“10 Year Old Technology” Is A Misleading Statement

In looking around the conservative commentary, as well as various other comments highlighted by various news media, I’ve been seeing a constant refrain of “it was built with 10-year-old technology!” with the strong connotations that it was “obsolete” and of course private business would never be caught out like that!   One of the amusing (to me) comments was this one:

“I have never seen a website — in the last five years — require you to delete the cache in an effort to resolve errors,” said Dan Schuyler, a director at Leavitt Partners, a health care group by former Health and Human Services secretary Mike Leavitt. “This is a very early Web 1.0 type of fix.”

He apparently doesn’t browse the web much.  I do, and you know what?  It’s amazing how many sites ask you to do that when something … doesn’t work.  Amazon, Microsoft, Adobe, and a number of others have all suggested that as a “fix” for a problem I’ve had on their websites,  within the past three months.  So pardon me if I take that statement with a grain of salt.   I also take a great deal of issue with the idea that private business is “more up-to-date” than the public sector.

Why?  Because I’ve worked in the private sector.  In a previous post, I talked about how many businesses Microsoft estimates are still using XP – almost a third of them.   The New York Times, in their throwing out the figure of “500 million lines of code” for public consumption, mentioned banking software as being much “more compact” with few lines of code.  What they didn’t know, or mention?  Most banks  – in fact a great deal of the financial sector – tends to run code that’s …. 30+ years old.  Yes, that’s right, it was written in COBOL back in the 70’s, and early 80’s.  They still use the same code, with some new “front ends” wrapped around it.  Why?  Because it’s insanely expensive to “rewrite from scratch” using a “modern language.”  It’s cheaper for them to recompile it for each new generation of computers, along with making a few tweaks here and there to it.

Walk through most private businesses, and the odds are you’ll find that many of the computers are “not new.”  The first reason for that? Financial.  Besides the acquisition cost, there’s a depreciation schedule.  It’s been accelerated for computers, but the core reality is that it still takes time to depreciate them “off the books.”  A second reason comes down to “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  They have no reason to replace a computer that’s still performing adequately.  There’s no “business case” for many of them to run out and buy the hottest new one on the market.  A third reason has to do with the software.  Anyone who ever tried to run an old DOS program on Windows, or a Windows 95 program on Windows 7 can attest to the “compatibility issue.”  That is, it may not – and often won’t – work.  Which may be a minor annoyance for you personally, but it’s a major headache when it relates to the software your business relies on for its daily operations.  If my business relies on “Bookkeeper 5” and it doesn’t run on Windows 8, I’m not going to go to Windows 8.  Maybe the next generation of that program will, but right now, I’m going to sit right where I am.   The last reason is that it costs a lot to migrate to the next generation.  Not just the computer purchases, but you have to also train your people in the new systems, and migrate all your critical business data over to it.  It’s a major pain in the ass, and it’s expensive in lost time and productivity.

So the government isn’t really any different from private business, when it comes to  “10 year old technology.”  It’s misleading.  If you thought that businesses are “more up to date,” you haven’t been around them very much.  They’re just as prone to having it as the government, and for the same reason:  Until there was a reason to change to newer, it wasn’t necessary.    Of course, if they had done it “just because,” we’d be hearing conservatives screaming about “government waste.”



Filed under Politics, Technology

8 responses to ““10 Year Old Technology” Is A Misleading Statement

  1. Cappadonna

    Norbrook we should really do a Liberal Tech Blog together. From the NSA to the ACA, people really need a basic education on what technology is and isn’t.

    • 😀 There are others out there who are more up-to-date on that than I am. But the idea that private business was somehow more “up to date” than the government – and I’m not saying the government is that – is misleading, to put it mildly.

      Back in my system admin days, I was rather stunned to find out that one of the “linchpins” of one of my systems was a server, which was a re-purposed 486/33, with 4MB of RAM, and a 40MB hard drive. Which was at the time 7 years old, and running quite well. We had to upgrade it because it wasn’t “Y2K compliant.” I ended up taking it home, doing some tinkering, and used it as a second personal computer for 5 years. 😆

  2. Snoring Dog Studio

    Great stuff, Norbrook. Stupid, ignorant people open their mouths and crap flies out. Unfortunately, others listen to them, nod and say, “Yeah!” I work in the government sector. I’ve got no complaints about our technology at work.

    • Thanks. Most of these idiots aren’t actually “techies,” in that they’re the people doing the actual coding or other computer work, and they tend to think that just because “everyone” (they know) has the new iPhone or tablet computer, it’s incomprehensible that there are large organizations that don’t have – or want – those things. 🙄

  3. Kathleen O:'Neill

    Amen!!! One company I worked for is using systems from at least the 70’s (maybe earlier) because of all of the complex interactions with Billing, order issuance, etc and the expense of wholesale re-eingeering of the system(s). I agree with Cappadonna – I would love to see a blog like that. The media’s lack of context for the NSA/healthcare.gov stories is appalling, and they’re too lazy or too partisan to do much more than invite “experts” more ignorant than they are to comment.

    • A great deal of business and financial software was written in the late 60’s through the early 80’s, when COBOL was “the standard.” Not surprising, since it’s an acronym for Common Business Oriented Language. To get even more “obsolete,” a huge amount of scientific software is written in Fortran, which has been around since the mid-50’s. To rewrite all those using “modern” languages would be a nightmare, not just in cost, but in the amount of time it would take writing and testing it to see if it would work as well or “better” than the old stuff. Not to mention that in my 30+ years as a computer geek, I’ve seen any number of “hot new programming languages” come and go, while COBOL and Fortran seem to be … still going. 😆

  4. My 24/7 tech guy migrated my system from Windows to Ubuntu. It was grueling and took a long time. We had one threat of losing all my date because Microsoft was being a dick. It was all very harrowing— the thought of losing all my personal stuff, including all my photos, brought on full-throated existential angst— I almost lost the last 13 years of my history. For businesses, it would have threatened their future.

    Every time the V.A. and other systems get the new version of Windows (because their contract requires it) workers’ time is wasted trying to do something as simple as using the word processor to write a letter. Businesses are much better off NOT getting the latest in Windows even if it weren’t fraught with bugs, incompatibilities, and patches that cause more problems than they solve.

    It would be foolish for a private business to put themselves through the hellishness of migrating without being forced to. It’s not at all like buying the latest cell phone, it’s more like moving to another planet.

    • Exactly. One of the serious “headaches” in one of the industries I worked in was when they had to finally switch over from WordPerfect to Word. Besides the screams of anguish from the people who were the principle users, none of the macros, shortcut programs, and formats were able to be transitioned. So not only was there a massive amount of training in using a very different program, all the other things had to be rewritten from scratch. The cost of the software package was negligible compared to the cost of transition.

      On the data side, I always maintain multiple back-ups of my personal data. It’s on DVD’s, thumb drives, an external hard drive, and “in the cloud.” 😉 So I don’t worry excessively about that. I did have a lot of headaches when Ubuntu switched from the Gnome desktop to the Unity desktop … suddenly things I knew were there weren’t easily found anymore. 🙄