[QQ]I'm very pleased to be writing in a journal which is so obviouslyng the vanguard of new technology ... that is, rewriting 25-year-old COBOL programs. ahead of the field in its appraisal of anything important on the technology front. In some way, it hides my own inadequacy. I used to be up there in the front line, squeezing my programs into a 32k mainframe. But driving today's large beasts, and building intranets, these things are frankly beyond me. Although I could make a comeback. Has anyone else seen this advertisement?[QQ] Actually, I added that last bit myself.[QQ] I shall certainly be responding to this advertisement - it fits in with my New Year resolution to rejoin the vanguard of technology. But I would be deceiving you if I said the New Year squirted optimism all over me.[QQ] Apart from moving a few ageing programmers from welfare to work, I have found the panic surrounding the possibility that computers will destroy the world as we know it in the space of just two New Years', a source of depression. Hasn't it all happened before? Decimalisation? VAT? And we coped then, didn't we?[QQ] And then, the truth struck me. Before today's preoccupation with prolonging life at any cost, we coped in a different way. A heartless, a savage, but a very natural way.[QQ] Whenever a new age dawned which upset the ecology in which the computers of the day thrived, we did not allow their painful adaptation to destroy the planet - we destroyed the computers.[QQ] Digging down through the layers of computer time we find second, third and fourth generation machines successively coping with massive climate changes - increases in the size of programs, increases in the size of files and decreases in response time. Each generation died out in turn - no legacy of their programs exists today. But we know they were tiny programs. Because each generation lasted about three years, and there was no time to write big ones.[QQ] Decimalisation in the late 1960s, VAT in the early 1970s, these coincided with the program rewriting that was happening anyway, forced on us by the march of the generations. They made extra work, but this was absorbed as part of the rewrite, and never prompted a single crisis headline.[QQ] Since the mid-1970s, we have suffered a period of disastrous stability.[QQ] The climate stabilised. The weather men called it upwards compatibility.[QQ] And we got used to it. Foreseeing sun and blue skies for ever, programmers acquired a taste for the good life - graphics, surfing and Java. And businesses invested in immense superstructures of packages and networks and user-friendly screens. We got to depend totally on these superstructures. But they all sat on the old COBOL programs, a legacy from the last time we were forced to do a rewrite.[QQ] And then the climate changed.[QQ] What a hullabaloo there was. Because no one would admit that we are now populated by a race of dinosaurs, which we've carefully nurtured for 25 years, and which are now the size of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. 'No sir, we can prolong their life. And who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks?[QQ] Anyway, dinosaurs ain't dogs.'[QQ] Kit Grindley is Price Waterhouse professor of systems automation at the London School of Economics.
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