When I joined Allied Steel & Wire, PCs with the precursors of what would become Lotus Smartsuite were already in place. As far as I can remember, there was this black front screen with 6 applications on it – the three I can remember were Lotus 1-2-3 (the WK1 version), Lotus Freelance, and Corel WordPerfect. The latter replaced a word processor application called Samna, which everyone agreed was a dog, WordPerfect clearly being the superior of the two (and of the other word processors I encountered over the next few years).
This remained the situation during my time at Allied Steel & Wire, although we went through the various versions of Lotus products (towards the end we were at WK5) and in 1994 there was also something new in the shape of Microsoft Office (at the time clearly inferior to the Lotus products). We also started to experiment with shared drives for commonly accessed folders.
Then I moved to British Steel, took a step back by having to get to used to AmiPro instead of WordPerfect, but with the introduction of Lotus Notes for internal emails. The can performance team for which I was responsible also started experimenting with Finite Element Analysis (FEA) for predicting can performance in crush and bulge tests based on the geometry of the can. But that’s how far it got at the time – the internet was still a foreign country, and Lotus Notes email accounts were still issued sparingly.
Then came Ebbw Vale, and there I got to know a piece of software called Focus Six from Information Builders. Specifically designed to extract data from a variety of data sources, in our case mostly from the mainframe and the Data Warehouse. It helped in setting up the primitive version of traffic lights we designed for use in Ebbw Vale’s last year, with automated extractions being saved into WK1 files, which could then be linked to update charts in a Freelance file. Primitive but at the same time a great time saver.
The use of Focus Six brought me in contact with the strange world of mainframe tables and their less-than-well-known data structures and content, and was a first step in what was to follow. Towards the end of Ebbw Vale’s life, people were encouraged to retrain, with the financial assistance of ELWa (Education and Learning for Wales), an opportunity that I used to do a distance learning course in Java. But that’s a story for the final blog in this series “From Metallurgy to IT”.