The language (and machines) the Internet is built on.

When Developing Software, Take It Slow, Man!

dpswIn the 1980s, a decade in which it was impossible to tell the actors from the politicians, it was fitting that the Macintosh gave anyone with a little cash the ability to produce absolutely gorgeous documents with absolutely no content.

Now rapid software-development tools bring the same potential to developers. If you are quite reasonably looking to such tools to reduce your software backlogs, be careful: It’s as easy to abuse them as it is to use them well.

We’ve seen such abuses up close, and they’re scary. Here are a few of the symptoms. If you spot them in your developers, take action quickly.

All interface, no content. You may have seen this one before. The tool lends itself to creating graphical interfaces, so that’s what the developer does first. The interface looks great, but none of the underlying code is present.

This …

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Server Construction That Replaced Mainframes Still Effective

svrcnCorporations are moving to multiprocessor servers from two directions. Some are stepping down from outdated and expensive mainframe environments, while others are stepping up from the slightly souped-up PCs they’ve been using as file servers.

Either way, buyers seek out power, scalability and fault tolerance, though not necessarily in that order.

“Super” servers flex their multiple processors in one of two architectures. Asymmetric multiprocessing dedicates each processor to a specific task. In symmetric multiprocessing, a more advanced and costlier technology, tasks are distributed to whichever processor is available. This makes their hard drives easier to recover in general.

But some network operating systems, most notably Novell Inc.’s NetWare, do not support more than one processor. So compatibility with network operating systems is as important to super-server buyers as multiprocessing power is.

As part of its conversion from an IBM 4381 mainframe to a networked-PC …

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The Birth Of Acrobat And Adobe’s Screw-ups

ababFor a company that typically shies away from preannouncing products, Adobe Systems Inc.’s recent formal unveiling of its Acrobat document-interchange technology seems a little out of character.

While almost everyone agrees that Adobe is working on an important technology, the hoopla over the announcement turned out to be little more than a public relations effort.

Yes, Adobe unveiled the formal name of the technology — Acrobat — performed a “live” demonstration and announced two components, Acrobat Viewer and Distiller, which will be delivered within six months. But the Mountain View, Calif., company has previewed the technology, code-named Carousel, publicly for the past year, so most of this was not news.

As one Adobe official put it, “This was meant to bring the uninitiated up to date.”

So why the big splash for a technology that has been public knowledge for quite some time? The …

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Computers Aren’t The Math Wizards We Think They Are

catmwThe myth of the computer’s math prowess runs so deep that it’s even built into the name. The verb “compute” comes originally from a Latin root that means “to think,” but during the last 400 years the English word “computation” has become almost synonymous with doing arithmetic.

The less we know about computers, the more likely we are to think of them as giant math machines — a belief that leads to excessive trust in computers’ mathematical abilities, despite their potential for making fundamental errors. As with almost every kind of computer problem, these errors are a result of the decisions made by programmers seeking to find the best combination of low cost, high speed and accuracy of results.

Such trade-offs are impossible to avoid, but it’s important for both the application developer and the user to be aware that such decisions are being …

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Early Multiprocessing: A Killer App

mpgWhile lack of software support for multiprocessing has deterred buyers from investing in expensive multiprocessing servers, Schatt and other analysts forecast better days ahead. The proliferation and expansion of LANs and the demands of the mission-critical applications running on them will spur buyers and advance the market over the long run, they said.

“I think the important factor is to look at the big picture. Downsizing [and] enterprise networking [are] definitely going to be a force,” Schatt said. “Probably 1994 will be the year of the super server. We’ll see significant growth in 1993 and 1994.”

According to Schatt, overly optimistic expectations have contributed to the perception that the market has not fulfilled its promise. Market researchers had estimated a $600 million to $700 million market by now, Schatt said, “and it’s not. It’s a $400 million market.”

The sagging economy is one reason …

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