[vcf-midatlantic] What we can learn from vintage computing

RETRO Innovations go4retro at go4retro.com
Thu Dec 22 20:34:40 UTC 2022

On 12/22/2022 12:45 PM, Herbert Johnson via vcf-midatlantic wrote:
> Jeff Jonas discussed the IBM 1130 front panel. He noted well-labeled 
> controls and computer operations to the single instruction or cycle or 
> clock. It's good information. But Jeff ends with this:
>> All that was lost with the microprocessor :-( All the data busses and
>> registers are internal with no pins, thus relying on a monitor to
>> view/alter registers. That's the glory of REAL font panels: they're all
>> HARDWARE, they can't lie :-)
> So, front panels were not "lost with the microprocessor". They simply 
> fell out of favor, by the late 1970's. Briefly: as microcomputers 
> became more powerful and hardware stabilized, software debugging was 
> cheaper and preferable to hardware debugging. Computers designed for 
> the office and home, were styled like office equipment. I lived 
> through the era, it's hard to prove why something stopped happening.

Stating the obvious, but this is true in every new technology.  I don't 
know how many have attempted to drive a Model T vehicle, but the 
sequence of actions to start and drive that vehicle (even the post 1921 
ones with electric start) is strikingly different to even the effort 
required of a 1960's manual transmission vehicle, much less a 2022 model 
automobile.  In addition to manual spark advancement the strange 
transmission engagement, all of the manual settings one must consider 
and alter to actually drive the vehicle are absolutely analogous to the 
front panel of mainframes and early micros (as you note, Herb).  While 
adding those items to current vehicles might offer benefit in some 
situations, I think we all agree automating and/or eliminating the need 
for many of those items served us well.

I do find it interesting when "progress" steps back.  It's not 
scientific, but I remember home and auto stereos eschewing the "old" 
volume knob starting in the '80s, for UI elements that were less useful 
(up/down buttons).  I've not opaid as much attention to devices lately, 
but I do remember the volume knob making a return appearance in the 
2000s or maybe a bit before.  It seemed something was lost in the 
transition, and customers complained. So, within reason, there are times 
when such UI elements leave and then return.


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