j.ello on IT Part 1: The New Old Thing


I have been in the so-called “IT” profession for more than half my life.  I am shocked to find how little has changed in that time… and how much everyone thinks it has.

I was pleased to find a lovingly-written article on the perennially reborn, long-beloved operating system called GEOS.  If you haven’t heard of it, it provided a Mac/Windows-like interface on a Commodore 64/128… in 1986.  Think about that for a moment.  There was a mouse and a friendly, visual operating system for a computer that couldn’t even hold a candle to an average cell phone.  In fact, the “Start Menu”, so synonymous with Windows, was a concept introduced years earlier in GEOS. A WYSIWYG word processor, a spreadsheet application, a database, and a whole lot more.  All the fundamentals of a full fledged office suite, and while no, GEOS wasn’t the first to do these things, GEOS did them all in 64k, 20 years ago.  That says something about us, about technology, and about the Information Technology industry.

Back to 2006, it seems we’ve come so far.  But after 20 some-odd years of windowed-interface development, what are the primary activities of a typical person at work in front of a computer?  Office applications. CPU speed, RAM, storage, all multiplied thousands of times over 20 years, and we do office applications.

“…why, oh why, do people still work at the same speed no matter how fast their computers are?”

And you’ll say, “but we do so much in addition to that”.  Do we?  I could send email in 1986.  We had the equivalent of your typical websites, and while they weren’t all interconnected or particularly pretty, they did have daily content, forums, some even had multi-user chat rooms.  We had downloads such as midi-like renditions of music (illegally created and distributed, just like today), software (freeware, shareware and pirated, just like today), and such teen favorites as porn and the “Anarchist Cookbook“.

Truth is that the desires of casual computing haven’t changed, neither has the amount of knowledge necessary to do the things we want to do.  Entertainment *STILL* almost single-handedly drives the economics of computing, with no end in sight.  All we’ve been doing for 20 years is applying new capabilities to make the old ideas more attractive, more intelligent, more “2.0″. 2.0… oh yes… I’ll come back to this “2.0″ crap… just you wait.

So, if all we’re doing is the same old thing, why isn’t it any easier?  Why are our IT staffs inundated with seemingly basic questions… better yet, why do we still have IT?  Many technology analysts have been predicting for at least as long as I’ve been alive that all of this will simply become black-box and push-button, akin to electricity.  And yet here we are, with an ever diverging technology base, and an ever more complicated set of scenarios for the IT staff… and an ever developing understanding of how inadequate our infrastructure is to handle the “same old things” that we’ve always done.  Why do we insource, then outsource, then insource again?  And why, oh why, do people still work at the same speed no matter how fast their computers are?

These answers and more will be revealed over the next few days, including why all the experts preaching “computing is commodity” are wrong… and why I say “Computing is art.”

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