Network Computing at 10 years: a look back and ahead

It is a remarkable thing, to look back ten years in our industry and see how far we have come. And yes, I still keep those back issues of this magazine on my bookshelves, given that I was one of the guys who started this magazine back in the summer and fall of 1990.  (This was written in the fall of 2000.)

Back then, we had a great idea that surprisingly few magazines have copied since then: make the folks who write the articles actually touch the products they are writing about. It has given this publication its real-world grounding ever since, and one that I continue to be quite proud of.

But enough sucking up to the current staff. The French have a great saying: Plus ce change, plus ce meme chose. Meaning, the more things change in our industry, the more they stay the same. Back in 1990 we wrote about problems with network printing, with managing multi-protocol networks, and with getting different applications to talk to each other across a wide-area network. They are still the same problems in 2000, and I hope we can finally retire these topics sometime before the next decade. Sun was a vital part of our networks then, even though they were just getting into the groove of the network is the computer, before they could claim the dot in dot coms (and before the land-rush on dot coms too).

Oracle was selling database software ten years ago and just as potent a force then as now – indeed, our first feature was a review of its communications capabilities in developing distributed applications. And we were using Microsoft Word to write the magazine, albeit a primitive character-based DOS version compared to its present graphical self.

Vendors such as 3Com and Xircom sold a variety of networking adapters, then and now. Dell and Compaq sold servers — a speedy 33 MHz 486 with a whopping 8 MB of RAM and 650 MB disk sold for a mere $12,000!

Not everything was the same ten years ago. Of course, prices have changed somewhat, although for $12 grand I can still get a great Dell server. Today’s servers have 667 MHz Pentium IIIs with 256 MB of RAM and a 9 GB RAID drive.

Of course, the biggest changes have been around the Internet. Back then, the “Unix Internet” (the term I then laughingly used in my first column) had already been invented by Al Gore and a few other computer scientists, but far from the pervasive communications highway and applications platform that it is today. Speaking of Unix, instead of NeXT workstations we have Linux and a wide variety of Internet appliances that are easier to use and far more capable, even if they don’t come in sexy black designs. Unix is now proudly part of today’s IT infrastructure, whereas ten years ago it was the province of a few techies and specialists.

Ten years ago we had email boxes for all of our editors, but their addresses were rather complex given the gateways to our resident MS DOS-based Network Courier (now transformed into Microsoft Outlook) mail systems. Publishing these addresses was then an oddity, but it was great to hear from readers directly and quickly. Now you can find email addresses on most magazine bylines, even general-interest magazines. Macintoshes now come with built-in Ethernet adapters rather than the older Appletalk ones, and Windows rules the world, at least until our government has its say.

Novell in 1990 was still delivering 386-based NetWare, a powerhouse of interoperable client platforms. Sadly, they have left that heritage behind, in large part made obsolete by the web browser and IP technologies that they help foster and create. Microsoft was struggling with its OS/2 marriage of convenience to IBM, learning how to deliver mission-critical operating systems that could fit on more than a single floppy disk.

Ten years ago Xerox had just introduced its first line of copiers with Ethernet connections. Now we have multifunction print/copy/fax machines that are connected to our networks, not to mention all the other stuff like net-cameras, switches, and application servers.

We have come a long way in ten years. I’ll think I’ll hold on to those early issues for a bit while longer, they could become collectors’ items.

 

 

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David Strom can be reached at david@strom.com, a domain name he has owned since 1993. He now publishes a weekly series of essays called Web Informant which are free to subscribers via email at www.strom.com.

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