Trite but right: Dull IT that made it big

Trite but right: Dull IT that made it big

Summary: These technologies might not attract the fervid fandom that Apple gear gets, but they all managed to find their spot and become popular despite being as dull as ditchwater

TOPICS: After Hours

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  • Citrix headquarters

    Time to take a look at a tech manufacturer rather than a product. Citrix isn't one of those companies that has a famous headquarters location on the West Coast and glamorous products. The brilliant idea on which it was founded — by former IBM developer Ed Iacobucci, in 1989 — was OS/2 with multi-user support. IBM hadn't been interested in this, and no one else was either, especially after Microsoft announced it would no longer support OS/2.

    Citrix carried on looking for success and eventually found it in the form of Netware Access Server, a remote-access application it bought from Novell in 1993. The product, which Citrix further developed and renamed WinView, provided a desktop and applications from the server to multiple users.

    WinView became a success, and Citrix has followed it up with more products that are very useful but not necessarily the height of excitement. Somehow that seems to fit with the climate of Fort Lauderdale, where Citrix is headquartered, a Florida city better known as a yacht manufacturing hub than a high-tech magnet.

    Photo credit: Coolcaesar/Wikimedia Commons

  • IBM PC 5150 with a green monochrome CRT monitor

    The CRT monitor
    The CRT — that big, dumb box sitting on top of your computer. You might even be staring into one now. The one pictured above is an IBM PC 5150 with a green monochrome CRT monitor, the 5151, dating from 1981. Where do these things come from? Why are they still here? Shouldn't we all be using flexible, paper-thin, wall-sized displays or holograms by now? Why do we still need a big vacuum tube in a box shooting electrons at us? It all sounds so Victorian.

    This technology in fact goes back to 1897, when German physicist Ferdinand Braun created the first version of the cathode-ray tube. While vacuum tube-based technology has disappeared from most electronics, it has stuck around a disturbingly long time in the computer monitor department.

    One reason the CRT refuses to fully die is that it actually has some advantages that are pretty difficult to replicate on flat-panel displays, like colour accuracy, the lack of input lag and a wide viewing angle.

    Production of CRTs is falling fast now, with LCDs surpassing them in 2007. However, they are still standard in visual industries like photography and graphics, and some gamers also prefer them, so perhaps they will stick around for a while yet.

    Photo credit: Boffy/Wikimedia Commons

  • IBM 704

    The mainframe
    It's true, the mainframe was once sexy: back in the 1950s, the epoch of behemoths like the IBM 704 (pictured). Over the years, though, the glamour has worn off. Surely they should have all have been replaced by svelte Linux blade servers by now?

    Yet the mainframe is still with us, with IBM even making an effort to sex them up with product names like 'zSeries'. Big organisations just seem to feel safer with some kind of massive hardware installation humming along and taking care of their bulk data processing, enterprise resource planning and financial transaction processing needs. Countries like China seem especially keen to buy in "big iron". IBM has even run Linux on its mainframes since 1999.

    Photo credit: IBM Research

Topic: After Hours

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  • Ah, what a machine! I loved mine dearly, and though it retired from active service in 1993 it is still in the loft.

    Not withstanding the "dusty" O/S, you could buy a surprisingly large range of software for it, including a C compiler. And it was very, very, very quiet. No fan, no hard drive. If you wanted to concentrate in absolute silence, you could. Marvellous.