Terminal Emulators—A Powerful Tool That Isn’t Going Away!

You may hear people say, “Terminal emulators are antiquated and are no longer a necessity for this fast-paced tech-world we live in.”   Anyone who is even moderately familiar with terminal emulation would, without reservation, whole-heartedly disagree with that blanket assessment; and the reason is: mainframes. Mainframes, of course, accumulate and warehouse momentous volumes of essential documents, records and files—data that must be quickly and effortlessly accessible for those who require it. Whether it happens to be a company’s employees who need to access various types of software on central computers or a physician who must retrieve a patient’s biopsy results stored in a central lab computer—whatever the reason, terminal emulation allows PC users the ability to log on and gain direct access to legacy programs.

Terminal Emulation—A Must-Have

If you’re unsure how a terminal emulator works, don’t feel intimidated because the entire concept is actually quite simple. In a nutshell, a terminal emulator is software that emulates (hence, the word emulation) the behavior of terminal hardware. This allows users to access mainframes at any time, from any connected PC. The mainframes are designed to be used as central computers to be accessed by hundreds or thousands of users via the terminals. In short, the terminal emulator specifies how your computer and the host computer, to which you are connected, exchange information.

One needs to set the terminal type so both computers communicate in the same way; otherwise, the most basic of operations–such as moving the cursor around—won’t even take place.   If the computer you are connecting to does not automatically identify your terminal type, you’ll have to set it manually; and the procedure for the manual option varies from system to system, such as with Unix and VMS.

The entire realm of terminal emulation has progressed by leaps and bounds; and it’s easy to recognize this when one compares the era of terminals associated with single-functioning hardware to the current terminal emulators that are impressively productive with features that are both evolutionary and revolutionary.

A Star Is Born

It was in the 1960’s that terminal emulation emerged—in a large room filled with mainframes. Employees were able to access the processing power, memory and software of the mainframes by connecting them to a fixed terminal. Those fixed terminals were called ‘dumb terminals’; and a dumb terminal was basic—a keyboard and a cathode ray monitor that were hooked up to a remote computer through a network, modem or cable.  Users entered text-based commands that were delivered to the mainframe, prior to showing the mainframes response. The monitors took on the name “green screen” which was quite appropriate since the earliest of screens utilized green phosphor-based cathode ray tubes—typically through 3270 or 5250 terminals.

As with any new development, it became very apparent that there were aspects of fixed hardware terminals that needed to be modified and perfected. The early terminals were cost-prohibitive, incompatible, cumbersome and awkward—something had to give. Online systems required terminals in order to access the mainframe; and lo and behold, with the emergence of the PC–with its inherent user-friendly interfaces and multi-functional capabilities–a viable solution to efficiently incorporate terminals was born—enter terminal emulation!

The Evolution Continues, Unabated

Technology is advancing at speeds that boggle the mind; and it’s crucial that businesses and organizations jump aboard the ‘Tech Express’, so to speak, in order to increase productivity and enhance user experience by doing two things, in particular:

1: Extend the value and worth of older technologies by linking them with the newest of technologies while resolving existing inefficiencies in the user interface

2: Upgrade and streamline antiquated ‘green screen’ applications to include a more aesthetic, contemporary interface

Tech-savvy end-users are making it very clear they passionately desire application access from multiple platforms including web pages, PC applications and yes, even mobile devices.

Rocket Software is an industry leader in terminal emulation solutions. Click here to learn more!

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