Only a few decades ago, the price of admission to the major leagues of computing for transportation companies was at least six figures.
In addition to pricy hardware and peripherals, a company also needed the services of an on-staff information system specialist and, more often than not, a programmer to develop the specialized applications they required.But that was before the microcomputer changed the rules of the game.
Even judged by the extravagant arithmetic of the computer industry, the evolution of microcomputers has exceeded the expectations of their most ardent boosters.
In 1975, the installed base of microcomputers numbered no more than an estimated several hundred thousand machines.
In contrast, last year alone more than 9.8 million microcomputers with a value of $25 billion were sold in the United States.
Worldwide, nearly 20 million microcomputers were sold in 1991.
MORE SPEED, MORE POWER
And, while microcomputers are proliferating geometrically, they are also increasingly in speed and power with each succeeding generation.
In fact, microcomputers are now making serious inroads into the computational speed and capacity that were once the sole province of minicomputers and even million-dollar mainframes. And at a fraction of the cost.
As a result, networked microcomputers are aggressively moving into the mainstream of corporate computing.
According to the Washington-based Software Publishers Association, more than one-third of the total computing needs of the "Fortune 1000" companies is now handled by the once-lowly PC. And by the end of 1992, that figure is expected to increase to nearly 40 percent.
So great is the impact of micros upon the data processing industry that observers see them sounding the death knell for both minicomputers and mainframes in the next 10 years.
Last month, computer manufacturer Hewlett-Packard Co. revealed that it was phasing out production of its mainframe computers and introducing smaller replacements.
In announcing the demise of its mainframes, the San Jose, Calif.-based company noted that the cost of purchasing and operating a mainframe for three years was approximately $15 million.
Dataquest, a San Jose technology research firm, said a survey of current mainframe users indicates that 46 percent plan to switch to smaller computers.
MICRO REPLACES MINI IN THE INDUSTRY
Jack F. Gencarelli, president of LTS Data Communications Inc., a Merrick, N.Y., consulting firm that works with the transportation industry, agrees that microcomputers have had a major impact on business computing.
"Microprocessor-based file servers have all but replaced minicomputers in many transportation applications," Mr. Gencarelli said.
Most experts expect to see computer production shake out in the next decade into two basic categories: networked microcomputers for the great bulk of normal business computing and multimillion-dollar supercomputers and parallel- processing computers for those applications requiring extraordinary capacity and speed.
The practical significance of these developments for the transportation industry is that the availability of relatively inexpensive microcomputer hardware and software has leveled the data processing playing field.
Today, even the smallest shipper, freight forwarder or motor carrier can afford computer capabilities that were once the exclusive domain of the major players.
In fact, the microcomputer is becoming the transportation industry's Model T Ford, with everybody able to afford to drive one.