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2014-10-07 02.22.06a

Time away from the corporate world has given me a bit of perspective on things – where we’ve been, and where we’re going, from a technological perspective. I see this huge push towards “web-ifying” everything – all data and processes should be on the web, and all data should be in the cloud. All webpages should be heavy with graphics (to get people’s attention) and ads (to generate revenue). We should have all data at our fingertips 24/7, so the growing consensus goes. Heaven forbid if your company isn’t moving in this direction – you don’t want to be left behind, do you? Let’s get rid of that old AS/400 or iSeries or mainframe, let’s get something new! (By the way, if you have an old AS/400 lying around that you’d like to get rid of, I’ll gladly take it off your hands!)

While making access to data 24/7 on as many platforms as possible isn’t a bad thing at all, there’s a price to pay when you wrap data up in layers of HTML, XML, Javascript, images, etc., that we often don’t notice. I just finished a prototype application for a friend – all it does is issue a simple SQL query, return and display data – and she was stunned at how fast the thing worked. The response time was well under a second. Her comment was that she usually had to wait several seconds for data to be returned from a web query. It’s a so-called “green screen” CRUD (create/read/update/delete) application, written in C for Linux. It’s blazingly fast because it doesn’t load anything she doesn’t need to see – no graphics, fancy fonts, ads, HTML markup. No time wasted rendering data. Just text data and prompts – and it’s very clear what’s being displayed. (If you want to see pictures, just scroll down in my timeline to earlier in the week.) In short, it’s clean and simple. If you want to know what Steve Jobs, the legendary genius who headed Apple for years, thought about this approach, you can read about it here.

I know what she means. How long does it take for Facebook to completely load a page when you navigate to another page? 10, 15 seconds? Longer? Ever looked at the size of the page that just got loaded into your browser? I was stunned when I looked – this page, not including images or any other scripts being loaded, took up 512K! Now you know why Facebook takes so long to come up in your browser!

We spend lots and lots of money buying faster and faster computers to run even more bloated versions of Windows and web pages and sites full of ads and images and videos that we hardly even pay attention to anymore, because they’re so ubiquitous. We hardly notice how slow everything is getting, except to call our ISP and complain, maybe ask for an upgrade to the next higher speed. Most cell phone providers, of course, have capitalized on this, charging us for every gigabyte of bandwidth over our puny limits. Meanwhile, we ask “why is XXX web site so slooooow?” Blame it on Windows – sure, it bears part of the blame. After all, Internet Explorer has perhaps the slowest HTML rendering engine and the slowest Javascript interpreter on the planet! But when you have to download half a megabyte of data, plus images, for a website, the fastest operating system and browser in the world isn’t going to help much.

And now you know why 70% of Fortune 500 companies still have mainframes – Big Iron, as they’re called, and they’re not going away anytime soon. Those oh-so-unsexy green screens are still blazingly fast compared to a browser, and in the mainframe/miniframe world, you can have pretty tight control over what applications people use. At a company I know, the Operations folks looked at just how much time was spent on Facebook and Twitter (just to name a few), watching videos on YouTube, and online shopping and the like. I don’t remember specific numbers, but the amount of time not working was astounding! Sure, we all need a break every now and again, but when people spend half their workday posting on Facebook and Twitter, watching (adorable, admittedly!) cat videos and other non-work stuff, maybe they should only be employed part-time!

I used to work for a company long ago that would restrict the use of non-work applications to certain times of the day. From 8-5, Monday through Friday, they were blocked. Any other time, feel free. They ran Linux in text mode on every desktop, and when a user logged in, they saw a menu of apps they could run. And stuff got done! The apps were FAST and lean, and people started bragging about how much they got done at the end of the day. They could even do Facebook and Twitter in text mode on their desktops. You’d be amazed at how much you can do in Facebook or Twitter with just text.

Is the green screen for everyone? Of course not – but for a lot of businesses, customer service, dispatch, and the back office all run on the green screen, and for good reason.


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