Open, flatter companies, especially those with Macs, will boom

Written by David Tebbutt, MacUser 12/90 item 02 - scanned

Did you go to the MacUser Show? It was jolly good. Lots more visitors turned up, although the show itself was pretty much the same size as last year. Apple sponsored the 100 Macs application centre but didn't have its own stand. Apparently, halfway through the show, almost the entire company bogged off to Cannes to celebrate Apple UK's first 10 years, so it couldn't have exhibited anyway. I wonder which came first - the decision to go to Cannes or the one not to attend the show?

Still, even without Apple, the show was lively. In some parts, too lively. Aldus was pushing its luck by using one of the main aisles as a seminar area. Its staff ran presentations on the edge of the stand, and the only way the audience could see the display screens (which were, unbelievably, behind smoked glass) was to stand in the aisle. I'm surprised the exhibition organisers didn't put a stop to it. If Aldus needed a bigger stand, it should have paid for one.

As always, I was completely baffled by some of the exhibits. I don't know enough to be able to meaningfully differentiate between one high-level graphics package and another. What I did find interesting, though, was the amazing number of networking offerings. Most of the dealers were offering Mac-to-DEC connectivity. I couldn't believe this was mere coincidence, and I was convinced Apple must have instructed them to push Mac/Vax connections. AppleCentre West London assured me there had been no directive but pointed out that Knowledge Technology and Maxima had connected up several of the stands. Why this wasn't billed as a major feature of the show I don't know.

Before I go on, I'd like to side-track. Thirteen years ago, when I was a project manager at ICL, I introduced a computer system for a Bristol company. I had a brilliant programmer: while I plotted and planned, Graham Cherrington got on with the real work. He wrote a superb suite of programs and we ended up with a very successful installation. I had been putting in computer systems for 12 years, and this one was the smoothest I had experienced.

Now, one of the good things about this industry is that you keep running into old friends and, you guessed it, Graham was there on the Knowledge Technology stand. In fact, he was a founder director of the company.

To return to the point, Graham's company and Maxima had installed a mix of fibre-optic and twisted-pair cables between their own stands and those of Maxima Communications, Knowledge Technology, Principal Distribution, A&M Technology, Computing Workshop Systems and AppleCentre West London. I asked the NuNet people why they hadn't joined in and they said they were scared of catching a virus. Maxima had an IBM AS/400 computer, two DEC MicroVaxes, a HP 9000/815 and a bunch of networked Macs. It also had a connection to a remote IBM mainframe.

Knowledge Technology had a mix of Macs, Suns and Vaxes. Other participants had IBM and Toshiba PCs in addition to Macs. The networks were a mix of Ethernet, fibre optic and LocalTalk. The exact technical details escape me, but what I do know is that I clambered aboard the AS/400, the HP and the Vaxes and either ran as a terminal or conducted file transfers. I even had sessions on different computers running in different windows on the Mac.

Apart from the fact that it existed at all, the interesting thing was that it was physically connected in a few hours by the participating companies and the Olympia exhibitions staff. Olympia insisted on putting the cables in itself; Knowledge Networks was alarmed at giving a cabling job to the show electricians. They were even more alarmed to see the 90 degree bends in the fibre optic cables as they reached the ceiling and then trailed off to the participating stands. Yet the whole system worked. In my view, it was a major triumph and something which should have been made much more public.

Having proved that Macs can play a meaningful part in a large company's computing system, people can stop fretting about the technological problems and start focusing on the business issues. Today's 'islands of computing' are inevitably going to become linked. 'The connected workplace' appears highly desirable and, done correctly, can greatly enhance a company's ability to achieve its objectives. Done willy-nilly, it can cause anarchy and chaos.

Networking is unlikely to bring about a change in your company's existing culture. Open companies will give employees access to centralised and distributed information, which encourages initiative and innovation at the desktop. Hierarchical companies will impose rigid controls on access to information and pretend that those at the top still know best.