Re: PDP Answers

Subject: Re: PDP Answers
From: Jason Questor <jason -at- MAILGATE -dot- ICSCA -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 24 Jan 1996 16:22:00 -0500

The PDP line of minicomputers revolutionized computing in many ways, not
the least of which was to scare the pants off IBM and the BUNCH companies
(Burroughs, Univac, NCR, Control Data and Honeywell). These mainframe
giants had enslaved the market with proprietary-up-the-yin-yang,
non-interactive, batch processing behemoths for decades. It was almost
always better to stay with your current manufacturer rather than face the
overwhelming task of rewriting all your programs for someone else's
machine. The new machines, of course, cost hundreds of thousands or even
millions of dollars. Minicomputers, at around $20 grand for a basic
machine and a few interactive terminals, allowed smaller businesses to
buy real computers. They also allowed people other than operators to
actually interact with the central processing unit. Soon everyone wanted
to play, from the IBM System 34's to the Honeywell DPS-6's.

Ken and Stan Olsen founded Digital Equipment Corporation in 1957 as a
manufacturer of basic circuit board logic modules. In 1959 DEC
demonstrated its first computer, the Programmed Data Processor 1, or
PDP-1. The first commercially successful minicomputer was the PDP-8,
introduced in 1963.

In 1969 Ken Thompson of MIT became alarmed when he discovered it cost $70
each time he ran his Space Traveller game on the GE-645 Mainframe, which
ran the massive, way-ahead-of-its-time operating system called MULTICS.
He rooted around and found an unused PDP-7. Scaling down MULTICS to fit
the itty-bitty (by comparison) machine, he created one Unit of MULTICS,
or UNIX for short. He did this by writing the operating system, not in
machine-dependent assember, but mostly in a new, higher level language
called B (which was based on BCPL). His colleague Dennis Ritchie jumped
in and they created an even better, smaller language that could do more
with the limited resources of the mini. They called this new language C.
Thanks to our humble PDP-7, the Open Systems revolution of 1987 was made
possible.

Whew! Hope this clears some stuff up. I love Barbara Hallnan's
suggestion about PDP meaning Pink and Dark Purple. It would certainly
have fit the times. And Programmed Data Processor is so 1950's it hardly
keeps one awake.

Jason Questor
Manager, Program Development
The Institute for Computer Studies
Toronto, Canada
jasonq -at- icsca -dot- com


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