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1994 Fools: Cassel's Corner column from ComputerScene Magazine
[This is from the April '94 issue of ComputerScene Magazine, a free computer publication for the New Mexico, USA area. Used with permission of the Publisher.] From: Greg Hansen <cscene@Rt66.com> Organization: ComputerScene Magazine Here's the April '94 "Cassel's Corner" column from ComputerScene Magazine: ------------------ IBM is about to release a product that will forever change the way you use personal computers. IBM's most exciting product in years, Alpineor. Before describing this product, let's take a little digression. In 1942, when the fate of the United States was very much in doubt, the War Department (now called the Defense Department) realized that this country needed a sufficient supply of automotive fuel to successfully pursue the war. There are two ways to assure a sufficient supply--either increase production or decrease consumption. The War Department chose the latter course. So it did two things: it started gasoline rationing for civilians and contracted with General Motors to invent a more efficient engine. The result of the General Motors contract was the 1944 introduction of the Hamdinger carburetor. It got its name from its principal inventor, Otto Hamdinger. This invention came too late for the war effort however. By the time the Pentagon and General Motors finished their field tests in 1945, the war was all but over. The Hamdinger was never patented due to national security considerations. As an interesting side note, many etymologists trace the modern word humdinger, meaning a great invention, to soldiers' stories of Otto Hamdinger's invention. After the war GM was paid handsomely by Standard Oil to suppress the Hamdinger. This forced the public into buying more gasoline than it would have if the novel carburator was available. Rumors of the Hamdinger, which would convert a regular 1940's car into one that would get at least 115 miles to the gallon, leaked out to the public through those soldiers who participated in the field tests. GM, Standard Oil and the Pentagon, acting in concert, denied the stories told by these soldiers and still do today. The reason for the suppression of the Hamdinger is simple: until recently, GM sold as many cars as they wanted to without it. Further rumor has it that GM was on the brink of introducing the Hamdinger as a modern invention when it found itself in trouble in the early 1980's, but held off when paid certain fees by oil companies and the Pentagon, which still sees the Hamdinger as a strategic advantage in the event of another conventional war. There's a similar conspiracy in personal computers but one that's about to end. Again let's pause for some more background. Every personal computer uses at least one processor chip bearing familiar names such as Pentium, Power PC, 80486 and so forth.They each do exactly the same thing--shuffle bits around inside of registers. Each chip family has its own language for responding to a program's request to shuffle bits. These languages typically have up to 200 words, all of which are equivalent to human language verbs. The Intel language uses op codes such as MOV to move bits into registers, MUL to multiply registers, DIV to divide them, and AND to logically add bits. Motorola processors use different op codes but do the same thing. To have a Power PC understand the language of the Pentium, you need a simple 200 word translation layer acting as a dictionary. Understand the 200 words and you understand the processor. Today, programs that run on a Macintosh speak the 200 words of the Motorola 68000 series processors and won't even load on a PC that understands only the 200 words native to Intel processors. The entire Tower of Babel in personal computing today is because computers don't under<->- stand the 200 verbs of another. Until now a lot of people understood this but saw no reason to change things. Motorola, IBM, Intel, Compaq and Apple were making billions of dollars trading on this confusion and the resulting tides of human misery. In the last few years, however, IBM has been losing money and it's now a desperate company, just as GM was in the early 1980's. Just as GM almost introduced the Hamdinger then, IBM is about to release the UTL or Universal Translation Layer. The difference between GM and IBM is there are no oil companies or Pentagon generals willing to pay IBM to continue to suppress this technology. As of the first of this month, IBM will unveil their translation layer developed under the code name Flair Strip. A press release from IBM stated the official product name will be `Alpineor'. It will sell for a suggested retail of $495. The usual discounts will likely apply. It takes approximately 1,600 bytes to create a translation layer for any given processor. You need to add about 200 more bytes of overhead for the glue needed to integrate each translation routine into the whole. With modern chip architecture you must keep the translation layer to a maximum of one segment, or about 65,000 bytes. This means you can have roughly 36 processor languages in one layer. Using a properly constructed translation layer you can choose to include all the functions of 36 different chips in any computer. So using Alpineor, your Intel-based PC will be able to run software written for Unix, Apple's Macintosh System 7, Amiga DOS, Windows, SunOS, NeXT, HP-Apollo and about 30 other current, past and future computers. There'll be a slight performance penalty in using Alpineor, but practically speaking you won't be able to notice any real change in your computer's performance. >From now on you can buy any computer you want to without giving any consideration to what software runs on it. Just use Alpineor and all software runs on anything. Exactly how this will effect the computer industry is, as of now, unclear. Microsoft has hinted it will no longer market different versions of the same product and as a result of these lowered costs will increase its profitability. Sun is ecstatic since now all the popular PC programs will run on their workstations. Apple has hinted it might sue to prevent Alpineor from emulating its System 7. As it stands now, it looks as if one can run Apple Mac's operating system on a PC. If this is true, and it's more than likely that it is, it could mean the end for Apple as a hardware dealer. Certain other companies living in a niche software world supplying a particular program aimed at one system will likely fold. A pre-release version of Alpineor was demonstrated at the regional science fair held last weekend at Jicarilla, New Mexico. See the article on page 10 for more information. IBM's counting on being fast enough on its feet to profit from the confusion Alpineor's introduction will make. This is a huge gamble. In the past IBM has lost out when market share goes up for grabs as it's about to do soon. We'll soon see if IBM has, with Alpineor, sown the seeds of its destruction or of its renaissance. Right now the best move you can make is to call your software dealer and reserve your copy of Alpineor now.