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Hardware Technology

Living Fossils: Old Tech That Just Won't Die 388

jfruh writes "You might think that flat files, VAXen, and punch card readers are things of the past — and you're right, for the most part. But here and there, these fossilized technologies have found places where they can survive in production use."
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Living Fossils: Old Tech That Just Won't Die

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  • Hardly obsolete. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Lord Kano ( 13027 ) on Thursday May 10, 2012 @12:44AM (#39950609) Homepage Journal

    I can speak from first hand knowledge that many Fortune 500 companies are using technology that most people think of as obsolete. If you paid $50k for a software package that was written for VAX OpenVMS and the publisher went out of business 15 years ago, what would you do? You'd do the same thing these guys do. Work on getting a replacement, and keep that replacement in the wings until you can no longer run the existing (perfectly working) package.

    In 2009, I worked on porting a fairly lengthy program from VAX to Alpha in OpenVMS Fortran. Why? Because it took 20 years to get the program just right and it works perfectly for the suited task. Why throw away a perfectly functional program just because the VAX is dying?

    Today, companies are producing good and providing services that touch all of our lives using 30+ year old technology.


  • Re:Vaxes (Score:3, Informative)

    by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Thursday May 10, 2012 @12:45AM (#39950611)

    VAXes, not VAXen.

    Actually, "Vaxen" is acceptable and I have actually heard it used - yes, I'm that old. Furthermore, from (1) Vaxen [] and mentioned on (2) VAX []:

    (1) The plural canonically used among hackers for the DEC VAX computers. "Our installation has four PDP-10s and twenty vaxen."
    (2) ... systems include the "BVAX", a high-end ECL-based VAX, and two other ECL-based VAXen: "Argonaut" and "Raven".

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Thursday May 10, 2012 @12:55AM (#39950667) Homepage

    Actually, the IBM 402 mentioned was acquired by the Computer Museum, and is on exhibit there.

  • Re:B-52s (Score:5, Informative)

    by slimjim8094 ( 941042 ) <> on Thursday May 10, 2012 @01:18AM (#39950783)

    There might be no integrated-circuit memory, but components still need to be connected somehow.

    Yeah, the GP mentioned it - wire wrapping []. It's pretty cool stuff - done properly, it actually creates an even better connection than solder.

  • Re:Flat Files FTW! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Thursday May 10, 2012 @01:22AM (#39950813) Journal

    It's true that flat files may be "good enough" for a particular use, but it's not very flexible for unanticipated future uses.

    Basically if you base your app on a flat file, you are gambling that you won't need many of the features databases provide out of the box. Knowing how requirements changes, it's often the wrong bet.

    Software design is a lot like picking investments: you have to estimate future changes and the magnitude of their impact. Experience in both software design and the domain (industry) help in this regard.

  • Re:Vaxes (Score:4, Informative)

    by Kozar_The_Malignant ( 738483 ) on Thursday May 10, 2012 @01:23AM (#39950821)

    It's just bad English.

    No, it's an Old English plural noun ending for the weak form (e.g. ox oxen.)

  • by Grayhand ( 2610049 ) on Thursday May 10, 2012 @01:24AM (#39950825)
    I still see offices especially things like vets and some stores even that are using old DOS based record keeping systems. They weren't sure how to transfer all the information so they keep using systems that are several decades old. I haven't worked around it in years but up into the late 90s motion picture effects companies still used old DOS based machines to run motion control systems. The hardware and software they used at the time couldn't be adapted to Windows.
  • Re:Vaxes (Score:5, Informative)

    by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Thursday May 10, 2012 @01:33AM (#39950849)

    I also go back that far, and I believe it's an anachronism. We called them VAXes back then, not VANen. They *xen meme smells more 1990s than 1970s

    Here are about 25 usenet posts from 1981 [] that use the term VAXen.

    But even if there were some were calling them VAXen back then it's still wrong. It's just bad English.

    My high-school english teacher, who was awarded state english teacher of the year on more than one occasion, taught his classes that "Language creates environment and environment creates language" - in other words, correct usage is defined by nothing more than whatever enough people say is the correct usage. And we had a cluster of microvaxen at my high-school too.

  • by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <bassbeast1968 AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday May 10, 2012 @02:51AM (#39951167) Journal

    Another thing people forget to look at with older systems is heat and the increased costs in AC for running an old power hog. I had a company that was "getting by" on those piggy Prescott P4 and big old CRTs so I told the boss "Just buy two machines and see if you see a difference and then we can see about changing out the office" and I swapped out those two piggies for a couple of 19 inch LCDs with an E350 mini unit mounted behind it.

    Well it wasn't two weeks later he was coming in to work out a plan to replace every unit just because he saw how much cooler it was in those two rooms than in the other offices and how much quieter it was. Even after bumping up those that said they needed more power to quads he told me a few months later he saw both his need for cooling and his electric bill both go down just by getting rid of the piggies.

    So sometimes it can really help to get rid of older tech if that older tech is power sucking, I know that getting rid of those Pentium Ds and CRT hand me downs the boys were playing on for more modern multicores with flat panels certainly dropped our cooling bills. You just don't realize how power hogging that gear is until you replace it.

  • Re:Technology (Score:5, Informative)

    by mwvdlee ( 775178 ) on Thursday May 10, 2012 @04:53AM (#39951683) Homepage

    You don't have to rely on old computers for ISA support. There are plenty of well-known designing and producing new motherboards with ISA slots for pretty much the same price as an average motherboard, with the benefit of also supporting modern hardware.

    In a way it's sad the ISA standard is gone; it was very easy for an electronic geek to make ISA cards as the protocol didn't require complicated hardware.
    I don't think modern computers have any interface left that can be used without requiring a chip to handle the protocol.

  • by Half-pint HAL ( 718102 ) on Thursday May 10, 2012 @05:11AM (#39951747)
    More to the point, DMA and hardware memory addressing made interfacing a breeze. Modern abstraction layers are certainly justifiable in terms of security, but they're a real inconvenience if you need actual control of your computer.
  • Really?! (Score:4, Informative)

    by Thud457 ( 234763 ) on Thursday May 10, 2012 @09:20AM (#39953083) Homepage Journal
    direct link to the single-page print [] version to avoid idiotic goddamned clickbait.
    Because the submitter is a nimrod.
  • Re:Technology (Score:5, Informative)

    by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Thursday May 10, 2012 @09:22AM (#39953113) Homepage

    What you're describing is economic specialization. On the upside, that means that people who do plumbing or electrical or whatever are really good at it. On the downside, your everyday guy doesn't do plumbing or electrical, even on their own home. In theory, that makes things more efficient, because rather than a do-it-yourselfer completely botching the job, the specialist does the job right much faster than the do-it-yourselfer.

    This process is not really that new: there was a time when pretty much everybody was doing the same things: hunting, gathering, banging rocks together to make spearpoints, fighting for survival, raising children, etc. Then you started getting differentiation based on gender (as far as current archaeology can tell) with men more involved in hunting and banging rocks together and women more involved in gathering, processing food, and raising children. Then you started getting divisions into professions, with some people specializing in warfare, food production, toolmaking, religion, and so on.

    So we have specialized. And it's brought us productivity far beyond anything the world has ever known. But you're right that it means that we're more reliant than ever before on the skills of other people.

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