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The Emerging Information Highway and More User Friendly Software

An important development in software is the emergence of high level software for faster programming development coupled with efficient data bases and communication soft­ware. High level, efficient software database and commu­nication systems that can operate on and communicate between microcomputers, minicomputers and mainframes have provided the ability to network large numbers of computers.

Office networks that link individual desk top computers together are becoming commonplace. Network applica­tions like electronic mail are popular with many compa­nies. We have witnessed an explosive growth in the use of facsimile (FAX) machines over telephone lines which are now frequently linked to PCs and PC networks. The devel­opments of a) high speed internal computer networks, b) external data transmission networks and c)large acces­sible digital data bases has created the so called "informa­tion highway." Now at moderate cost individual computer users can almost instantly gain access to large data bases and a dazzling variety of applications both inside and outside of their company.

The introduction of WINDOWS type software and the computer "Mouse" to the larger business market for IBM type PCs has been a big breakthrough in ease of computer use. Besides the ability to jump quickly in and out or between applications, the Windows innovations make it possible for users to select from a list of commands or pictures rather than remember a vast number of instruc­tion codes. Hence users can learn to use increasingly more-complex software very quickly without needing to memo­rize so many commands. The mouse enables users to make those selections quicker with a "point and click" than by typing in the commands.

The computer software tools, just described, offer powerful personal computing and communication capability at mod­erate cost that was hard to imagine a few years ago.

Availability of Powerful PC Software at Dramatically Lower Costs
Matching the dramatic growth of ever more powerful PC hardware at lower cost over the last 15 years has been the growth of ever more powerful, more user-friendly PC software at substantially lower costs than historical costs for mainframe software. PC operating systems, spread­sheet, word processor, and even data base software sell from $50 to $400 per copy per PC and this type of applica­tion software has become standard for white collar office workers in all industries. It is hard to compare many current PC software application costs with mainframe computer application costs because the current PC appli­cations didn't exist on the old mainframe computer in their current form.
However, where mainframe computer software applica­tions existed or exist still today, we have seen dramatic cost reductions for comparable PC software. In many cases, the PC or workstation software is more powerful software than the comparable mainframe versions and costs substan­tially less, often 90% less!

For example, early mainframe simulation software pack­ages used for simulating production would have cost $100,000 or $200,000 in the 1970s and one simulation run might have cost several hundred dollars in expensive mainframe computer time. Now there are specialized production simulation packages for as low as $10,000 for the PC that are often more powerful than the 1970s software. One can typically model a production problem in 75 to 90% less time because of the enhanced higher level development of the new software, and the powerful PC or workstation used for the new software is probably faster than the mainframe computer that ran the old software.

With the lower hardware costs, software is becoming the dominant consideration in making application choices. Many manufacturing application software developers have targeted their new products for the PC and the Microsoft operating system DOS/Windows and the new Windows NT operating and network communications systems from Mi­crosoft. Thus many of the new factory software applica­tions can be shared easily on the same PC terminal and client- server network.

The most popular PC network software is supplied by Novell. Microsoft, the supplier of DOS and WINDOWS is attempting to replace the dominant Novell network prod­ucts with the new Windows NT and successor network products for PC networks. Many software developers seem to be hedging their bets on the network software wars by making their software run also on the Unix operating system owned by Novell. Unix is the most popular operat­ing system for the powerful workstation microprocessors. The Unix operating system can also run on the IBM type PC as a so-called "X" terminal. Thus client-server networks with Novell network software may have a) servers and PC "X" terminals both running Unix as the operating system for each computer, or b) networks with some Unix servers but all PC terminals running DOS/Windows as the PC terminal operating system, or c) networks with both the PC servers and terminals using DOS/ Windows as the PC operat­ing system.

Regardless of the outcome of the commercial software competition, users are able to share a number of factory application software products on the same PC network which is the plan for the applications chosen by our company.

To be Continued

For balance of this article, click on the below link:

Lean Manufacturing Articles and go to Series 01


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