Memories of Computing 1970s

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One of the keys to happiness is a bad memory.  Rita Mae Brown

NASA Apollo moon mission with computing power less than 10% of a 1983 PC XT which in turn is less than 0.1% of a modern PC.

September 1970, University of Helsinki, Finland, Univac 1108, system console for line edit, compile, link and run in time sharing. Paper tape for off-line storage.

1974-1975, Finnish Defence Forces commissioning the CS Department, University of Helsinki, Finland to write software for stochastic process modeling, use of IMSL-Library, Burroughs 6700 mainframe, punched cards and printouts, elegantly written well documented modular programs.

1976 Texas Instruments hand-held programmable scientific calculator.

1978 CDC Cyber 865 NOS, 0.7 second guaranteed end-to-end response time to 800 CAD/CAM aircraft designers using Tektronix 21" scopes to draw vector graphics from a Codasyl Network Database. Communications over 4,800 baud copper line running over RS-232 serial ports up to 2 km from the data centre.  The Cyber was top of the line allowed to be exported out of the USA. Served 800 concurrent users on a 60-bit CPU slower than a 1990 Pentium 3. Imagine today the infrastructure required to support 800 concurrent CAD/CAM users!

1979 VAX/VMS stunningly easy to use. Best O/S or certainly the best command language interpreter ever written. 1983 MicroVAX 1 O/S loaded from scratch from 39 720KB floppies in a 11-12 hour session. Worked to perfection. Upgraded later in 1984 to MicroVAX 2 with 3 MB RAM and a 80 MB hard disk. Five timesharing users.

Do you still remember: �Nobody will ever need more than 640KB RAM!� - Bill Gates, 1981?

One of the first PC full screen editors, kedit, run under the DOS 640 KB memory space taking up less than 95KB of memory. This combined with a tiny pagination header/footer utility gave me all the useful functionality of MS Word with 1,000 times less memory & CPU running on an IBM PC XT.

C7 combat avionics mission computer including HOTAS imaginary vector tracing the line of last six cannon shots run with two Intel 8088 8-bit processors each with 64KB memory or a total of 128KB memory. Cost of development US$250m in 1981 dollars.

1981 USAF Griffiths AFB next to a B-52 runway stands a non-descript windowless warehouse with two DECSYSTEM-20 36-bit mainframes - the "dual core" of ARPANET that was to become the Internet many years later. Two days later 3,000 miles west a UCLA professor proudly demonstrates to me how he is sending a "text message" via his 300 baud modem connected to a AMD-3 CRT terminal with amber mono-color screen.

What does Ben Livson think 25-30 year later after seeing it all? Well, is it not quite absurd to have a dual core 3 GHz Pentium with 3 GB RAM barely running MS Office and a web-browser? surrounded by every protective measure known to man whether firewall, anti spy-ware, virus protection etc. you name it is hogging this hugely powerful CPU under desk more powerful than all the computers combined in the aerospace plant I worked in 25-30 years ago with 20,000 staff. My friends I think that the path Wintel has taken us over the last 25 years is breathtakingly absurd.

My bet for the future is for a "Google" to come up with the next generation computing device - an all-in-one screen with a browser based O/S and kernel apps all in flash-memory, sand-boxed and idiot proof. All files are encrypted and remotely accessed via https although you may use a memory stick to work offline. The x-device internals will be closed off to 99.9% of all users that will never again have to maintain a PC. The new x-device serves all your web and office at a fraction of the cost of a current desktop or notebook, blindingly fast, always on and used by any person capable of operating a TV. It cannot be that hard to come up with a decent low cost, super simple, blindingly fast, maintenance free universal computing device any person can happily use whether computer literate or not.


The best ideas come as jokes. Make your thinking as funny as possible. David M. Ogilvy.

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