The passing of Steve Jobs gives us a chance to reflect on the business in general and, of course, how it affects us. The many incredible things he did and his inventions are very well covered in other more appropriate venues. The world changed significantly on his watch and he drove others to make amazing strides. We always admired the Apple systems and in fact were the first commercial installation of Apple IIe’s in (at least in New Mexico) 1983.
We bought 22 of the 48K main memory machines with single sided floppy 5.25 inch drives holding 512 K of data at one time. We had one machine with two floppy drives where we would copy the data for safe back up before transferring it to 9 track 1600 bpi tape on the Wang system for eventual conversion and delivery to the clients.
So why did we choose such a system? Because it was absolutely cutting edge! In 1983 you could use a double cassette drive to transfer data on a small machine or you could type into a remote terminal or you needed to be connected to a Wang or IBM or other mainframe system. To convert paper-based information documents to digital format was a convoluted process. Offshore keyboarding (encoding) companies were only getting started. Data was fielded to mirror the IBM Hollerrith cards (punch cards) 72 characters of data and 8 characters reserved for control on each line, 12 lines per card. Variable length data – i.e., text, was only supported in these fixed length systems. It takes a long time to input even this short article on one of those.
Moving forward a few years we transferred the page layouts and photo composition for our publishing branch (http://www.nicem.com/) to the Macintosh computers. Once again the functionality of the system is what drove the choice of those computers over other options.
These advances along with their inherent restrictions presented challenges that required a fair amount of ingenuity. There were no full text document databases outside of Mead Data Central’s legal database (now Reed Elsevier’s LexisNexis database). The only cost effective alternative was to create a bibliographic citation, abstract, and subject terms assigned from a controlled vocabulary or thesaurus. Taxonomies and thesauri were as critical then as they are now. Titles were often misleading and abstracts were expensive to produce so kept short. The assigned subject terms provided a reliable guide to the contents of the
document. A researcher had a much better chance of selecting worthwhile articles to retrieve from the various document delivery services that were springing up at the time. The ability to create these document oriented databases, which turned content liabilities to content assets, on networked Apple IIe’s with a 9-track tape drive drove us to create what has become Access
Innovation’s Data Harmony software. Jobs’ innovations drove our innovations as his innovations still do today.
So as I look back on the last 30 years, I find that the Apple has often impacted our technical path. Today we live in a world of digital connections, free flowing data, complex rights management, an avalanche of information available in many formats, and unrestricted by physical boundary imposed by 80-character line, data feeds. Now we see Power Point presentations on the iPad, people running with their iTunes, getting texts and beautiful apps from the iPhones. We are all moving to the cloud and iCloud is a rumored release from Apple, which will likely bear the hallmark of Steve Jobs. His past and future legacy continues to upgrade all of us.
Marjorie M.K. Hlava
President, Access Innovations