Flogging a dead horse

Reflecting over my years at IBM, a pattern emerges. I invariably hitched my wagon (or had it hitched for me) to technologies that just didn’t stay the distance. Here’s a short summary: 

IBM 3600 (later 4700) banking system: (early 80’s) A dedicated purpose built minicomputer that ran special banking terminals and Automatic Teller Machines. It used a unique “FCL” low level language. Like most of these systems, it was pretty much killed by PC’s at teller positions in banks eventually.

IBM Series/1: (mid 80’s) This was a general purpose minicomputer that was used for process control, data entry and specialised communication applications. It was also the platform for dial-in “videotext”, a technology that never took off. I do have to say, though, that it was a fun system to work with.

IBM PS/2: (late 80’s) The IBM PC that IBM built with a proprietry architecture. While it had a lot of nice features that eventually found their way into the mainstream, no-one was ever going to pay IBM royalties for using the architecture so it was quietly killed in the early 90’s.

OS/2: (late 80’s- mid 90’s) The operating system that Bill Gates said would take over the world when Microsoft and IBM were jointly developing it. Bill quietly abandoned it to IBM when his Windows 3.0 platform started selling wildly,deciding he wanted all the money, not just a share. OS/2 found a niche in some large financial institutions, but IBM spent a decade “de-emphasising” it.

Smalltalk: (late 90’s) It wasn’t really my choice to get involved, but IBM decided at one point to embrace the “Smalltalk” object oriented language. I got co-opted to a project to build a Very Large finance application, and though I’m not a programmer by training, was seconded to write an investment analysis module. I was appalled by the inefficiency of the resulting executable code. The project was eventually abandoned after a million dollars or so was spent.

You might consider that this is a litany of failure, but for me, these products allowed me to, if not shine, at least become somewhat “indispensible” for some time in supporting legacy installations with product sets that no-one else had any expertise in.


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