From Wired Backplanes to Rugged Reliability: We’ve Come a Long Way

Feb. 24, 2017

I was talking to a colleague the other day. He was bemoaning the fact that he’d been working on a complex—and, as always, time-sensitive—document, and Word had crashed on him, leaving him to start over. I gently chastised him: he’s younger than me, but still old enough to remember when a crash was the norm rather than the exception—which should ensure that those of us of a certain age back up our work about every two minutes.

It got me to thinking, though, about how much we take technology (and its reliability) for granted these days. When I see the way my daughters—both in their twenties—treat their cellphones, laptops, tablets and so on, I die a little inside. They laugh at me and my concern—which is frustrating, not least because their technology never (well, rarely—even a laptop won’t survive being run over by a car) fails, despite the abuse.

I’ve spent the very large majority of my 40+-year career in the technology industry—but although my memory regularly fails me, I can still remember vividly when, if you moved a computer in a truck, there needed to be an engineer at the destination to make it work again. Wired backplanes, anyone? Back then, being a computer engineer was a skilled job: you fixed them, rather than just identified the faulty module and replaced it. 

My career has seen me involved with visible record computers, mainframes and banking networks, through professional audiovisual equipment to where I am today, in embedded computing. At one time, I was product manager when we introduced the Redactron “Redactor” series of dedicated word processors into the UK. (Anyone else remember Wang?) I launched the Texas Instruments (TI) PC in the UK in 1982, soon after the launch of the IBM PC that created the personal computing revolution. I recall practicing for hours the (then) incredible speech recognition capability it had before showing it to many of the UK’s biggest companies.

A lesson?

(An interesting (to me) aside here. In the development phase of the TI PC, TI developers were split into two camps: those who believed that 100% compatibility with the IBM PC was essential for success, and those who believed that, if we built something better than, but not completely compatible with, it, success was more likely. The latter faction won. The former faction quit in disgust—and founded Compaq, who went on to make PCs that were 100% compatible with the IBM version. Compaq went from strength to strength—and the TI PC bombed.)

I just find it utterly remarkable the changes we’ve gone through. Back in the day, getting a screen to talk to a computer was something akin to black magic—and now, we have the cloud. Back in the day, we programmed in assembler, and then COBOL, and learned DOS. There’s a generation out there—probably more than one—who have never known anything other than Windows, and who can’t imagine what a ground-breaker Windows 3.1 was. Back in the day, we played Tetris or Solitaire, not GTA or Call of Duty: the closest we got to those was the special thrill that was Wolfenstein 3D.

I can remember buying books—printed books, from bookshops—that told you the web address for websites on gardening, cooking, stamp collecting and so on. We now take Google for granted—but the web wasn’t always so straightforward. (And who can forget the joys of dial-up Internet connections, when you couldn’t make or receive phone calls at the same time?) 

And, of course, there’s so much more. The above are just a very few examples. The point, though, is just how fantastically the technology industry has progressed. I look now at the kind of solutions that Abaco is providing, with their rugged reliability that can make the difference between life and death, and the wholly amazing ways in which our customers are deploying them—and I just can’t help but marvel at where we are now compared with where we’ve been.

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