Issue No. 04 - October-December (2005 vol. 27)
DOI Bookmark: http://doi.ieeecomputersociety.org/10.1109/MAHC.2005.65
Raul Rojas , Editor, Freie Universtat Berlin
Frank G. Soltis, Fortress Rochester: The Inside Story of the IBM iSeries, Penton Technology Media, 2001, 404 pp., $69.95, ISBN 1-58304-083-8.
This book is a must if you want to learn about the architectural principles and history of the IBM iSeries (formerly known as AS/400), one of the seminal IBM computer systems. In 1988, IBM introduced the AS/400 to replace the popular System/38 for business computing, and it became the most successful midrange computer, by far. Although this book is for the specialist, every chapter contains a strong historical perspective. The volume closes with an appendix that explicitly deals with the history of the system architecture, including the history of enterprise computing in general and the IBM Rochester laboratories in particular.
The book is written by Frank Soltis, chief scientist at the IBM Rochester Laboratories and adjunct professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Minnesota. Soltis designed crucial parts of the IBM System/38 and AS/400 architectures and later led the IBM iSeries server architecture development, including the design of the 64-bit PowerPC processors.
The author divided the book into five parts. The first offers an overview of the most important architectural principles of the iSeries' technology independence, object-based system design, hardware integration, software integration, and single-level store—which were actually in place since the days of System/38. The second part is devoted to hardware. It explains the design of the PowerPC and Power4 processors, delves into the topic of transistor technology, offers a comparative analysis of memory systems, and explains the early and the new I/O systems. The third part explains in more detail technology independence, object-based design, and the single-level store, whereas the fourth part is on software integration—that is, the targeted software support for the enterprise computing application domain. The fifth part discusses aspects of current e-business trends, addressing, for example, security on the Web and the Linux offensive.
The level of technical detail ranges from introductory to advanced. However, Soltis explicitly annotates each section's complexity at the beginning, so that readers more interested in an overview of the iSeries can skip the book's more challenging parts. It is the author's credo that one should not just explain a system's design but try to reconstruct the reasons for a chosen solution, explaining the tradeoffs and alternatives, in particular, alternatives used before. If a detailed explanation of how the design rationales of the IBM AS/400 evolved is not enough for you, you might be interested in why the IBM Rochester laboratories are called the Blue Zoo or why a joyride on an airplane was responsible for MS-DOS.
Freie Universität Berlin
Richard Coopey, ed., Information Technology Policy: An International History, Oxford University Press, 2004, 346 pp., $99.50, ISBN 0199241058.
No other technology is having as big an influence on our lives today as the vast and overwhelming array of technological artifacts, computers, networks, and means of communication that comprise information technology.
Richard Coopey's Information Technology Policy is an important edited collection of essays addressing various parts of the history of IT policy making in a single, organized volume, sporting a much-needed international focus. This volume places the more well-known history of IT computing in the US in a comparative context with Japan, select European nations, Eastern Europe, and the Pacific. The volume accomplishes this well in its 14 reasonably short chapters. IT is such an enormous field that it would take a multivolume edition to cover even the recent history (10 to 15 years) of the majority of international policy making in this area.
One of this book's highlights is the inclusion of essays by authors from some parts of the globe that have been paid little attention in the history of computing, much less the history of technology policy, such as Romania, Ukraine, and Norway, for example. It also includes a brief essay about the history of IT policy in India, which is now a major player in modern global software research and development.
This volume reinforces the well-known fact that the US dominated the global IT scene after World War II and has stayed strong in computing development to this day, but through this volume the reader will better understand how Japan reacted to IBM's dominance of the US and European markets through its Ministry of International Trade and Industry's domestic industrial policies. Likewise, readers will see how some of the iron curtain nations made large-scale attempts to develop their own national IT industries. These attempts were often with original and creative technological results as well as bad decisions that led to unintentional political consequences, such as in the case of the Soviet Union government's decision to copy the IBM 360 system.
This volume is fairly well balanced in terms of contributors, featuring pieces by senior US historians of computing Arthur Norberg, writing about US IT government interests from 1943, and William Aspray, who discusses IT workers. Richard Coopey presents a thoughtful essay on IT in France and England in the post-World War II era, paying attention to national pride sentiments. Also, Eda Kranakis' review of European-wide polices is useful for understanding many current EU industrial interests and issues.
Notably, several of the other authors challenge the commonly held notion that global competitors were merely out to "beat IBM" at computing development in the 1960s and 1970s. Among them, Seiichiro Yonekura provides a Japanese perspective on engaging IBM through the ironic policy of "entrepreneurial bureaucracy."
This book's biggest weaknesses are unavoidable for any editor of a collection of essays dealing with an area of rapidly evolving technology. That is, first, it could cover a wider range of regions such as the emerging IT industries in Pakistan and elsewhere. Although Richard Heeks includes an informative piece on the Indian government's IT policy through the 1990s, readers will not learn much more about the burgeoning computing industry in South Asia. Second, this volume is perhaps already somewhat out of date, as several of the essays wind up their stories in the 1990s. In terms of IT, the 1990s are now ancient history and policies have evolved a lot since then. However, given the enormous production difficulties most editors face when assembling a collection of historically oriented academic essays such as this, Coopey should be commended for getting this volume out as early as 2004.
One consistent aspect of the IT industry is its continual state of change, and as Coopey points out in his introduction, governments have an enormously difficult time projecting technologies' trajectories and trends and even more trouble establishing policies that conform to the industry's pattern of enterprises. These essays make this quite clear.
One of the most valuable aspects of this book is it cross-cuts between the history and public policy-making disciplines. Too often, historians do not tread into the latter realm, even though the two areas have many interesting common threads, particularly when it comes to technological developments and trends. The ways in which governments formulate public policy on science and technology (and many other areas) are born out through many diverse political, financial, and even personal and interest-group-related factors. These factors are difficult to sort out and quantify, as anyone who has worked in the Washington D.C. science and technology policy scene will attest to.
Coopey's book is a successful and insightful result of applying historical methods to better understand policy making, both for general historical knowledge and to help policy makers make better-informed decisions today.
Federation of American Scientists