You might be using a terminal emulator in your place of work and not even know it. Terminal emulators are software programs that ‘recreate’ those old terminals of the past (Windows terminal emulators are the most common because most of us are using the Windows operating system).
To use one of those old terminals back in the 70s and 80s, you would have had to have considerable knowledge of IT and related programming experience. Do you remember when personal computers were released?
The Commodore 64 was one of the first personal computers, and this is the closest thing many of us came to seeing what a terminal was like. The Commodore 64 was actually a personal computer, although it did not have an operating system. A terminal was like the Commodore 64, and yet it did not even have the simple processor of the Commodore 64. Essentially, a terminal was a screen and a keyboard that was connected to the central computer from which it would draw processing power and data.
- The Personal Computer. Thanks to Microsoft (and some credit is also due to Apple) personal computing took off in a big way. The operating systems they invented allowed us to use a personal computer without having any knowledge of programming and other protocols. An operating system is essentially the interface between those programming languages and the processor of your computer. For example, if you open a terminal window (this is not the same as a Windows terminal emulator), you will see a window with a black screen and cursor.
If you know how to manipulate DOS code, you can do all of the things your normal applications allow you to do, although it would take you a long time, and you would have to do a considerable amount of programming. Most of us have Windows OS, and OSX (from Apple) so you are probably familiar with personal computers. The invention of the operating system made all of this possible, and yet it created a problem when we want to communicate with larger central computers or mainframes.
- Mainframes. Mainframe computers have come a long way, and the newer versions are extremely fast and more flexible than the original mainframes of the 70s. At the same time, those organizations that invested heavily in those mainframes, and replacing them can amount to a huge re-investment. Those older and ‘dumber’ mainframe computers can still handle many millions of computations today, and they can still handle the computational needs of the larger corporations, for example, the booking and flight information systems that are used globally.
- Terminal Emulation Software. The main problem when dealing with the need to communicate with those larger mainframe computers is the manufacturers who developed those terminals used different coding and different protocols for communication. A single terminal emulator will not be enough unless you are dealing with one single client. This is why we have seen a boom in the terminal emulation market, and the range of terminal emulation software has increased to encompass many types of communication and coding protocols.
If you have found yourself in the situation where you need to start using a terminal emulator to work with your client, or clients, it is highly recommended you speak with an IT services provider who knows terminal emulators, and can advise on the best solution for you. Using the same software as your client might not be the most cost-effective solution.