[SIGCIS-Members] FW: Questions on "Firsts" in personal computing and computer hardware

Ian S. King isking at uw.edu
Tue Mar 11 15:02:21 PDT 2014

One aspect of these questions I've found to be more on my mind
recently is the difference between "announced" and "delivered".
Vaporware did not begin in the 1980s.  :-)  A key example is the IBM
360, announced in 1964 but not delivered until 1965.  The IBM 7094 was
apparently delivered in November 1959 (as was I).

The 608 is described in some literature as a programmable calculator.
This fish/fowl distinction seems to have haunted us for some time, and
I hope we can put it to rest someday.  I have some thoughts on that,
but they are not sufficiently vetted for sharing.  But here's a
thought about the design of the machine: is its exclusive data type
arithmetic values or is its architecture and ISA more general?

The dispute over the "first personal" computer is worse, as it is
dependent on the definition of "personal".  Again, it is a distinction
I care about given my research interests but there are certainly miles
to go before I feel confident proposing a resolution.  -- Ian

On Mon, Mar 10, 2014 at 8:08 PM, Ceruzzi, Paul <CeruzziP at si.edu> wrote:
> I talked a little about the Programma 101 and its US counterparts, the HP
> 9100A and Wang LOCI, in my book, _A History of Modern Computing_, chapter 7.
> (The book has been translated into Italian.)  I compared it to the PDP-8 and
> especially the LINC, which Joe November has written about in his book on
> biomedical computing. Tom has begun to unpack the "first" problem in his
> excellent paper in the current Annals, on the stored program principle. The
> Programma 101 was a very capable machine. It is unfortunate that the fuss
> over the "first" personal computer obscures what those machines could do.
> They could execute a sequence of instructions. Some of them could do
> floating point. Some of them had conditional branching. They used electronic
> circuits. What if Robert Oppenheimer had one of these at Los Alamos in 1944?
> Paul Ceruzzi
> ________________________________
> From: members-bounces at sigcis.org [members-bounces at sigcis.org] on behalf of
> Thomas Haigh [thaigh at computer.org]
> Sent: Monday, March 10, 2014 7:15 PM
> To: members at sigcis.org
> Subject: [SIGCIS-Members] FW: Questions on "Firsts" in personal computing
> and computer hardware
> [Forwarded for Giuditta Parolini - Tom]
> Da: Giuditta Parolini <giudittaparolini at gmail.com>
> Data: 04 marzo 2014 00.49.25 GMT+01.00
> A: sigcis <members at SIGCIS.org>
> Oggetto: Priority controversies in computer science
> Dear List Members,
> I am writing with a request of help about priority controversies in the
> history of computing. I know it is (luckily) an out-of-date topic among
> historians, but unfortunately the appeal of 'firsts' in the popular
> discourse on science and technology is still incredibly strong and this
> leads to the propagation of unreliable information, from partial truths to
> unforgivable lies.
> My case is related to Italian computer science and in specific to the
> manufacturing of the mainframe Elea 9003 (claimed to be the first full
> transistorized commercial computer sold on the market from 1959 onwards) and
> the electronic calculator Programma 101 (P101) (presented in 1965 and
> claimed to be the first PC). In the last book on the topic, written by a
> journalist, you could read section headings such as "The cradle of
> informatics is in Italy", "Elea 9003: the Italian people invented the
> computer" and sentences such as "In 1975 the PC had already been there for
> ten years and it had been invented by an Italian [with reference to the
> P101]". The translation is faithful to the Italian original and you can
> guess the general standard of the book.
> As I am now revising a book manuscript for the general public on Mario
> Tchou, the head of the laboratory who developed the mainframe Elea 9003, I
> would like to set - for what is possible in a trade book - the record
> straight (even against myself who naively wrote that the P101 was a desktop
> computer in a conference proceeding). Could you please help me to deal with
> these priority controversies?
> - What was the first fully transistorized mainframe that was not just a
> prototype, but sold on the market in tens? [Some of the candidates seem to
> me the IBM 608 (announced 1955, delivered 1957), Philco Transac models
> S-1000 and S-2000 (introduced 1957), CDC 1604 (announced 1958), IBM 1401
> (announced 1959)]
> - Which is the most important aspect for which the P101 was not a PC? [I
> would say that it is because it was not 'an information machine', but just a
> programmable calculator and so fulfilled only one of the tasks for which
> general purpose computers are used]
> I would also appreciate very much if you could give me references of
> articles or books in which it is spelled out clearly why priority
> controversies are detrimental in understanding the history of computer
> development.
> Let me thank you in advance for any help you can give me.
> Best regards,
> Giuditta
> --------------------------------
> Giuditta Parolini
> Postdoctoral fellow
> Berliner Zentrum für Wissensgeschichte and Technische Universität Berlin
> Office address:
> Technische Universität Berlin
> Institut für Philosophie, Literatur-, Wissenschafts- und Technikgeschichte
> Sekretariat H72
> Straße des 17 Juni, 135
> 10623 Berlin
> Germany
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Ian S. King, MSCS ('06, Washington)
Ph.D. Candidate
The Information School
University of Washington

Madness takes its toll - please have exact change.

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