, sheís not old or over the hill, but a wild adolescent looking wide-eyed at the future. Just like EPCC.  Just like me.   

- John Voris