Rewind history a quarter century, to the early ’80s. What we now call IT (information technology) was still called MIS (management information systems). Outside corporate walls, personal computing was an interesting hobby. Inside corporate walls, it was an oxymoron. Computers that mattered were mainframes and minicomputers, which lived in ventilated rooms on raised floors, tended by a priesthood of professionals. The working synonym for computing was “data processing.” Workstations were called “terminals.” While terminals came in “smart” and “dumb” breeds, none were personal.
Vendors dominated and defined enterprise computing. An MIS department was an IBM, Digital Equipment Corporation, Control Data, Honeywell, Bull or NCR “shop.” It used not only central-processing hardware from those vendors, but also disk drives, terminals, networking hardware, cabling and nearly everything else. Even the third-party “compatible” peripherals in hardware and software were generally designed to work only with one vendor’s breed of computer system its “platform.”
Looking back, it’s easy to see that customers have always wanted compatibility and interoperability between platforms, along with extensibility of the platforms. The history of IT has been a slow war of liberation a struggle toward independence for users as well as for professionals.
Each of our buzz-concepts, from object-oriented to client-server to open source to Web services and service-oriented architectures, has been a step on the path to independence one in which increasingly modular, transparent and easily manipulated components let people build the systems they want. Rather than design applications, the professionals in the priesthood will eventually build modules and tools that users can assemble and manipulate. . .not to build applications, but to perform tasks and processes.
In the construction industry, this kind of independent and self-reliant activity is called DIY, for do-it-yourself. For the computer industry, we’ll call it DIY-IT.
Doc Searls had a backgrounder on it in Linux Journal: “Over the past year I’ve spent a lot of time looking into the growing independence of IT shops from vendors and the growth of DIY-IT, or Do-It-Yourself IT. While the DIY-IT trend involves growing independence from vendors, it also involves two other developments: 1) healthier relationships with vendors that understand and embrace Linux and open source; and 2) new products, by both vendors and independent Open Source communities, that provide interoperabilities that some vendors–for example, Microsoft with Exchange–don’t always welcome.”