I normally write about things that are happening in the here and now but here’s something historical and rather personal for once. You see, it’s 25 years today that I
started my first job in IT journalism.
And, rather neatly, the anniversary clashes (or nearly clashes anyway) with some other important anniversaries in IT
First of all, that week saw the decision by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to permit unlicensed access to radio spectrum for communications.
Also in this week, the third .com domain was registered - Think.com. It would have been too much coincidence if it had been the first one, that Symbolics.com, was two months earlier. Think.com was the property of super-computer company Thinking Machines - it wasn’t that forward thinking, the company went bust in 1994. The domain name is now owned by Oracle.
Finally, in the corridors of power at Apple, at even more momentous event was about to happen - Steve Jobs was just about to be ousted as head of Macintosh. I wonder what happened to him?
Wi-Fi and the Internet were far removed from mainstream computing, however. While PCs had penetrated the corporate world, they were by no means ubiquitous. 1-2-3 and Visicalc were the dominant business packages and WordPerfect held sway in the word processing space. And while Ethernet was winning the networking race, there were plenty of supporters of Token Ring (and even Token Bus, remember that?)
The IETF that ratified these communications standards were going to take up the challenge laid down by the FCC’s decision and produce the 802.11 wireless standard.
The real action was going on in the mainframe and minicomputer space: IBM reigned supreme in the former, while DEC was the heavy-hitter in the latter. There were plenty of competitors though for both companies: Burroughs, Sperry (soon to merge into Unisys), Data General, Wang, the British ICL - all but a few have gone. Even DEC, a big enough company to support three UK magazines dedicated to its technology.
But the real news was happening elsewhere: the FCC was opening the world of wireless, Tim Berners-Lee had not long moved back to CERN and was treading the path that led to the Worldwide Web, while domain names were being registered. What's most surprising is that little of this activity was reported in the computing press - which concentrated exclusively on what the large companies were doing. Of course, journalists still look at the big players but there's now much more attention to what's happening in research establishments and there's much more interest in start-ups - everyone's trying to spot the next google or Facebook
While I’ve seen great change in the 25 years that I’ve been writing about this stuff, most of those changes had already been set in motion before I’d joined the fraternity. The lead time between technology's being proposed and seeing the light of day has become much shorter and there's no reason for this pace of change to slow down.
I often remark, when chatting to people from the industry, that we're living through the greatest ;overhaul of IT for years: the rise of mobile and wireless connectivity and the availability of cheap bandwidth and memory have both helped to drive change, while organisations are facing pressures from the consolidation of servers and the drive towards virtualisation and the how to incorporate cloud computing within a business environment
But even these technologies had their roots in older technologies: virtualisation was adapted from its use in mainframes - the IBM VM range, while cloud computing is not a million miles away from the bureau services that used to be so prevalent then. As for thin clients, that's the way the world was then.
So, while the last 25 years have seen a lot of change, some of those changes were already old, while other, newer technologies had their roots in things happening under the surface. The changes for the next 25 years are already under way - I can't wait.
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