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Terminal downgrade saves the day after a client/server heist

When the PCs were pilfered by ram raiding rotters, green screens proved their worth

On Call Welcome again to On-Call, The Register’s trawl through readers’ reminiscences of tech trials and tribulations.

This week meet a reader we’ve Regomized as “Walter” who in the early 1990s took a temporary job working for a finance company that funded car purchases.

“The work was simply keying and validating finance requests from the public and doing the admin of notifying public and garages that finance had cleared or been declined,” Walter recalled.

In his first week, Walter was put to work on an app that required a green screen monitor. Walter determined what he was really using was a terminal connected to an IBM AS400, Big Blue’s minicomputer.

But when he showed up to work for week two, a shiny new Digital Equipment Corporation PC sat on his desk.

This beast boasted a Pentium PC, two whole megabytes of memory and a whopping 400-megabyte hard drive.

That spinning rust contraption stored a program that added colour and movement to the AS/400 application.

But this leap into modernity and the marvelous world of client/server lasted just a week, because when Walter showed up for his third week of work he was greeted by police cars in the car park and crime scene tape all over what was left of the office building’s front door.

Said door showed clear signs of having been ram-raided, the once fashionable crime that saw crims steal a car, drive it through a shop window or office door, grab some loot and then speed off.

Ram raiders often targeted high end fashion or jewelry stores

This lot had lifted the finance company’s shiny new PCs. Which was less stupid than it sounds: new Pentium PCs were definitely a four-figure purchase at the time.

Cue panic: as Walter tells the tale, the company he was temping for processed hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of loans every day. Execs from the local office manager to head office suits were all panicking that the org would be unable to do business for the weeks it would take to source and install replacement PCs.

Which was when it was pointed out that the green screen terminals remained on site, locked in an upstairs room waiting for the IT team to come and collect them for disposal.

The AS/400 also remained in place, in a locked room with its lights blinking merrily.

Thirty minutes later, a downgrade to the terminals had been completed and work resumed.

“We confirmed that the new app meant nothing, and there was a collective sigh of relief,” Walter said.

If you've ever saved the day with a downgrade, let us know by sending a message to On Call. ®

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