Since computer terminology can often be one of the biggest stumbling blocks to understanding the world of personal computers,I've tried to make things a bit easier by defining new terms at the beginning of the chapter in they first appear

Thursday, 26 January 2012


One chief advantage of personal computers is the improved productivity they bring to the applications development process. As anyone who has worked in, or with, data processing knows, the shortage of experienced programmers has led to large backlogs of computer applications. Simply put, people are thinking up more things for the computer to do than there are people to write the programs. The arrival of the personal computer extends the computing power necessary to achieve a lot of these applications and places it directly in the hands of those who are generating the requests,. What these people are looking for is instant productivity as a way to get around all those data processing backlogs. What some of them and their organizations are discovering is that there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
The problems fall into several categories:
People are creating programs without really thinking them through, and without giving consideration as to how their actions may be affecting others. There are a lot of duplicate programs being created, and an explosion in the number of private files and databases that are being created. People are not documenting their programs so that others can use them. Few pay attention to the need for backup and security. There is not much concern over maintaining programs once they have been created. Few people double-check their work to make sure they are doing the right things. Many- people believe that they can handle all their data processing needs simply by plugging some easy to use software into a personal computer and having at it. They tend to see personal computers as a way to avoid the long delays and other headaches of getting what they want from “those people up in data processing.” It is an unfortunate point of view to take, because it almost guarantees that they will have to learn the lessons of computers the same way all those folks in data processing did, by getting burned a few times. For example, a spreadsheet can be used to develop a budget or financial forecast with a fair degree of certainty that the columns and rows will be added correctly. Who checks to make sure that the right numbers were used, or the right formulas were applied? In data processing, people are taught to test the programs before they trust the results. A lot of computer users go with the first thing produced, or make last-minute adjustments just to see what effect they might have. The more complex the database becomes (calculate the commissions of all salespeople in the state, except those in . . .), the greater the probability of a mistake. This is particularly true of spreadsheets, which are almost seductive in nature. Information can look so good on a spreadsheet, and so authoritative, that people tend not to question it. After all, Computers rarely miscalculate anything. This same thought process contributes to other problems, such as not taking the time to prepare the documentation that tells others what the program Is and how it can be used. Employees who are trying to do nothing similar are left in a position of having to tie’ another program from scratch. It also means that when the author, leaves the organization there’s nothing to explain the program to his or her replacement. The problem is compounded as Joe creates something he’ thinks is great and shares it with Jane, who adds something and shares it with Pete, who modifies it for use with something developed by Pat. If all of this occurs without any controls or written guidelines or procedures, a major business failure could occur because of uncontrolled application development. This potential for disaster is enhanced because all too often people are not thinking about such issues as creating backups and security. In fact, most probably never will until they suffer a disaster. What data processing has learned over the past 20 years is about to be relearned by whole new groups of people. For some, learning is going to get expensive. The message won’t really be driven home, however, until someone spills coffee on the diskette containing the budget and discovers there isn’t another usable copy to be found. Maintaining programs once they have been created may also prove to be a bone of contention. A lot of people believe that what they are doing is unique, so they don’t give too much thought to what they are creating beyond producing one or two reports. A lot of people are writing what they believe are one- shot programs, and their organizations will end up living with them for years to come. Professional programmers and systems analysts learned long ago that the one-shot program that will only be used once and then forgotten doesn’t really exist. Once created, such things usually take on a life of their own. Someone has to maintain the program and the information it contains. Perhaps what data processing fears the most, and with some justification, is the creation of hundreds of new data centers throughout an organization. Since it took the data processing community some 20 years to realize the high costs and dangers of having duplicate files, duplicate data centers will remain a potential powder keg for personal computer users for some time to come. Private files and databases are being created every place a personal computer is available. Often the programs and files created exist only on a floppy disk laying on the user’s desk. No one else may know about it because there is no documentation, or they might not have access to it. If something happens to either the person or the diskette, well. One important point that everyone working with a personal computer will have to learn is that none of their actions occur in a vacuum. Everything they do has a potential consequence for someone else. In this regard, the lessons already learned by data.

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