Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 17th Apr 2013 23:30 UTC
Hardware, Embedded Systems "While much of the tech world views a two-year-old smartphone as hopelessly obsolete, large swaths of our transportation and military infrastructure, some modern businesses, and even a few computer programmers rely daily on technology that hasn't been updated for decades." Back when I still worked at a hardware and plumbing store - up until about 4-5 years ago - we used MS-DOS cash registers. They are still in use today. If it works, it works.
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Frys
by Bill Shooter of Bul on Wed 17th Apr 2013 23:41 UTC
Bill Shooter of Bul
Member since:
2006-07-14

Frys Electronic superstores sell you everything you could possibly want electronically. You could build a better POS system with parts from the store.

I can't tell if its dos, pre gui PS/2, or a ncurses app. But its pretty obscene. The original CompUsa also had ancient POS systems, they used knuckle busters to process credit cards. I shudder to think the level of fraud they must have endured.

Reply Score: 2

RE: Frys
by anevilyak on Thu 18th Apr 2013 01:12 UTC in reply to "Frys"
anevilyak Member since:
2005-09-14

Pardon my ignorance, but what is a knuckle buster? Haven't heard that term before that I can recall.

Reply Score: 4

RE[2]: Frys
by tanzam75 on Thu 18th Apr 2013 01:58 UTC in reply to "RE: Frys"
tanzam75 Member since:
2011-05-19

Pardon my ignorance, but what is a knuckle buster? Haven't heard that term before that I can recall.


Carbon-impression machines. This is why the digits on credit cards are embossed -- so that they can make an impression on carbon paper. The impression is then sent in to a central office, where it is processed manually. Just like it was done in the 1950s.

It's called a knuckle-buster because it's very heavy.

Reply Score: 5

RE[3]: Frys
by anevilyak on Thu 18th Apr 2013 03:03 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: Frys"
anevilyak Member since:
2005-09-14

Aha, now I know what you mean. I'd never actually heard a name for them though, much less the one in the OP's comment, good to know. Thanks!

Reply Score: 2

RE[3]: Frys
by Bill Shooter of Bul on Thu 18th Apr 2013 10:58 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: Frys"
Bill Shooter of Bul Member since:
2006-07-14

I didn't realize so few people were familiar With the term. If you'd. Used one for a period of time you'd understand the name. There was a heavy metal part that you had to rapidly move in the direction of a stationary metal part. If your hand wasn't in the right spot,you'd hit your knuckles.

The later iterations of the machines were lighter weight,but the name stuck.

Edited 2013-04-18 10:59 UTC

Reply Score: 2

RE[3]: Frys
by jweinraub on Fri 19th Apr 2013 13:38 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: Frys"
jweinraub Member since:
2009-06-22

It took me a few seconds since it was a while since I been to CompUSELESS, but I remember towards the very end of their lifespan, they still did this with only Amex cards, iirc.

Though they still swiped the cards magnetic strip, I signed the digital POS pad, they still always made an impression of my Amex card, and Amex card only. I asked them about this and they claimed it was Amex's policy, which I called bollocks since nobody has ever done that since I was a child.

I remember Macy's used to toss out the carbon liner itself and toss it right in the bin adjacent to the register! With all the impressions I wonder how many card numbers got stolen in those days? Though I guess it isn't like today where making a clone is easy, especially with online shopping but even back then fraud must of been high due to the lack of security.

Reply Score: 1

RE: Frys
by Yoko_T on Thu 18th Apr 2013 22:03 UTC in reply to "Frys"
Yoko_T Member since:
2011-08-18

Frys Electronic superstores sell you everything you could possibly want electronically. You could build a better POS system with parts from the store.

I can't tell if its dos, pre gui PS/2, or a ncurses app. But its pretty obscene. The original CompUsa also had ancient POS systems, they used knuckle busters to process credit cards. I shudder to think the level of fraud they must have endured.


Idiot. Why spend money replacing something that works? Just because a jerk comes along and says you should?

That's how we wound up with and will keep winding up with useless garbage like Gnome3,Unity and Windows8.

Reply Score: 1

When Old Technology is BETTER than New
by softdrat on Thu 18th Apr 2013 00:44 UTC
softdrat
Member since:
2008-09-17

Years ago I did a lot of traveling that necessitated staying at the same hotel many times. Originally check-in was done on a DOS system. All keyboard entry. Then management decided to "modernize" and switched to a Windows system. The need to keep switching between keyboard and mouse to navigate the screen caused check-in times to immediately double, and suddenly long lines at the front desk appeared where none had existed before. I don't think they ever returned to their original efficiency.

Reply Score: 4

tanzam75 Member since:
2011-05-19

The need to keep switching between keyboard and mouse to navigate the screen caused check-in times to immediately double, and suddenly long lines at the front desk appeared where none had existed before. I don't think they ever returned to their original efficiency.


The move to web-based systems has made things even slower. Now, in addition to mousing around, they have to wait for the server to send down the UI. At least now we have AJAX and CSS. Around the mid-2000s, it was really intolerable.

Reply Score: 3

Alfman Member since:
2011-01-28

tanzam75,

"The move to web-based systems has made things even slower. Now, in addition to mousing around, they have to wait for the server to send down the UI. At least now we have AJAX and CSS. Around the mid-2000s, it was really intolerable."

I've been involved in some corporate web transition projects, and the performance of web versions are nearly always disappointing compared against the older FAT-apps that had near instantaneous response times. Officially we'd claim that the overall experience was faster because users could do more per screen, which can be true. But personally I had to hide my disappointment over refresh latency between postbacks. The administrators don't notice it so much, but the end users certainly do as they become experts at using the system.

Reply Score: 5

moondevil Member since:
2005-07-08

Me too.

With each web development project I am involved, it increases my belief that if you want applications, that is what the desktop is for.

Reply Score: 5

Alfman Member since:
2011-01-28

softdrat,

"...I don't think they ever returned to their original efficiency."

Your point is well taken, the mouse often takes more time and effort than a quick muscle memory keystroke, particularly for repetitive tasks. Although it's not really a technology limitation, just a poor UI for the task at hand. The tablet version will fix everything ;)


In many of these cases it's pretty obvious the proprietors are using their old clunkers for sentimental reasons rather than objective ones. An electromechanical spreadsheet?!? I cannot stop laughing at that one. IMHO it's not really worth risking one's business data & operation on an irreplaceable computer relic. Do they even still make 5.25" floppy disks?

Reply Score: 2

phoehne Member since:
2006-08-26

I'm not always sure that modern means more productive or even better. I've seen a lot of people get bitten on the ass by chasing the next shiny toy that came along. And I'm just as guilty equating old with bad.

Reply Score: 4

Soulbender Member since:
2005-08-18

The need to keep switching between keyboard and mouse to navigate the screen caused check-in times to immediately double


But that is not because they upgraded to Windows, it's because the developers of the new check-in system had no clue.

Reply Score: 7

rcsteiner Member since:
2005-07-12

But that is not because they upgraded to Windows, it's because the developers of the new check-in system had no clue.

I suspect the developers had a clue, but the managers who mandated the change did not.

Many of these decisions are made for political reasons, not technical reasons. One more checked box on the old yearly goals list...

Reply Score: 2

Comment by MOS6510
by MOS6510 on Thu 18th Apr 2013 04:50 UTC
MOS6510
Member since:
2011-05-12

I think that there are a lot of companies about that hired some guy who made something, that guy left, no new guy came and they just kept his creation alive because as long as it works it works.

The company that maintains our cooling systems happily sets up a Windows 98 PC with PCAnywhere and attach an analogue modem to it.

Reply Score: 3

I have a degree in ancient history
by kwan_e on Thu 18th Apr 2013 06:44 UTC
kwan_e
Member since:
2007-02-18

I work on zOS mainframes.

Reply Score: 3

rcsteiner Member since:
2005-07-12

I can relate ... I worked on Unisys mainframes until the end of last year.

Reply Score: 2

Comment by lucas_maximus
by lucas_maximus on Thu 18th Apr 2013 07:50 UTC
lucas_maximus
Member since:
2009-08-18

When I used to work at Tesco in the UK they were still using terminals in the back office. They looked more or less like this:

https://cs.senecac.on.ca/~ibc233/ibm-3487-1.jpg

The POS systems used Windows NT4.0 the last time I touched a checkout there and most of the checkouts had uptimes of year or more and had to be remotely rebooted which took about 20 minutes.

Edited 2013-04-18 07:52 UTC

Reply Score: 2

Comment by puenktchen
by puenktchen on Thu 18th Apr 2013 08:25 UTC
puenktchen
Member since:
2007-07-27

The print shop around the corner uses an Atari ST 520 to monitor the use of it's copiers.

Reply Score: 3

MacTO
Member since:
2006-09-21

It's wonderful to see these old machines in service, especially since most of the software written back then is still up to the job. Yet the article did highlight a few huge problems, problems that really ought to relegate the oldest of hardware to the domain of tinkerers and collectors. Now some of the men interviewed for this article certainly fit that description. Two thumbs up for those who combine their interests with their businesses! The military doesn't qualify. Large businesses that are critical to the economy don't qualify either. (I've seen major banks running 20 year old hardware that they knew couldn't be repaired or replaced.)

Reply Score: 2

You know what's worse?
by uteck on Thu 18th Apr 2013 13:21 UTC
uteck
Member since:
2006-07-16

A major US department store I used to work for just started to replace their OS/2 POS last year, and are probably still rolling it out. But they are not upgrading the hardware, just installing Linux and a new Java based POS app on the same 8 year old hardware.

While at the same time trying to introduce iPads and web apps, without any major changes to the back-end either.

Reply Score: 1

RE: You know what's worse?
by Drumhellar on Thu 18th Apr 2013 15:48 UTC in reply to "You know what's worse?"
Drumhellar Member since:
2005-07-12

The retail chain I used to work at still runs DOS on their POS's, but the commissioned sales staff uses iPads or iPod Touches, which is stupid because 80% of the time they still need the register to complete a sale.

Also, they're still using hand-held devices running PalmOS for their merchandising stuff (printing labels and what-not)

But, they finally got rid of all the old Wyse WinTerms they had around the store, and replaced them with full-fledged desktop machines - who's only task is to run an RDP client when you log in.

Reply Score: 2

If it ain't broke...
by Dave_K on Thu 18th Apr 2013 13:43 UTC
Dave_K
Member since:
2005-11-16

A local vet's surgery was still using a CP/M system with 8" floppy disks for storage back in 2003/4. I think that's the only CP/M system I've seen in daily use in the 21st century.

Back in 1999/2000 my local hospital's labs used 8bit BBC Micro computers with dot matrix printers to output results from some of their lab equipment. A long defunct company had created bespoke software and hardware to connect the instruments to the BBC's analogue port. This was still working after over 15 years and did the job perfectly well. It wouldn't surprise me if they were still in use today.

Reply Score: 2

serial terminal cash register
by zeos386sx on Thu 18th Apr 2013 14:23 UTC
zeos386sx
Member since:
2005-07-18

the place where I get my oil changed recently upgraded their serial terminals to linux computers running terminal emulators. ;)

Reply Score: 2

Comment by Laurence
by Laurence on Thu 18th Apr 2013 14:42 UTC
Laurence
Member since:
2007-03-26

Last month I was playing around on an old PDP with 'core memory'[1], which is literally a lattice of magnetic beads used as RAM back before silicon transistors existed.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnetic-core_memory

Reply Score: 2

Ancient or fossils?
by adkilla on Thu 18th Apr 2013 14:59 UTC
adkilla
Member since:
2005-07-07

I think a more apt title would be "Computer fossils in use today".

It would be wise to never connect these things to the Internet. The Internet can be a very cruel mistress.

Reply Score: 1

RE: Ancient or fossils?
by MacTO on Thu 18th Apr 2013 16:52 UTC in reply to "Ancient or fossils?"
MacTO Member since:
2006-09-21

I hope you realise that the IBM 402 cannot even connect to the Internet, in any form, because it is just a tabulator.

As for the rest, yeah the internet can be harsh. Most of them can handle specialized tasks. Web pages though, those machines would barely be able to hold the HTML of a single modern web page in memory.

Reply Score: 2

RE[2]: Ancient or fossils?
by bryhhh on Fri 19th Apr 2013 07:40 UTC in reply to "RE: Ancient or fossils?"
bryhhh Member since:
2005-07-22

...and even if you could, they be far more secure than any modern operating system. On a lot of these legacy systems, finding people of working age that know the first thing about them is a challenge, never mind trying to find someone that is familiar with developing software for them.

Reply Score: 2

Accounting
by griffinme on Thu 18th Apr 2013 14:59 UTC
griffinme
Member since:
2005-11-09

I was part of a team that migrated our accounting software. The old system was all keystroke based. It did not use a mouse... EVER. It was intended that you would have a stack of invoices and that your right hand would never have to leave the number pad. As long as A -> B -> C-> D -> etc. held true it was incredibly efficient way to enter data. But when A -> B -> B -> F -> R -? and you had to try to do something slightly different than normal it was an exercise in frustration trying to get to the right field using the secret key combos (not kidding, it was supposed to be a security feature) in the right record to make changes. The new software was all mouse and window based. But now there is constant mouse > keyboard > mouse > numpad > mouse > etc. But it does handle unexpected things much better.

Oh and as added plus the new software stores numbers as numbers instead of text. All numbers would be text in reports. To get things to work in Excel you had to multiply all columns with numbers by one to get Excel to then treat them as numbers.

Our other modern software package is not much better. 90% of the tables have a primary key made up of 4 fields. They also thought that it would be better to store everything as positive number and then include an extra field with each transaction saying if it was a credit, debit, or other. So if you take someone's account and add everything together you get garbage. Data normalization.... who needs it?

Edited 2013-04-18 15:11 UTC

Reply Score: 2

RE: Accounting
by zima on Mon 22nd Apr 2013 22:30 UTC in reply to "Accounting"
zima Member since:
2005-07-06

But when A -> B -> B -> F -> R -? and you had to try to do something slightly different than normal it was an exercise in frustration [...] The new software was all mouse and window based. But now there is constant mouse > keyboard > mouse > numpad > mouse > etc. But it does handle unexpected things much better.

BTW, you might be interested in http://plan9.bell-labs.com/wiki/plan9/mouse_vs._keyboard/

Reply Score: 2

Educational And Amusing
by Pro-Competition on Thu 18th Apr 2013 15:16 UTC
Pro-Competition
Member since:
2007-08-20

That was fun!

The first example was especially educational. I didn't know they had swappable "plugboards". Very interesting.

The Apple II example is probably less rare. I've seen more than one "self storage" company running an Apple II, at least for gate control.

Reply Score: 2

Comment by Wafflez
by Wafflez on Thu 18th Apr 2013 15:42 UTC
Wafflez
Member since:
2011-06-26

Oh wow. And here am I crying when boss assigns task which involves implementing new features in .NET 2.0 software. ;)

Edited 2013-04-18 15:44 UTC

Reply Score: 2

MRI
by telns on Thu 18th Apr 2013 16:11 UTC
telns
Member since:
2009-06-18

Quite a few MRI machines use SGI hardware. That is why there is still a lively market in certain revisions of the O2.

Reply Score: 2

RE: MRI
by Nich on Thu 18th Apr 2013 19:49 UTC in reply to "MRI"
Nich Member since:
2011-11-04

i was just trying to think of the oldest hardware we have around here and you just reminded me . we have two Ultra I servers (vintage 1996) running a MRI .

we cannot get any kind of maintenance , have no spares and nobody has any account/passwords to the servers . wish i could log in and see the uptime , it has to be at lease 8 years from what i hear managers discuss .

-Nich

Reply Score: 2

.
by MYOB on Thu 18th Apr 2013 22:01 UTC
MYOB
Member since:
2005-06-29

One of my employer's competitors in a specific sector of medical IT still sells an early 1980s PMR written in Omnis. People seem to love it but often have to move off it due to its static feature set, or the fact it lost its accreditation a few years ago...

Its not uncommon for me to stumble on a system running this on a upgraded-to-95 machine still, probably once or twice a year.

Best - or worst in another way - I had was some form of IBM 386 that was struggling to run 95 and had no removable storage of any description. Luckily it had 10Base-T as well as coax on the network card because I don't think I was going to find a USB->whatever proprietary or otherwise ancient disk interface it was using adapter easily.

Reply Score: 2

My two
by StephenBeDoper on Thu 18th Apr 2013 22:27 UTC
StephenBeDoper
Member since:
2005-07-06

After reading that article, I feel a lot better about the one main legacy system that I have to maintain. It's web-based application written in the late 90s (Perl/MySQL), originally setup to run on its own dedicated server. I could (and have) rewritt(en) 95% of the application in PHP, but it has some functionality for dynamically generating PDF files that would be a royal pain to rewrite. So up until about 3 years ago, I was maintaining a P3 450 running Mandrake 6.1 0. Then it finally dawned on me that I could just convert the stupid to a virtual machine & stop stockpiling decade-old replacement hardware.

On the flipside, I've seen a situation where a system that worked perfectly was replaced by something much heavier and less functional. My first year of university happened to be the last year for their original electronic course registration system. It had been custom written by their computing services people, who were mostly old-school AIX and Solaris greybeards. The system worked great, it had a web interface - and it was simple/light enough that the on-campus registration was done through (IIRC) dumb terminals that displayed the web interface through Lynx.

Then at the start my second year, that system was scrapped and replaced by some monstrosity that required ActiveX and only supported the latest/greatest version of IE. And unlike the old system, it was a 3rd-party product - so it lacked support for some of the university's offerings, E.g. full-year courses. To register for one of those, you had register twice: once for the first semester, and once for the second. Of course, many people didn't do that, so it lead to some amusing situations - E.g. I managed to sign up for the second semester of a full year course, but I couldn't sign up for the first semester because it was already full.

Reply Score: 2

Don't know about businesses, but...
by benali72 on Fri 19th Apr 2013 01:43 UTC
benali72
Member since:
2008-05-03

A ten year old P-4 or P-4 HT runs Ubuntu just dandy. It's amazing to me people throw them out. But then, they're not people, are they? They're Windows consumers.

Edited 2013-04-19 01:45 UTC

Reply Score: 1

Alfman Member since:
2011-01-28

benali72,

"A ten year old P-4 or P-4 HT runs Ubuntu just dandy. It's amazing to me people throw them out."

I had two computers and a laptop from that era, all of them have died. Good riddance to the laptop (it overheated quickly and was a PITA to take apart to clean). If they had not broken, I might still be using the desktops (I am reusing the cases).

Frankly they are not in the same class as the ancient computers discussed in the article. When a P4 dies, it is still easily replaceable (with data backups obviously).

Reply Score: 2

dnebdal Member since:
2008-08-27

A ten year old P-4 or P-4 HT runs Ubuntu just dandy. It's amazing to me people throw them out. But then, they're not people, are they? They're Windows consumers.

I put Win7 (64-bit, even) on a P4 at work recently, and that ran fine - it was at least as usable as XP install it replaced.

As for myself, I guess I could use a pentium4 as my FreeBSD machine - but it's already a Core2Quad (my previous gaming machine), and that's just so much more pleasant to compile things on. Even though a P4 works, the same amount of electricity and a cheap/free newer machine will be more pleasant no matter what you've installed on it. ;)

Reply Score: 1

Legacy Systems are big business
by bryhhh on Fri 19th Apr 2013 07:59 UTC
bryhhh
Member since:
2005-07-22

I work for a company that specialise in maintaining and developing software for legacy systems. These systems are still widely used today, especially in industrial applications such as control systems.

We have customers using equipment from the 1970s, and it's still going strong. The beauty of this hardware is that it is easy to repair. Swapping out burned out resistors or electrolytics on legacy system boards is simple. You just can't do that with today's surface mount, multi layered PCBs.

These systems are still used for the simple reason that it is cheaper to pay a specialist company to maintain the hardware (and software) for the rest of the life of the plant, than it is to develop and commission a replacement system on a modern platform.

Reply Score: 3

RE: Legacy Systems are big business
by Kochise on Sun 21st Apr 2013 06:34 UTC in reply to "Legacy Systems are big business"
Kochise Member since:
2006-03-03

Still using my 2007 VIA C7 @ 2 GHz computer running under XP and 2000 without any problem. Without the bloat-ware that is in use nowadays, it's a wonder ! Bloat-ware I say ? Fully configured XP after start : 110 MB RAM used. 2000 ? 56 MB ! Beat this ! Puppy Linux perhaps.

I used to have addiction for Atari computers : ST line with Motorola 68000 @ 8 MHz (yeahs, EIGHT) and 1 to 4 MB RAM, or the Falcon030 with 68030 @ 16 MHz with 14 MB (not 16 due to the IO shadowing, just like a x86 cannot have full 4 GB)

You know what ? These computers used to be just (almost) as usable than an ordinary PC, booted in 30 seconds, lacked a lot of recent ports (USB) and drivers (printers) and also horsepower, but for everyday usage, they were just fine. Now Android device fit the niche : no strong power, but usable.

And the ST manufactured in 1984 were just running as fine as in day 1 ! After more than 30 years ! Just the floppies were shattering into oblivion somedays (wha don't you read stupid plastic disc ?)

Kochise

Edited 2013-04-21 06:34 UTC

Reply Score: 2