Tektronix terminals and terminals in general (Re: CDC 6600 - Why so awesome?)

Swift Griggs swiftgriggs at gmail.com
Fri Jun 24 09:23:30 CDT 2016

On Thu, 23 Jun 2016, James Vess wrote:
> I was looking and found that the Tektronix 4010 is a calligraphic 
> display, for which I found a video! 
> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IztxeoHhoyM Let me know if it bares a 
> resemblance to the display on the 6600

I was just looking at those things, too! I've always liked Tektronix and 
these are wonderful. I found some picture of people doing what appeared to 
be CAD on them. There are descriptions of all kinds of creative things 
being done with them.

About 15 years ago I did some work for a lumberyard company. They had 
the most consistent IT setup I've ever seen. They had very few actual 
computers anywhere. 95% of the company used terminals fed off serial 
MUXes tied over 56k or 128k leased lines back to their corporate 
headquarters. They used portable battery-powered hand scanners that 
plugged into the terminals' keyboard interface, IIRC. Those were for 
scanning their inventory. I noticed:

* They had almost no IT staff, yet things ran pretty smooth.

* They never had viruses.

* Replacing "workstations" (terminals with more access to their business 
  apps) took about 10 minutes.

* They had some weird office automation package (word processor, time 
  management, spreadsheet, etc..) I'd never seen before that reminded me a 
  bit of that one office product from DEC for VMS (I can't remember the 
  name, but I think it was written in DCL). I don't know enough about VMS. 
  The bosses and admin assistants ran that and they absolutely loved it. 
  It was very fast and the kind of thing were once you memorized the 
  keystrokes you could just fly through it.

* They had a coder who wrote some really cool blackberry-like features for
  the Palm Pilot. They could sync all kinds of business related stuff from 
  their Unix boxes (mail, order information, inventory, etc). The bosses 
  all had those. 

It's the only place I ever saw, besides the (extremely well funded and 
very nice) Don Harrington Library consortium that was able to really get 
some mileage from a hub-and-spoke, terminal based, WAN distributed, highly 
integrated, centralized system. From a sysadmin perspective, it seems like 
it makes a lot of sense. Just cluster a few robust systems and tie 
everything you can into them once you've got your confidence up!

However, I think most folks these days would faint if they were forced to 
work on a terminal. 

1. They couldn't play minesweeper when they got bored. 
2. They couldn't refresh Twitter & Facebook every 5 seconds.
3. They couldn't run an IM client.
4. They'd have to actually read the screen. No icons. 
5. How would they do their jobs as users and infect the thing with 
   crapware and viruses?

I often setup terminals on my desktop as "extra heads" to display logs or 
monitoring information, or sometimes use them for debug output for coding 
projects etc... When I'm working at a big corporation it absolutely freaks 
just about everyone out and their reactions are mostly quite annoying. It 
pains me to hear people use the words "text" like it's a curseword. Plus, 
they also just stand there stunned and say "but.... but.... that's OLD!" 
as if I were violating some local ordnance not to poop on my desk. 

I smile when I go to the auto parts store and they are still using 
terminals. Never say die! 

I think terminals were, and actually still *are* cool. Computers might be 
cheap now, but that doesn't mean that having centralized control with 
users on terminals isn't still useful in many instances/situations.


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