Back To The Future, Part Deux

(an exercise in prognostication)


The article below was originally written in 1989 and revised in 1991. The 1990 version was published in the now defunct Nantucket News. It must be pointed out that the article is primarily about an x-base DBMS computer language called Clipper and it's future...

Also be aware that this article was published before Windows 3.1 was released and 95% of all PC's were DOS based; NT was just a dream the Internet was unknown except to government and educational institutions and the WWW was being designed...

See Epilogue below for explanations and current reality updates below...


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Back to the Future, Part II
3rd edition
A revised speculative article
(c) 1989-1991
H. L. Siddons, Jr

Fathom April 1, 2000
Volume X, Number 4

Preface: "The future ain't what it used to be..."


It's been almost ten years since the Fathom was first published, and as many of you are well aware, quite a lot has happened to the computer industry as a whole, Nantucket International's product line and the evolving database/programming environments. We are now on the verge of a new century, and many speculative articles and commentaries have been published about the industry and where we are heading as traditional programmers, class surface/interface engineers and electronic authors. This article is a first in an evolutionary series which will explore these issues by looking back at the changes in the last ten years: a retrospective view if you will of where we've been.

1990-1995

Ten years ago, in April of 1990, most of you remember Summer '87 marked the beginning of the end of the traditional DOS, character-based flagship products from Nantucket, with yet another major upgrade, Clipper 5.0 released in 1990 for the MS-DOS environment (you remember that archaic OS which though still used today in many so-called low-end applications, has followed the same ill-fated destiny of CP/M). That release finally provided a solution to the memory management problem by providing VM (Virtual Memory and dynamic overlays), to our delight replacing the further need if desired for any overlays! How can we forget how 5.0 and the VM system had major bugs initially, which were fixed in the 5.01 maintenance release? Some of us back then were already reaching the limits the current hardware and software technology (who these days uses a 50 MHz 486? Sssllllooowww). We have seen Classic Clipper mature in 6.0 and now the current 7.0 release.The core language, originally based on the archaic dBASE dialect (also abandoned by Borland in favor of its own Object dBase flavor), evolved and began to diversify as Nantucket evolved it into a "C"-like OOPS direction. Not only were we able to use alternative RDD (replaceable database drivers), such as Paradox, Emerald Bay (Successware) and Oracle (Biton), but we could ourselves augment the list of Clipper language reserved words and functions with UDCs (the User Definable Commands in the CH preprocessor files and manifest constants via the Clipper 5.0/6.0 language API) and could convert most of our Clipper source into OOPS with the CLIP-TOPS translator. The first object classes packaged with Clipper 5.0, included the Get system, Tbrowse and Error system. The network, CUA/SAA, GUI and mouse object classes came in later releases. Many learned how to embed and/or call early standard SQL into our programs easily by just using the CONNECT/SELECT statement. This enabled the manipulation of large pieces of data more efficiently as well as across other platforms and databases ( collating mainframe DB 2 data as well as LAN/Server based SQL data). New data types including nils, code-blocks, formula-based, large binary, graphics, hypertext, DVI, object-class and even user-defined have since come into being.

Remember when the CLIPPER C.O.R.E. group (a standards committee formed in '92 which later disbanded) helped pave the way to avoid any confusion as to the diverse directions the Clipper core language was heading? New OOPS dialects could be created by anyone, so Clipper standard BNF's and guidelines were adopted that went beyond the Clipper guidelines published in the Nantucket News. This was brought about because several third party developers were providing redundant variations, of new command sets and early dBASE IV/Object dBase (ie: Australia's ITP's dProIV), FoxPro, etc. dialects that were in some cases incompatible with one another.

Neat features like an incremental compiler/linker (RT-Link) and full screen symbolic debugger, including the API and later the NFT/OOPS SDK for third party developers only wetted our appetite for more...this was only the beginning. Besides Classic Clipper, in 1992 and early '93 Nantucket introduced the first of a set of new products, ASPEN, with other related components that would take advantage of both object-oriented programming concepts while making some available under new operating environments. These were ambitious products for us as well as Nantucket, as we had to rethink our programming nomenclature by adapting to new concepts: (recall all those articles and user-group talks we had back then on object-orientation, cross-language binding, code blocks, message passing, classes, encapsulation, inheritance, methods and "arrhhgg" polymorphism's??). Some of us were initially intimidated by these "new" terms and resisted these concepts as they were debated and discussed in the Nanforum and through previous articles here. The 1991 DevCon fall session held in Miami, illustrated that there were two camps of thought: the left-brained traditionalists who were comfortable with their proven and familiar data and procedures ('a la Summer '87), and the more adventuresome right-brainers (5.0), who saw elegance and creativity in object-orientation. The infamous battle between the Clipperheads and NiFTies had begun.

The early 1990's saw this gradual change from the Summer '87 scenario to the Nantucket Future Technology's ASPEN, an ADP (Adaptive Platform Designed) and GUI-based, object-oriented, hyperfile format most of us enjoy today. Nantucket's Aspen for Windows 3.1 (later called ASPEN/NT) and Aspen for the IBM/MAC 2 foreshadowed this environment, but the former was still under the limiting umbrella of pre-6.0 MS-DOS. ASPEN under Windows NT or WIN32 changed all that: the beginnings of our current hybrid version has it's roots here!

1995-1999

Of course you could still use much of the same code you had written earlier (as long as you followed standards), but if you really wanted to take advantage of the new data structures, graphics, communications and later MCI (Media Control Interface drivers) using multimedia technology, all of your programs written in Windows NT (New Technology) would have to be totally redesigned. The new file formats introduced in Window's 4.0's HPFS (High Performance File System), provided a mainframe-like alternative to the archaic DOS-based FAT table structure (we now could use 254 characters for file names). Routines for early DDE (Dynamic Data Exchange), OLE (Object Linking and Embedding), techniques for storing and accessing graphics (earlier TIF), as well as Postscript/True font I/O management were the subject of technical discussions back then. ASPEN/CLIPPER writers and developers debated and provided solutions to such issues as to the aesthetic use of fonts like Helvetica verses System and how best to adjust your program's screens and fonts proportional to the myriad of screen/display resolutions; how best to manage and maintain your ASPEN INI (init) and config files; how to invoke calls to OLE to use Word for Windows NT or WordPerfect for Windows NT as the ASPEN editor for memos and/or text data objects; CUA/SAA compliance for non-corporate based applications; to even debating the storage requirements as well as the legalities of cut and pasting real time broadcast TV pictures into ASPEN graphic objects via DVI/digital boards. Since the standard interface of pull-down windows, dialog boxes, radio buttons and bit-mapped graphics provided a new paradigm, in subsequent ASPEN releases, more emphasis was placed on speed, features and performance as well as new multi-tasking/threading optimization of index algorithms, hypermemo text techniques and device drivers that would take advantage of the latest hardware advances. ASPEN/NewWave debuted, which realized newly designed object-oriented device independent applications with the help of many CASE (Computer Assisted Systems Engineering) tools such as UI/G, hitting the market back in 1994. Further multi-tired options had also opened up as ASPEN/UNIX under the OSF/2 Motif window-based environment was released. (The plan for a mainframe version, ASPEN/Mainframe, was later shelved since mainframes are gradually being phased out as high-level software platforms in favor of mega-data repositories).

TODAY & TOMORROW

Hardware advances helped to complement the evolution of the current ASPEN/CHAT (Clipper Hybrid Aspen Toolset). Since mega memory chips are not as cost prohibitive as they were ten years ago, the newly released Windows NT 5.0 /Windows 4.0 API combo now can run comfortably under 16 MEGS of RAM, and if that's not enough many of us will have new 250 MHZ 64-bit 786 systems equipped with enough virtual dynamic laser storage to handle any overhead.

Next year, or as many of us like to say, "next century", a new prototype multi-media HDTV/computer will be on the market from AT&T/Zenith, which replaces the Smartphone series. This piece of advanced hardware finally promises the first true connection between the ISDN-based digital voice/data communications protocol and the digital fiber optics television network. It will run under several operating systems including Windows NT 5.0. It comes standard with an internal FAX/satellite/common carrier management system, digital voice recognition, 32 megs of internal RAM for DVI/HDGA as well as a 20 GB RW laser hard drive that accesses all CDRW/CDV and HDCD formats. Industry experts also expect external analog as well as digital interface capability with many of the new popular smart home LANS. The system effectively replaces the traditional phone, computer, TV and stereo and merges them into one integrated component. All this for under $3,000. I just might want to get one of those . . .

So what does this mean for us NFT'ers? Well, when the CLIPPER/ASPEN product line is finally available via microcode on a static chip (which Nantucket International has in beta now), only our imagination and creativity driven by consumer demand will dictate the implications of this.

Note: The first version of this appeared in April '89 in the Sunshine Clipper,the second incarnation in the Nantucket News in March/April 1990 issue.


Epilogue

O.K., So just how accurate was this??

Some of the things mentioned in the article never happened (discreet events), but many did...

Nantucket no longer exists. It was bought out by Computer Associates or CA, the second largest software firm in the world. Clipper became CA-Clipper, and version 5.3 is the current version. ASPEN (the proposed Nantucket Windows version) never happened, instead CA-Visual Objects was released by CA, albeit the so-called "Clipper for Windows".CA-Visual Objects is an object-oriented Windows-based applications development environment with repository-based source management and an incremental compiler. It includes interfaces to many major database engines via the ODBC (Open DataBase Connectivity?) standard. The compiler itself supports a hybrid of xBase and C/C++ techniques; it will, for example, generate straight machine codei instead of pseudo-code if you supply proper typing information or if it can figure this out from context.CA-Visual Objects is the spiritual descendant of Nantucket's old "Aspen" project.


Now here's where the real interesting extrapolations lie:

the newly released Windows NT 5.0 /Windows 4.0 API combo now can run comfortably under 16 MEGS of RAM, and if that's not enough many of us will have new 250 MHz 64-bit 786 systems equipped with enough virtual dynamic laser storage to handle any overhead...Next year, or as many of us like to say, "next century", a new prototype multi-media HDTV/computer will be on the market from AT&T/Zenith, which replaces the Smartphone series. This piece of advanced hardware finally promises the first true connection between the ISDN-based digital voice/data communications protocol and the digital fiber optics television network. It will run under several operating systems including Windows NT 5.0. It comes standard with an internal FAX/satellite/common carrier management system, digital voice recognition, 32 megs of internal RAM for DVI/HDGA as well as a 20 GB RW laser hard drive that accesses all CDRW/CDV and HDCD formats. Industry experts also expect external analog as well as digital interface capability with many of the new popular smart home LANS. The system effectively replaces the traditional phone, computer, TV and stereo and merges them into one integrated component. All this for under $3,000

Windows '95 is the latest version of Windows (4.0) and Windows NT 4.0 is the latest release of NT in 1996, and Microsoft plans to merge these two into one version of Windows in 1998 most likely called Windows NC or New Century ;). The current state of the art computer today is a 32-bit P6 (a.k.a. 686, 200 MHz) and Windows 95 needs at least 8MB, preferably 16 while NT 4.0 requires 16, preferably 32MB. The expected hard drive is at least 1.6GB (is a 20GB drive so outrageous?...remember that in 1990 40-60 MB was the average size and a 386DX 33 was state of the art with 2MB Ram).

Computers, the phone, the TV and stereo ARE in fact being combined in one form or another! There are many products either available today for the PC and/or TV and/or phone, (Internet Phone, WinTV, WEBTV, CU-SEEME, radio and music via Real Audio, video plug-ins like VDO and satellite Direct TV with help from AT&T as well as the new DVD - see CDRW/CDV or HDCD which stands for High Definition CD reference above, ISDN is becoming a lot more popular and affordable, multi-media didn't exist and was a futuristic term and CD-ROMS were downright rare if not expensive). HDTV and Digital TV has yet to be fully realized, but the details are established and we should see it within the next two to three years.

Although the Internet was not mentioned specifically, it was certainly implied: true connection between the ISDN-based digital voice/data communications protocol and the digital fiber optics television network.

There was no mention of the World Wide Web simply because it didn't exist at the time (was being designed in 1989) and no one knew after it was deployed whether it would become prolific and so available and popular so soon when it became available (1993-4) and widespread (1995-present). I did predict the promise and potential of the WWW when I discovered it in 1993.

All prognostications were based upon both research (individual companies plans for the future, i.e. Nantucket, Microsoft, Intel, etc.) and extrapolation (my own so-called intuitive, esoteric knowledge)


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