By: Peter Marsh, Vice President of Marketing

Part 1: Print Platforms

A long time ago, while Betamax battled VHS for videotape supremacy, another war broke out among suppliers of content management systems for publishers. Back then, we didn’t even call them content management systems. Integrating text and graphics was still a pipe-dream for most in the mid 1970’s, so people referred to these things as text processing systems, or editorial systems, or sometimes simply databases.

Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) won the early platform battles. Vendors like Atex, CSI, Harris and Hendrix/Hastech developed text processing systems based on DEC minicomputers. These systems were designed to help journalists, editors and production people automate the whole collaborative workflow process for publishing newspapers, magazines and trade journals.

Two-party system

Along came System Integrators Inc. (SII) in 1979, bringing to the publishing market a text processing system based on fault-tolerant computers from a company called Tandem. The minicomputer duopoly war was on. The Tandem platform was appealing to publishers because of its fully redundant “NonStop” architecture. This meant, in theory, that an SII system powering a 24/7/365 news operation would never go down. One hundred percent uptime. During sales presentations, SII would demonstrate how an engineer could swap out a printed circuit board in a Tandem computer while it was still running, and the users wouldn’t lose even one keystroke. Journalists, editors and IT people loved it.
Of course, this platform war quickly became more than just a two-party contest. Companies like Digital Technology International (DTI) latched on to the industry’s preference for a newsroom system that could operate continuously with no single point of failure. Using Sun Microsystems hardware and UNIX-based software, DTI developed an editorial platform that boasted complete fault tolerance due to its resilient dual-server architecture. DTI was also one of the first industry suppliers to offer publishers the choice of running on either Sun/UNIX or Windows NT servers.

Enter the desktop computer and the start of a new platform war

While other vendors continued to develop content management solutions based on server technologies from companies like Data General, Unisys, IBM and others, another revolution was happening directly on the front lines – the users’ desktops.

People in all industries, and across all walks of life, were choosing between Microsoft Windows personal computers and Apple Macintoshes. It was 1984, and the PC versus Mac microcomputer war officially began. Existing content management vendors re-architected their systems to take advantage of these desktop platforms. Dumb terminals were replaced with PC or Mac workstations. Several upstart companies entered the fray with content management systems that relied on souped-up PC or Mac computers as their back-end servers.

Companies like Saxotech, Miles 33 and Dewar brought to market PC-based content management solutions using Windows PC’s as editorial workstations and NT machines as servers. Baseview, P-Ink, Quark and others countered with systems that were entirely Mac-based.

One of the most revolutionary – but unfortunately, least successful – content management solutions to emerge from this era was the Information International TECS/2 system. Originally built by the Morris Newspaper Group, TECS/2 was a PC-based editorial system designed around the Proteon token ring network. The idea here was that the server could never go down because there was no server. Each journalist’s stories were automatically backed up on another PC somewhere on the network. If that journalist’s PC failed for any reason, he or she could find the backup copies on another PC on the network. Locating these backup stories turned out to be one of the biggest challenges, along with the Christmas light-effect that often occurred when one node on the token ring network went down.

Nevertheless, during this desktop era our digital democracy continued to flourish. Publishers had the freedom to choose a content management system that fit their business needs as well as their microcomputer platform preferences.

Next week, we’ll look at how web technology further changed the content management landscape to support transformative digital and omnichannel publishing platforms.