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By Nicholas Enticknap

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Current machine architecture also imposes constraints on programming languages, which of necessity must mirror the machine's characteristics. In essence, this means that each language instruction relates to a procedure to be followed by a computer, rather than to a requirement for action by a human being. "Non-procedural" languages have been developed: examples are Lisp and Prolog. However, these languages tend to perform poorly on present-day computers. The importance of non-procedural languages is that they allow systems to be built much more easily and reliably.

A file server is used for two reasons. First, it is more economic to have one large fixed disc centrally than many small discs attached to the individual workstations. Second, most networks need a common pool of corporate information to be available to most or all of the network users. Networks may also have other types of server. A print server, for example, can provide high-speed, high-quality centralised printing more economically than use of multiple matrix and daisy wheel printers. A communications server can similarly provide centralised access to other corporate networks and to public services such as Prestel and Telecom Gold.

Various things are being done to tackle the problem. Leading suppliers banded together in 1987 to form Idea (International Data Exchange Association), whose major aim is to promote standardisation. An Esprit-funded project started in 1988 with the objective of coordinating the different projects being run in different EEC member states. The transaction formats are the heart of an EDI service. In addition, the vendor has to provide a network to enable the participants to communicate with each other, plus facilities for each participant to translate messages into and out of the standardised format.

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