Influencing & guiding a generation’s tech choices

by June 6, 2022 0 comments

By Krishna Kumar, former Editor, PCQuest & the first one to head PCQ Labs

I still remember that day clearly. It was getting late, but that was nothing new at the Labs. We were used to working into the night. Divya Mahajan, then a student at IIT Delhi was working with us. As it was getting late, his father dropped in, and we got chatting. Divya’s father was CIO at NIIT and I was curious about all the new things he was doing. Oh! I am setting up an intranet. The pride and excitement in his voice were unmistakable. Those were the early days of the internet. Corporate networks mostly ran on Novell Netware and Sun’s Solaris was the predominant Unix flavor. Digital Vaxes were still popular. VSNL (remember giasdl01 anyone?), Sify, and the like were the ISPs. Networking those days did not mean TCP/IP!

Intranets were new, so his excitement was natural. But soon, the excitement and euphoria in his voice gave way to the frustrations of the implementation. An intranet runs on this new thing called TCP/IP. How do you get it running on diverse operating systems and hardware? How do you decide what IP addresses to assign? Where do you store files in the network? What software do you run, once you get the machines talking to each other? Issues that are no-brainers today were showstoppers then!

That discussion got us seriously thinking. If someone who had access to the best of experts was struggling, what about the others who don’t? After a few days of tossing the idea back and forth with the team, and we decided to set up an experiment.

We assembled an esoteric mix of hardware. There was a desktop running Windows. Another ran IBM’s OS/2. We had an oldish Mac that was used for reviewing Mac software. A machine running Solaris was also organized. We had a tallboy chassis on which we used to mix and match hardware for various tests. Amitabh, we used to call it. Amitabh got configured as a server running Netware. It took three months, but we finally had an intranet up, stable, and running. The network was connecting over TCP/IP. We had documents being accessed on a browser over HTTP and we had working email! That issue, titled 7 steps to intranet, had more pages devoted to this one implementation than to all product reviews! It later got published as a book also.

That issue set the future direction for PCQuest. Even the new tagline for the magazine evolved from that. The Tagline now read: Technology – products – implementation. The magazine would cover technologies, products that were built using those technologies, and solutions implemented around them. It is not as if we were new to technology implementation. The wildly popular PCQ Linux CDs were accompanied by many implementation stories. These were mostly focused on the desktop or on an individual server. It was the PCQLinux CDs and accompanying articles that popularized Linux in India. With the seven steps to intranet, we moved beyond the desktop into a truly networked world! Issues like these and the many that followed became hand-on guides for enterprises of all shapes and sizes to implement their tech.

Soon, we segmented our coverage into hands-on implementation and technology strategy. This split was carried over to our hugely popular conference series with parallel tracks for CIOs, IT managers, and sysadmins; the IT manager and sysadmin tracks being fully hands-on. While these conferences were hugely popular and house full most of the time, the conference that I will remember forever is the “How to buy a PC” series.

Those were early days for home computing. These conferences used to run along with PCQ expos. We would take a PC apart in front of the audience and reassemble it while explaining each part, available options, and price points. Once, in Trivandrum, the session was so full that people were crowding outside. Someone from the crowd asked some questions and two of us started answering. Soon, there were three full sessions running in parallel – one inside the hall and two outside in the corridor! In Pune, a family had come together. The son had just got admission for engineering and they were scouting a PC for him. The boy wanted the best available spec while the father was requesting moderation. He was taking a loan to buy the PC. At the same time, he did not want his son’s studies to be deficient!

But the best came in Chandigarh. I was talking. The talk finished and I noticed that a tall Sardarji was standing there watching me intently. I can still picture him clearly – tall and well built, maroon turban and matching maroon trousers, pink shirt, and well-kept beard. After some time, he walked up, and in a booming voice that everyone in the room could hear, he said – “Mujhe computer ke baare mein kuch nahin aata. Main thumein dekh raha thaa, aur iss saal fasal achha tha. You are honest. I am a farmer, tell me what computer I should buy”?

I have had my fair share of compliments and brickbats since then. But that ringing “You are honest” from that farmer in Chandigarh. I have never had a better compliment than that.

This is part of our PCQuest 35 Years Series on the Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow of Technology.

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