Monday, February 13, 2012

Small is beautiful (finally)

I recall that when I first got into computing, way back in the late 1970s as a result of the invention of the microprocessor, mainframes were "the" computers de jour.

Even once the early 1980s rolled around, "real" data-processing professionals such as systems analysts, programmers and even data-entry personnel looked down on these "toys" as if they weren't really computers at all.

To be fair, a lot of the early 8-bit micros were pretty crude and wimpy -- with their blocky graphics, hard to read characters, reliance on low-quality monitors and rather nasty keyboards.

What's more, many had barely 48Kbytes of RAM and most relied on floppy disks rather than "serious" storage media.

But my, how time has changed things.

These days, the micro is king and it is the mainframe that is looked at with scorn and derision from some quarters.

Today's microcomputers have far more power than many of the mainframes that were so wonderful just a couple of decades ago -- and they also use much sexier languages, user-interfaces and software.

Although -- somewhat surprisingly, I'm told that mainframe Cobol programmers are still in demand, the big demand now is for those skilled in microcomputer architecture, software and systems. Except for very large enterprise and some scientific applications, the mainframe looks to be headed the way of the Dodo.

Who, apart from a few smarty-pants young upstarts like myself, would have dreamed all those years ago that all that iron would be replaced with a few beige boxes and some network cable.

That's just one of the reasons that I love technology -- anything is possible.

And just what prompted this column?

Well it was NASA's announcement that they have just unplugged their last mainframe computer.

Who'd have thought?

No comments:

Post a Comment