Software flotilla charts a collision course

Written by David Tebbutt, PC Dealer 06/88 item 01 - scanned

I was walking by the river when this great queue of canoes whizzed by. Each was hooked to its neighbours and all the canoeists were paddling in unison. They were belting along and seemed unstoppable. They reminded me of the DOS operating system and its associated software industry.

Then I noticed a rotting barge full of rusting machinery whose purpose was quite beyond my comprehension. Weeds were growing up through the piles of junk and the rudder was swaying uselessly, its operating arm missing. It clearly wasn't going anywhere. Stencilled on the side were the letters 'MSX'.

Running along the back of the tow path, well away from the mainstream, was a stagnant ditch. Presumably it once had a purpose but now its main role in life seemed to be to accept whatever rubbish the passers by decided to throw in it. Quite why this made me think of CP/M, I've no idea.

Then I reached a wider stretch of water which was off the main river and had plenty of space for windsurfers and dinghy sailors. They didn't go anywhere in particular, but they were having a great time showing off their boating skills and their fashionable clothes. They made me think of useful, but hardly mainstream products like BOS and FlexOS.

Suddenly I heard some loud hooting in the distance and charging down the river were two gigantic paddle steamers. There wasn't really enough room in the river for one of them, let alone two. The sailors on the lake started hissing and booing at their approach, while the canoeists began laughing so much that they were in danger of a mass capsize. The rotting barge and the stagnant ditch simply continued to rot and stagnate.

As they came closer, I could see that each had three letters on the front - one was called 'OSF', a peculiar name for a boat, I thought. The other was an even odder 'AT & T'. The pair of them were displacing a huge amount of water as they tore down the river, each trying to reach a quite inadequate lock ahead of the other.

The folks on the lake suffered a ripple or two but things stayed pretty much the same for them. The canoeists had left the water and carried their boats round the lock where they continued their odyssey, secure in the knowledge that the steamers were heading for the boating equivalent of a log jam.

Suddenly, a great roaring filled the air and everyone looked up to see a sea-plane swooping down. It flew over the paddle steamers, and I swear I heard hysterical laughter from the cockpit. It waggled its wings at the folks on the lake. The barge and the ditch weren't worth a second look. But the canoeists were a different matter.

For some reason, the pilot of this huge aeroplane seemed to have it in for the canoeists. It swooped so low that the draught from the plane sucked off all the oarsmen's bobble hats. On a second pass, the plane touched water, sending up a huge wave which dumped the canoeists back on to the river bank. They simply picked up their canoes and ran back towards the cover of the lock, where the plane wouldn't dare cause them any trouble.

The pilot was so intent on following the canoeists upstream that it didn't spot the OSF steamer which was now in the lead and had just reached the lock. The plane tried to climb, but it was too late. It landed smack in the middle of the wheelhouse, causing a total write-off of the OSF steamer, the aeroplane and several passengers. As the steamer sank to the river bed, along with the seaplane, I could hear a crackly voice from the plane's radio saying 'Oscar Sierra/2, are you receiving me?'.

Soon the wreck was surrounded by river police, ambulance men and rubberneckers, so I decided to go home. As I took one last look at the scene, I couldn't help noticing that the canoeists had climbed aboard the AT&T steamer to join some sort of impromptu celebration.