Professional Software Consulting

Young Systems Ltd


The End of an Era: Independent Record Stores

Young Systems was started by a husband and wife team who came from the recording industry. The husband learned how to program, the wife ran the operational side, and they created a point-of-sale system geared towards small, independent record stores. This was back before the internet enabled free music downloads and before the big retail stores used CD's as a loss leader. Compact Disks had not yet entirely replaced the vinyl record, and there were thousands of stores around the United States where one could find bargains on music recordings. Young Systems supported over 600 of these independent record stores.

Picture courtesy of , April 2008 blog posting: 'Today is Record Store Day!'

My role in the company was mostly support, although I did some installs and system administration of the unix server they used for their accounting system. Unlike the POS systems of ASDC, which had one computer with many terminals, this system was architected to be many computers linked together on a LAN. Many of the customers barely understood what a computer was, much less how to troubleshoot one, so customer support could sometimes be challenging.

If a customer called with a problem, we would first try to troubleshoot the problem using the customer as our eyes and fingers. If that didn't work, then we would have them turn on their modem, start the PC-Anywhere software, and we would dial into whatever computer they plugged the phone line into. If we still couldn't solve the issue, the final straw would be to have the customer pack up the entire system and ship it to us, or alternatively, have someone go to the customer site to figure out what the issue was. Luckily, the number of problems of this magnitude were quite rare.

The support people were also responsible for software updates, including making modifications to the code to support whatever the customer was requesting, and distributing the changes (typically via snail-mail on a floppy). Because no source code control system was in place, there was often confusion over what a customers system actually had running on it. In addition to knowing what source code went with which customer, we also had to keep in mind what operating system the code was running on. Because the POS application was written in a verion of interpreted BASIC, it could be deployed on any operating system which had a supported interpreter. Most of the systems were DOS based (this was before Windows 95 had been released), but a few were unix variants.

It was a very dynamic environment.

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