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One could say the software looks dated, but you would be surprised how many of such applications are still in use today. I see those a lot at furniture shops and large stores. I bought a Mercedes-Benz last week and the dealer’s computer was logged into an IBM mainframe running z/OS and COBOL/JPL.

I find it interesting to spot those types of systems in commodity situations.




Lots of such "dated" software can be used much more productively than modern GUI or web based software.

Most oldschool DOS-y business software is very keyboard driven, so the learning curve is much steeper than that of your average web app. But once you're there, and really it's just a few hours of learning to hit the right keys while your experienced colleague is training you up, then it's super fast.

There's no web page loading times. Click ... Wait .... Click ... Etc ...

Inputs are properly tab indexed, because that's the only way to navigate between them.

Every keyboard hit has instant feedback

No time wasted mousing around.

Look, mouse/touch driven UIs are great for discoverability, and web based UIs are great for deliverability, but neither of those are super important when all users of the software are expected to use it a lot, and use it from a known amount of places (eg branches of a retail chain).

Of course there's nothing preventing web based UIs from supporting the same speed and productivity, but I know of few examples that actually do this.

I love web based software and I make it for a living, but I wish UX designers for line of business applications would take a few more hints from the nineties. If you can assume that a new user gets a few hours of on-the-job training from a colleague, then that wildly changes the assumptions underlying your UX design.


Not only is the response fast, but also don't you have to look at the keys or for some entries even the screen. https://youtu.be/oOjnpOyUzS0

For a while I always said, that I preferred a counter for getting tickets (train or something) as the trained clerk is faster on the keyboard than me on the touchscreen of a ticket machine. Nowadays however clerks on counters have to push the mouse more and more and seemingly have less training.


This comment has some good insights. Actually a lot of "business" software were like that in the 90s and early 00s. They were optimized for productivity of the user and not necessarily aesthetics of appearance or ease of use (well, trade-off). Even old version of excel etc. were designed like that. Unfortunately modern web software has such high importance on making it eye-candy.


I knew someone working on a system like that who could 'type ahead' a couple of screens worth because the layout had not changed in a decade, it 'just worked' and the system had trouble keeping up with the user because of that. Very impressive.


Buffering input is something we are still missing on the web. Concurrency is indispensable, but if the program is modal (and almost all are, to certain extent), processing an input command should wait for the previous one to be processed.


I used to be like that string commands together in Wordstar


Was that user on a therac-25?


> Of course there's nothing preventing web based UIs from supporting the same speed and productivity, but I know of few examples that actually do this.

Can you give a few of those examples? What must be done to accomplish this?


No the GP but I'd say that they should:

* be 100% keyboard driven (so, indexed inputs for easy TAB navigation)

* really quick and responsive (probably with all the needed code locally available, storing data locally and then sync when no action is going on). It's probably one of the best example where a SPA would be really useful

* be really lightweight so it can run on older hardware (like 10+ years old)

But doing those points "right" with nowadays frontend-mindset I'd say that's pretty difficult.


Yep, this! That said,

> (probably with all the needed code locally available, storing data locally and then sync when no action is going on).

I'm not sure this is a requirement. Eg the D forum is extremely snappy yet server side rendered: https://forum.dlang.org/. HN itself is pretty snappy too.

I think "no cruft" is probably the better guideline. And it's a hard guideline to follow in Single-Page Webapp Land :-)


I'd say not only the code needs to be local, but it can't make synchronous requests on the network at all until you've completed a task.

One of the underappreciated things about such productive software which enables it to be used without looking is predictable reaction times. Consider the "amazing data entry" video posted elsewhere in the thread, or good old feature-phones. If you have an action that you perform frequently, the key to learning how to do it without looking is to learn how quickly you can feed the input, where do you have to wait for it to be processed, and how long it takes.

It's one of the things I still miss about my last feature-phone (Sony Ericsson K800i). I could do a lot with it without even taking it out of my pocket, because I committed to muscle memory sequences like "up arrow, up arrow, OK, wait half a second, down arrow x3, OK, OK, exit". There's no way I could do this with an Android phone, because input and processing delays are random. Similarly, on the web, if your action shoots out a network request, it can complete anywhere between half a second and half a minute. You can't do actions like these without looking because there's a non-zero chance a delay will mess it up.


And I'll add that a POS should be 100% working even with no internet connection, which it's much more likely to fail than electricity.


POS Developer here. Offline capability (both kinds, with regard to a store server and with regard to an internet connection out of the store) is actually a very important requirement for any serious retailer, but not necessarily 100%, in terms of functionality. Today, you usually want to support some features that are impossible to realize in an offline capable way, like accepting gift cards. For these it's acceptable to be unavailable in an offline scenario. However, this actually creates the next big problem: you need to isolate these services and any connectivity-related errors with them from your offline-capable core ringing process in a way that ensures that your predictable response times of the core ringing process (which are super important for good UX, as the previous commenter already explained correctly) are compromised as little as possible if your online-only feature goes into a failure state - a typical example for "you're doing it wrong" would be waiting for a timeout on an online service on every single request while the connection is down before signaling the cashier that this service cannot be used right now.


isn't SPA and lightweight a contradiction? My ten year old N900 can not run a modern SPA frontend but is pretty "snappy" with plain old small HTML sites.


But that probably lies more in the framework used rather then in the "SPA concept". Disclaimer: I'm not a front-end developer so I may be totally wrong.


The only things needed to make SPA possible are same page requests and DOM updates.

We have pretty much always had iframes and form posts that can be targeted to submit to hidden iframes that JS can read, so XMLHttpRequest is easy to polyfill.

We used to use jQuery and globals or straight DOM manipulation. Or Backbone.js or just straight classes.

It has always been possible to make a SPA. And if you actually are able to download and cache most of the app upfront, it should be pretty quick. The question is, I suppose, how big is the SPA codebase and do newer browsers know how to cache identical codebases into their "entry points"?

The real draw of React and Vue, and more recently, Lit-Element (Google), is that they update the DOM in a smart efficient way, doing updates much more efficiently than you might could do without an intermediate layer.


...actually, I think there may even be a positive effect on the way your customers perceive you if you use a POS that looks like it's from the IBM Mainframe / DOS era.

This is because they are seen among businesses which were early adopters of electronic POS systems (usually linked to electronic ERP) which, back in the day, would have been a huge chunk of cash that they would have needed to spend on something that wasn't a core function of their business. And they're still around today. So that has got to be a successful business by somebody's definition of success.

So, in a sneaky kind of way, you can pretend to be one of them by setting up a vintage- and corporate-looking system like that, even when you are a brand-new and unproven small business.


This reminds me of my aunt's ex who is an accountant telling me in mid-2000s that his peers wouldn't take seriously any program that run in Windows because to them all the graphics gave a 'toy' feel. Apparently pretty much all of the accounting software either ran in DOS or were Windows programs that ran in the console as to give that 'serious DOS look'. I also remember him receiving software updates via floppy disks in sealed envelopes from one of these companies.

I wonder what those companies making those programs are doing nowadays.


Believe it or not: Many of them are STILL doing it and still going strong. The market-leading accounting system for businesses that aren't big enough for SAP in Austria is BMD, an accounting system emulates in IBM mainframe UX although it runs in Windows.

Austria is a small country, but quite rich on a per-head GDP basis. With accounting software being so strongly tied to local law, that gives the market a fair amount of protection, in the sense that a Silicon Valley startup won't enter this market as they tend to be interested only in complete and utter world domination, and market-leading accounting system for Austrian small businesses ain't that (but I digress).

So here is the curious history of accounting systems in Austria.

In the IBM host-era the market leader RZL was a company that made a decent product for IBM hosts, mostly the AS/400. Then it became apparent that the future was going to be Windows PCs. So RZL developed another decent product, this time for Windows, with a GUI and everything. BMD saw an opportunity and newly entered the market: They made a programme that ran on Windows but instead of having a modern Windows-like GUI, it tried as much as possible to emulate the UX of an IBM mainframe. -- And they won the market. When people threw out their AS/400s to buy Windows PCs, they switched from RZL to BMD.

BMD became the market leader, and they still are to this day. Now, only just a few years ago, BMD introduced a new version of their product (called NTCS) that had a GUI. This was not to replace the IBM-lookalike product line, but an alternative version fully compatible with the other one that people could opt to get instead. Guess what happened. Their customers went apeshit. They wanted to keep using the IBM-lookalike and were really worried that the arrival of NTCS signalled that they'd eventually drop support for the IBM-lookalike. In order to calm the market they gave out the guarantee that their text user interface would continue to be supported FOR THE NEXT 20 YEARS! Imagine that. BMD will be making UXes that emulate an IBM mainframe in the year 2035 (or whatever it is -- don't know the exact number OTOH). Because their customers WANT THEM TO.


OTOH, if I go to a store and they're still using that sort of system I also think "here's a place that used to innovate, but gave up about 20 years ago"


...it may be a very sensible business choice to not fix it if it ain't broke.

Back in the day, POS/ERP systems were custom-made. So they are likely to be extremely well-tailored to the way a given corporate actually does business.

Replicating that in a more modern setting nowadays might either involve buying into SAP's racket and still paying huge sums of money for customization to get what you need, or building a new completely custom-made piece of software. -- There is an attitude in business that I find very lamentable but that is nevertheless a reality in that, nowadays, a business would never in a million years choose the latter course of action (i.e. a non-tech business like a chain of furniture stores would, nowadays, be extremely unlikely to pay for developers' time to build an ERP for furniture retail for their exclusive use).

But back then, that was the only thing you could do, and people did do it, because the gains in efficiency that could be reaped were just so big in relative terms (if your old system was pen-and-paper, it's a huge leap forward). Those low-hanging fruit are gone now.

The thing is: Those investments that were made back in the late 80s / early 90s continue to pay dividends to this day in the form of money that you don't have to pay to SAP. And this is a considerable amount of money if it means having to go out and hire consultants with staggering hourly rates each time SAP ceases support for the version of their product you're on, with data having to be migrated, customizations having to be re-invented, etc etc (The consultants, BTW, have to turn around and give a good deal of money back to SAP for certifications etc).

I think it's exactly what I would do if I was CIO in a corporate like that with a custom-made ERP system from the 80s. My most-preferred option would be to pay for some software developers' time to build a new one. But the likely outcome would be that I couldn't get a mandate to do that. So my second choice would be sticking with the system we have, and try to make it last for as long as it can possibly last. Only when that is no longer an option would I ever consider buying a modern ERP off the rack.


When I bought a Toyota 4 years ago I was surprised to see the dealer using a separate DOS machine for the contract. I was even more surprised when he printed the contract to a dot matrix printer.


I admin a Toyota dealership currently that still uses a very terminal looking ERP with dot matrix OkiData printers. It's amazing how quickly everyone zips around in it without a mouse. I believe it's called Reynolds and Reynolds auto retailing. Does everything a full service dealership needs, from buying used cars to selling parts and body work.


when I worked at the Sears call center, they tracked all orders and service requests through what appeared to be a DOS based service (ironically also named DOS for delivery/order system) and as I recall another one called NPOS that was used to look up items, check availability, etc.




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