Tuesday, 2 March 2010

A window on the past

I came across this photograph the other day and it opened up a powerful window on the past, in a number of ways.

First there's the technology. Not the computers (we'll come back to them), but the photograph itself. This was taken by a professional photographer in 1988, and back then, pre-digital, the pros took test shots with a Polaroid back on the camera before putting the real film cartridge on. This photograph is such a Polaroid.

Then there's the setting. This is PCHQ at British Airways. Opened on Halloween in 1988, this was a newly fitted out centre to handle everything to do with PCs in the company. It was responsible for purchasing and support, but more importantly back then, it had a role of evangelising. People didn't really get PCs at the time. Bear in mind that BA got its first PC in 1984. They were still strange objects in 1988. What we set up was a centre where you could drop in and try out the different PCs and exciting new facilities like 'Desktop Publishing.' One of the PCs even had an ENORMOUS 19 inch screen. There was a lecture theatre with a computer projector and exciting curvy workstations for people to get to know the technology.

PCHQ, known affectionally as Snoxid in the early days (read it backwards), was a hugely innovative concept. I personally think it delivered a great benefit - but one that wasn't understand by the IT management, who wanted to control PC use, not help users to become more independent. Said management deeply regretted having to move away from dumb terminals, where the IT department had all the control from the centre. When the founding manager left PCHQ it was rapidly run down and phased out. But for several years it was a shining beacon for better information technology. And there in shade at the front left is the aforesaid founding manager. Looking a little younger to say the least than I do now.

Finally there's the people in the photo. To be honest, it was a matter of grabbing whoever was in the vicinity. Although supposedly showing some of PCHQ's staff, two of the people in the shot were managers from outside of the IT department who just happened to be there. But we look very professional, I think. In a sort of shop dummy way. Or possibly one of those rides where you are taken round a series of tableaux. Welcome to 1988 and the PCHQ Experience.

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