[SIGCIS-Members] More records: oldest hardware and software in production use

thomas.haigh at gmail.com thomas.haigh at gmail.com
Tue Oct 6 08:35:36 PDT 2020


Hello SIGCIS,

 

Continuing with the Guinness Records theme, I'd like to nominate records for
the systems and code that lasted longest if these can be determined with
sufficient confidence.

 

Electronic computer system in longest continual operation: Voyager 2

 

This has to be a space probe, as they get launched into space and aren't
serviced or upgraded for decades. Voyager 1 and 2 were launched in 1977 and
is still going, having left the solar system back in 2012. Their computers
are still sending back data. Oddly, Voyager 2 was launched 16 days BEFORE
Voyager 1, so even though it hasn't gone as far it has presumably been in
operation slightly longer. 

 

Pioneer 11, launched in 1973 also had a long run but has not been heard from
since 1995. Pioneer 10 sent back data from 1972 to 2003. So the Voyagers
have already lasted far longer.

 

"Continual" is there to distinguish this from old computers that have been
restored to operation in museums. Are there other systems I might have
overlooked?

 

Computer code with longest lifespan: IRS Individual Master File???

 

This would be a harder record, perhaps too hard to pin down with confidence.
You might, for example, say "FORTRAN" but none of the original code from
FORTRAN 1 is present in modern versions. So what is the oldest snippet of
code that actually still runs on a production basis? 

 

It clearly has to be in an organization that computerized early and hasn't
been great at updating. That almost certainly puts it in the US government,
and there are many reports of ancient code underpinning the US Tax system so
the IRS is a likely candidate. One might also suspect the SSA. Code from the
early 1960s is claimed to still lurk at the heart of Individual Master File
application, in a mix of Cobol and assembly language.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Individual_Master_File sources the retention
of 1960s code to
https://fcw.com/articles/2016/04/08/taxman-tech-troubles.aspx. The age of
this system got publicity when the it crashed on tax day in 2018.

 

But is that THE oldest code running in production? And can we get a more
specific date on when the IMF entered operation. According to material from
the second edition of Ceruzzi's A History of Modern Computing (mostly
retained for the forthcoming New History) the IRS was an early and very
large scale adopter of computers. In 1964 it was running IBM 7070s in a new
"national center", and by 1965 the inclusion of an SSN on all tax returns
was required. (Obviously SSNs themselves are much older). I'd guess that
this shift went along with the introduction of the master file, though if
any assembly is still in operation it is surely from the slightly later
System/360 rather than the 7070. System/360 machines had replaced the 7070s
by 1967.

 

Does anyone have information that might let us pin this down more precisely?
Or other ideas on the oldest code still in production use?

 

Best wishes,

 

Tom

 

 

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