Many Pies

Many Pies

Monday, February 27, 2012

Feel the CPU power

INIT: Entering runlevel: 2 etc.

Whilst it's not too hard to gather stats on the performance of older computing devices, in this blog post you won't find any numbers to do with clock rates, or storage sizes. I'm talking about how performance feels.

Mumble-mumble years ago I worked on minicomputers. They were about the size of a two drawer filing cabinet. To anyone under 40 it must sound strange to call such a beast a "mini" computer. However in those days non-mini computers were as big as chest freezers or bigger. PCs were around, but weren't very powerful. They had just grown out of being hobby computers and appearing in offices. However the computer systems we worked on needed proper powerful computers.

Then one day I came across "Linux" on an internal mailing list. Someone had installed a Unix variation on a PC. For me Unix was the OS on the PDP-11 I used at University. I had no idea what it looked like, and in my mental pictures of it it still used tape for main storage. I used Unix on an NCR computer at my year out job at York Health Authority - it had 16 terminal ports and we didn't stretch it too much, apart from the odd complicated SQL query.

My experience of using a PC for "proper" computing stuff was trying to get it to work as an X-windows terminal. It was incredibly slow and I spent more time that I wanted to really trying to get it to not double refresh windows.

So the idea of running a grown up OS like Unix on a little PC was very strange. Time passed and a few years later Linux came to be the thing you ran on older PC hardware as it had better performance than Windows. In that time too Windows started to get grown-up with Windows NT which ran well on a dual P-90 workstation.

Time continued passing and one of my sons got an Android phone and there, as it started up, at the top of the screen were the familiar messages of a Unix-like OS starting up...

This is the first post I'm tagging nostalgia, though I need to tag at least one or two others.

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