My IT support career extends back just far enough to recall the first era of “big iron” – when men were real men, women were real women, and a proper computer had its own postal code.
Admittedly, by the time I started climbing down the rungs of the support career ladder most of these beasts were deactivated, derelict and otherwise defunct due to the rise of personal computers. But they still looked amazing, and were a useful source of 3-pin plugs, 13-amp fuses and similar consumables if you needed one in a hurry.
One anecdote I recall hearing from an old lag in the mainframes team was about the engineer from IBM with his “magic screwdriver”; let’s say your company had purchase a large and powerful machine back in the seventies (something with a tiny percentage of the computing power of a first generation iPhone for example) then IBM would arrive in a fleet of trucks, install it, negotiate with the local electricity board for power connections, arrange for a new substation to be installed, reinforce the floor, fit all the data cabling, fit some enormous air conditioning units and then leave you a signed off installation and a staggeringly large invoice.
If a year or two later your company needed an upgrade to a machine twice as powerful, then this time IBM would only send one engineer who would rotate a small switch ninety degrees clockwise using a flat headed screwdriver, and then leave the new upgraded installation, not forgetting the invoice which would be – and this is the clever bit – exactly the same staggeringly large value as the first one.
Elements of this are apocryphal (it may have been a Phillips head screwdriver ) but in-place upgrades that were actually the removal of previously installed limiters were a pretty common element of old data centre life. And as I was typing my upgrade code into a Windows 7 Home Premium installation today, and seeing – ten minutes, one reboot and £100 later – that it was now Windows 7 Ultimate, I realised that there are no new tricks in the world of IT marketing. But they have phased out the screwdriver.