Terminal Emulation & the magic of modernizing old applications

A former colleague recently resigned to join another firm, part of his note read ‘and for the first time in my working life the company I am joining is selling a product that I can actually touch’. This got me thinking. Having also spent a lifetime ‘in software’ I wondered what it was that I find so addictive about the industry. You can see code, you can see an interface, but there isn’t a physical presence you can actually handle or touch.

The big Corporates and their Marketing gurus have spent years trying to work out how to ‘define’ Software. IBM’s Software is the ‘Soul’ of technology campaign from 2000 was one of the better attempts made to try and make the intangible more tangible. Marketing folks did then what marketing folks do now and tried to make it about the experience we have with software and how we feel when we’re using software (but if we are collectively honest as an industry we’d all agree that we’ve subjected people to years of painful and frankly awful advertising.) Software, it seems, doesn’t lend itself to easy definitions and straplines – it’s more like the electricity in the wiring in our homes. Something you take for granted when it’s working that’s overly annoying when it’s not.

So software really is boring right?

Wrong! Software has me hooked and it’s not because of its ethereal nature. Software often provides that exquisite moment of happiness when someone sees a better or more efficient way of doing something that is currently painful. A faster or more collaborative way of attacking a problem. That’s what I find so incredible about the software industry – it’s not just the new apps and whizzy web tools that do this, it’s virtually all software – ever since software was invented – that can provide or did provide someone with a ‘lightbulb moment’. It’s about making life easier and allowing us to focus more time and effort on things we enjoy.

Could it be magic?

When I first joined Micro Focus I was lucky enough to sit through a number of product demos, the teams wanted me up to speed on what their stuff ‘did’. Up stepped ‘Rumba’. No – not Rumba the Latin American dance – this was a terminal emulator. Software for mainframe applications that gave the older ‘green-screen’ interface a fresh lick of paint or so I thought.

Then I saw it! Pow! Zap!

I’d started my career in software some 20+ years previously in a Software Laboratory Finance Department. Quarter End meant hooking up to various Mainframe Databases using a 3270 terminal and pulling off report after report. Manually typing ‘results’ into foils for an OHP (I kid you not), cross checking numbers, data, SQL queries and strings and all of this through a NOSS command line. Remember these?


I became extremely proficient in using both (as well as an old school DB2 database or 7) and Financial reporting became faster and faster as my skills grew…

……..BUT if I had a time machine and a copy of Rumba to hand – the Month End/Quarter End/Year end reporting cycle would have been a dream.  Instead of having 2 (3 if I was lucky) terminals to visually cross reference I would have only needed one screen for starters. Instead of typing commands I could’ve used a mouse and made hay with the ‘windows’ functionality. This was so much more than a gimmicky interface, although everything did look better too.

Why does that matter if it works I hear you ask?

How a screen looks really matters at the end of a 16 hour day when your eyes feel like they’ve been rolled in grit. I could’ve been there in my old job with the 99.999999%  of uptime an IBM Mainframe made available (before it was cool) AND all the advantages of a great modern user interface. The routine 16 plus hour days would have been consigned to history and I’d have been able to spend more time with my family at Christmas. And my eyes wouldn’t have felt like they’d been rolled in grit. I would have been a one–man-professional-power-house.

If I had actually sat through the Rumba product demo 20 years previously I would have become uncontrollably excited about the art of the possible. That is what software does – it makes the magic happen and the art of the possible into something tangible.

So spare a thought for the staff workers in car hire firms, Travel agents, car dealerships and logistics companies who use screens like the 3270 pictured above to this day. You’ve seen them at work and you’ll have spoken to many hundreds of them in insurance and banking call centers too. In civil service offices, public sector buildings and Governments. Whilst you’re on hold they are actually switching between screens and terminals. Hundreds of thousands of these folks exist all over the world working on old school terminal interfaces to this day.

With software there is gold in them there hills and moments of magic just waiting to happen.

If you’re reading this blog now wondering what the future of the now iconic Mainframe green-screen holds we have the white paper here you need to put on your reading list. If you’re one of the green-screen workers and you want a sneaky glimpse at some magic right now – head on over to YouTube to see how Rumba+ could be helping you. Then show your boss. With a bit of luck he’ll call in the IT folks and get a free trial up and running.

It is software but I promise you will see what I mean.



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