Throwback Thursday: Old PCs never die -- we hope

Pilot fish at this big distribution center is called in to investigate a PC in the shipping area that -- according to the trouble ticket -- is "making a loud noise."

"When I arrived, I found an ancient PC with a monochrome monitor that was hooked up to a similarly ancient dot-matrix printer," says fish. "All of this was hooked up to a UPS that was shrieking due a dying battery.

"The computer had an old DOS-based menu that had been up for so long that the screen had severe burn-in and probably could have been read by people using their fingertips."

Fish types a few commands. The hard drive whirs and clunks and finally responds. The PC is running a version of DOS that's 20 years old.

What's this machine used for? fish asks a worker. He's told it runs an old proprietary version of software used to print customer labels -- and no one remembers the last time it was shut off.

"I replaced the UPS with a spare that I had, crossed my fingers and said a quick prayer as I flicked the power switch on the PC," fish says. "I was relieved when the ancient system booted itself right back up.

"As I left, I saw hundreds of systems running the latest SAP shipping modules, state-of-the-art RF systems mounted to forklifts and handheld units strapped to workers' arms. I could only wonder how all of this relied on an old DOS-based system chugging away in the back."

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