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If you could go back in time, how would you change IT?

If you could go back in time and make one change to the history of IT, what would it be? Post your answer in the discussion thread.

In a pre-call for the TechRepublic Webcast "Email Security for Any Business," Chad Perrin, Michael Kassner, and I discussed the idea of going back in time and changing the direction of the IT industry -- kind of a "Terminator" situation, as it were. We all laughed about it, but I think it's an interesting idea topic to consider.

There are so many things that could have been different. For instance, what if Bill Gates completed college rather than start Microsoft? What if the ideas generated at XEROX's PARC were turned into products by the people who conceived them? What if UNIX had not edged out mainframes? What if HTML had remained relegated to academics passing around papers?

So, if you could go back in time and make one change to the history of IT, what would it be? Post your answer to the discussion thread. Also, take this quick poll about IT history.

J.Ja

Disclosure of Justin's industry affiliations: Justin James has a working arrangement with Microsoft to write an article for MSDN Magazine. He also has a contract with Spiceworks to write product buying guides.

About

Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.

76 comments
MCForensic
MCForensic

With tongue-firmly-in-cheek, and gun in hand I would go back to the US Patent Office on the day A. G. Bell and I. Grey filed patent applications, wait for them to appear, and "BANG!", save the world from the tyranny known as "The Telephone". No nagging bells ringing or dread-awful ring-tones! Nobody interrupting dinner to sell me the latest whatever, or ask me to help save the endangered dandy lion. Nobody driving one-handed, with a cellphone jammed under their chin, or giving me the privilege of hearing their half of the description of last night's tryst at the local alcohol corral. Yes!! THAT's what I would do!!

clittle
clittle

I would push to make sure that year fields were 4 digits from the start so there wouldn't have been a Y2K problem resulting in off source folks getting involved in IT with the result that IT jobs didn't end up going away from the USA.

briantw
briantw

I would make a fortune writing 8kB cartridge software for the Texas Instruments TI-99/4A that could be sold at $ 100 a pop! Then I would go all out to ensure that the awful IBM-PC architecture was not the one to prevail. There were so many other great CPUs out there - did we really need CP/M compatibility? The 8088 sucked - we could have settled on the Motorola 68000 or the Texas Instruments TMS9900 CPUs, not that backward-semi-compatible dinosaur that is the Intel 8086!

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

I think I would do what I could to ensure that Digital Research and IBM were able to reach an agreement making CP/M-86 the original operating system for the IBM PC.

DEK46656
DEK46656

First Choice: Open up Apple like the early PC's If Apple had been "open" like the early PC's, life would be a whole lot different. I can remember seeing information (relating to DOS) on how to tweak everything, write code for it from many sources, things like that. I even remember being able to buy prototyping boards that could plug into the 8 bit (or 16 bit) bus on PC's so that you could experiment with any kind of hardware that you could conceive. Second Choice: Novell doing something with DR-DOS, UNIX, and networking. Everything was lined up in 1 company to produce what would have been the best running environment under 1 roof, including a reputable name. With a little backing, it could have been 1 hell of a great system. Third Choice: DEC buying Apple. When DEC was still strong, had the money, and read the writing on the wall, there were serious discussions about DEC purchasing Apple. Just think what might have come out of that union.

Ed Woychowsky
Ed Woychowsky

Purchase DOS right after Microsoft sells it to IBM, but before Microsoft purchases it from the original developer. Microsoft will then be in breach of contract with IBM and essentually destroyed.

davionics
davionics

Before Win3.1 morphed into Win95, it was not at all certain, in my mind, that full blown MS Windows was the way the world was going in the fight for the next desktop O/S. There were two other systems, both IMHO technologically superior to Win95 (and its successors) 1. OS/2 - a rock solid, well designed O/S from IBM. 2. A SuperDOS - an emerging 32 bit protected mode version of DOS with an X-Windows based graphical shell on it from Quaterdeck. Unfortunately, technological superiority can't hold a candle to marketing muscle so we get survival of the sleaziest instead of the fittest.

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

IBM, MS, or even to some extent Cisco, have been bad for the industry because they OWN a large segment of the markets they are in.

Slvrknght
Slvrknght

I'd go and get a dinosaur first, then let him loose on Bill Gates and Co. Then, I would create a perfect clone of Steve Jobs and Linus Torvalds. Once this monstrosity had taken over the world... Ah, hell, who am I kidding. They would have just irritated everyone into beating them to death.

d.j.elliott
d.j.elliott

I would first change ATARI marketing so that the ATARI 800 was not competing with its own video siblings. The Atari 800 was superior to the Apple][, but Atari withered under the Apple juggernaut. 'course, I'd Osborne's ADAM need never have been advertised at all. Talk about sizzle not steak.

dogknees
dogknees

I'd say go back to the time the ancient Greeks had the basics of mechanical computation worked out and stop the technology being lost. This was around 100 BC. Just imagine if the industrial revolution happened 2,000 years ago with an attendant information revolution at the same time. We'd be living in an entirely different world.

RFink
RFink

Just like records could be played on multiple record players, I would have standardized tape media formats, floppy disks, etc.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Whether you, Chad, or Mike came up with it, it's an interesting subject for speculation.

NotSoChiGuy
NotSoChiGuy

In the public schools, I would have liked to ensure that actual troubleshooting/problem solving skills remained part of the curriculum, and deemphasized rote memorization for standardized tests. That would have helped in a myriad of ways down the road. Additionally, in the public schools, I would have liked to see more of a comprehensive introduction to computers. Have computer labs that represent a myriad of systems (Apple, PC, 'Nix, Windows, etc). Computers were treated as novelties as opposed to necessities for far too long. At the collegiate level, I would have diversified IS programs at the onset by offering various tracks. Start with a core (security practices, overall concepts, etc), but then allow students to go into a hardware track, programming track, networking track or management track (maybe not exactly like that, but you get the gist). This may have helped IT gain greater acceptance as a core business function quicker, as well as helped in the 'maturation' of the industry. Of course, that is all 20-20 hindsight, and a lot of this is already occurring. Just would have liked to see it sooner.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I'd require a certified operator's license before anyone could connect a computer to another computer or the Internet. Training for the license test would include basic malware prevention, wireless security, and other 'safe computing' topics. Classes would be taught by certified volunteers, the same way the Coast Guard Auxiliary teaches safe boating or Master Gardeners show you proper agricultural practices, and wouldn't require more than a couple of nights a week for a month. Presentation of your license would be required before you could purchase networking equipment or have a connection installed. The license number would be recorded by the seller / installer; too many security violations would result in suspension or cancellation.

Jaqui
Jaqui

execute everyone associated with Microsoft prior to 2020.

harobroys
harobroys

What if Gary Kildall had lived? and sued Bill for stealing CP/M-86. Gary died mysteriously right after bill did the ibm - dos deal.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

It would be interesting to see what would have happened if MS hadn't had internal conflicts preventing their full support of OS/2.

NotSoChiGuy
NotSoChiGuy

When I was first starting off with field work in IT, I would install stock purchase systems for a myriad of clients. We offered two platforms, OS/2, or NT. I'd say that the NT base had 60% sales share, and OS/2 40%. About 1/3 of the people that chose the NT platform later switched to OS/2 due to performance issues. No one from OS/2 ever switched to the NT platform in the 2+ years I was with the firm.

Justin James
Justin James

I agree that the monopolies have been bad in many ways, but to be honest, the standardization and portability of skills has been a good thing, I think. If you can configure a Cisco router, you can be a network engineer just about anywhere, and getting support is easy. Ditto for troubleshooting (or even picking out) hardware. And it makes sense to learn one OS and application suite rather than a new one every time you change jobs or buy a new computer at home. So I can see both sides of it. J.Ja

Justin James
Justin James

Chubby guy: Hi, I'm a Linux machine. Skinny guy: And I'm a Mac. Wacky hijinks ensue. :) J.Ja

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

stop of in, what we now call the UK in the year of 1603. Then hault some crown merging by finding somebody to rule the English. Thanks "The crowns of England and Scotland were merged in 1603 when the English had nobody to succeed Elizabeth I"

Justin James
Justin James

Glad you liked it! I thought it would be fun. :) J.Ja

Justin James
Justin James

The issue in my mind is exactly what you highlighted. Someone with good critical thinking skills doesn't need much computer-specific training. They have the ability to figure it out on their own. But people who went through the current "teach them knowledge, not thinking skills" educational environment *needs* to be trained to do things a certain way. The moment the system changes, those uses need to be re-trained. And when they aren't properly re-trained (or they forget the new stuff, and revert to their previous training), chaos result. This is how you can get 5 different answers from 3 different people at the DMV. And it's how you see users do some really dumb things, like fall for phishig scams and get viruses. We in IT love to say, "oh, just educate the users." But it is hard to educate someone when their ability to think has been crippled by bad education in the first place. :( J.Ja

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I've long thought there was an direct relationship between the cost of a computer and the amount a user was willing to spend on training. When PCs were expensive, say over $2500, people didn't mind spending another $100 or so on training at the local tech school. When computers became available at less than $1000, spending an additional 10% for a class was seen as a substantial additional expense. The same relationship applies to the cost of anti-malware applications.

Justin James
Justin James

I've thought about that a lot of times too. I think that if the security situation keeps deteriorating like it has been, it will be possible. After all, I need a dog license since digs can be a danger to society. Same for a driver's license and a gun license. The general idea is, "if it is really easy for my lack of knowledge to hurt others, licensing is possible", then a computer license is quite possible. The problem is, politically speaking, that poorly trained computer users are a huge majority. It's the same reason why you can have anti-smoking legislation, but not anti-obesity legislation. Most Americans are overweight, but a minority of them smoke. J.Ja

GSG
GSG

You must have a license to purchase any type of electronic device. If you can't locate the on button, then you don't get a license. If you can't identify the mouse, keyboard, monitor, etc... then you are denied a license.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

and their marketing dept as well, prior to their dropping of the ball on the Amiga.

Justin James
Justin James

... that you'd find a way for JavaScript & Flash to never become part of browsers. :) J.Ja

Ed Woychowsky
Ed Woychowsky

Open source their entire software library in 1976. :)

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Gary Kildall died in 1994, a decade after the ibm-dos debacle.

davionics
davionics

Actually, at one point, IBM had contracted with MS to develop OS/2. However, this was a huge conflict of interest and MS was already furiously working on NT at the time, so why would they devote much time to a product which would compete with theirs? When asked why OS/2 development was so slow, they told IBM that that they had developers working on it night and day. So, while they had teams of programmers all working feverishly on NT, they hired two part-time college interns and, you guessed it, one worked on OS/2 at night and the other put in a few hours during the day. Eventually IBM got wise and pulled their product back! Dave

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

C'mon Justin, you know our education system is "minimally adequate".

NotSoChiGuy
NotSoChiGuy

I cringe just about every time I hear someone's first solution to resolving a computer problem is 're-image it'. (not to say that isn't ever a valid option, but still) Education for employees (not just techs, but across all professions) is much like soil for farmers. If it's good, your efforts and costs down the line will be exponentially less than if it is bad!

NotSoChiGuy
NotSoChiGuy

...is that people are willing to accept that a $30,000 car needs constant maintenance and fuel to run, and will chuck out the costs without flinching. Spend $1000 on a PC, though, and it should be able to order milk, toast bread, and run just fine on its own forever! :)

stearnsh
stearnsh

can change all that; Once there were more smokers that overweight people, but social engineering on the part of anti-smokers changed attitudes and now it is the smokers in the minority. You can safely say that the "fatties" will be next pariahs "for their own good". Maybe "dumb users" will be the next targer after that. Of course if they put a bounty on them I could become rich in around a week!

Ed Woychowsky
Ed Woychowsky

Conversation from an alternate timeline: ?I'm sorry but there is a mandatory five-day waiting period while the government determines if you'll be a burden on society.? ?I?m sorry; you can?t have it because you?ll pester people that aren?t idiots with too many stupid questions.?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

If they don't understand the responsibilities of their purchase, they harm no one but themselves. I don't care if they pour water in the monitor as long as they're not connected to the rest of us.

TroyW
TroyW

I'd make sure that NEITHER Commodore OR ATari got the rights to the Lorraine/Amiga, and instead it went to a company that had a clue and kept developing it. I'd also make sure that the most talented people involved with the project were not stuffed around like they were by Commodore. Commodore were the worst thing that could possibly have happened to the Amiga technology, although I have my doubts Atari would have done any better after seeing what they did in the same timeframe. Anyway, if I had my way, Windows would have never made it as far as Windows 95, and we'd all be using an evolution of Workbench 3 (Workbench 5? Workbench 2K? lol) Such a shame what Commodore did to that technology.

martian
martian

Better yet... First, banish the existence of ActiveX. Secondly, that email would have been developed in a more secure way to prevent the emergence of SPAM in the first place. My $0.02

Jaqui
Jaqui

I'll have to add that to the list. ]:) grab a latest and greatest laptop maxed completely out and sources for everything, full set of standards aand go back to say 1965, start a company to make computers and screw every one of the curent companies over. better hardware, with a good os designed for minimal resource consumption..standards compliant and even networking protocols tightened up. no malware in the new world. no spam, since I would promote execution and seizure of assets for anyone caught spamming. [ aww, you wife and kids would be destitute and homeless? then you should have concidered the consequences of spamming sh!thead ] shouldn't take more than one or two executions before it was completely killed off. this would be so much fun.. I'm gonna have to actually write a list of what would be done and how, just to see howfar reaching killing off MS would be.

Jaqui
Jaqui

stop their products from being created in the first place.

harobroys
harobroys

Thanks for the correction. I rememberedhis untimely death as being closer in time to the IBM DOS deal.

Justin James
Justin James

... to check out that Web site. I see the ad for it on I-26 or I-20 (can't remember which one) once a week or so. I am just grateful that JMJ 2.0 just hit his 1st birthday, that gives me a few more years to figure out what I am going to do about his education. I don't want to move to Lexington 5 (I despise that area of the world, I really miss living in the Brookland/Old Mill Village/Avenues part of West Columbia, near the Riverwalk, but Brookland-Cayce hish school is wretched), but it is looking like that is my only choice... or somehow find $1,000/month to send him to private school. At least I don't live in the "Corridor of Shame". :) J.Ja

Justin James
Justin James

... buying a computer on behalf of a convicted felon? Would that carry a 10 year sentence too? ;) J.Ja

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I said a license should be required before you can connect to another computer or network. If the system isn't connected to the internet, it can't act as a spambot or participate in a DDOS attack.

rykerabel
rykerabel

SPAM bot farms and DDOS farms consist of those computers. So yeah, those users are a threat when they unknowingly add their computer to the nefarius bot farms.

Jaqui
Jaqui

by killing off everyone who even buys shares in Microsoft before 2020, as well as everyone working for them, ever. You drive home the point that responsiblility in product development is required.

Justin James
Justin James

... is how the topic that came up in the first place... I have fantasized in the past that the SMTP protocol had stronger authentication/validation baked into it from Day 1, so that SPAM would not be a problem. :) J.Ja

jkaiserling
jkaiserling

Hey, just to keep things honest here. Linux on the 808x processor? Why not? In the 80's, I ran UNIX on all my IBM PC XT's, using a flavour of UNIX called VENIX. It ran very well for its time and I taught many classes for the government in its time. As long as you didn't try to stress the graphics, it was quick.

Jaqui
Jaqui

when the 386 came out the Linus Torvald started the Linux kernel project since "we now have enough power to do this"

Justin James
Justin James

Did *anything* of value run on the x86 platform before the 386? Seriously. I mean, no virtualized memory and no ability to timeslice makes it impossible to do anything at all, from what I can tell. Never mind, I just remembered that I used to be able to cll us BBS's and use WordPerfect on my old 286 with monocrome Hercules graphics, the 2400 baud modem, and the 40 MB MFM hard drive. In fact, using a BBS (another 286 or 386 machine) with a 2400 baud modem was often faster than using the Web on my Core 2 Duo and a cable modem. :) J.Ja

Jaqui
Jaqui

interesting idea. but since linux wouldn't run on anything prior to a 386 it may be quite hard. the big iron, no problem, it all already runs on it. but getting it to run on an 8086 or 8286....

Ed Woychowsky
Ed Woychowsky

Step 1: Before going back in time get Linux, Open Office, MySQL, Apache and Firefox running on 1977 vintage hardware. Step 2: Release the open source software on an unspecting past. Step 3: Publish books on all of the software. Step 4: Charge for support. Step 5: It's Miller time. :)