The Newsletter of The Li Association of Time-Sharing Users
and The Association of Small Computer Users
VOLUME 6, NUMBER 2
of a new
SMALLEST OF THE
Enclosed For ATSU Members Who
Subscribe to the Interactive Computing Directories:
XI. IMPACT PRINTING TERMINALS
XII. THERMAL PRINTING TERMINALS
Enclosed for all ATSU and ASCU Members:
1. President’s Report
2. Announcement of Annual Business Meeting
3. Proxy Voting Forms (For Regular Members)
Interactive Computing is published every other month by the Association of Time-Sharing Users, Inc., P.O. Box 9003, Boulder, Colorado 80301. Second-class postage paid at Boulder, Colorado 80302.
GE’s New MarkLink System
Last December, General Electric Information Services announced a new dimension in ffrno-s/»ar#/7flr, -ca///ng 'it the
MarkLink system. The system covers new ground in a fast-developing field which combines the best features of
both distributed data processing and conventional time-sharing. While keeping ties to a centralized computer, the
MarkLink system offers a small computer located at the customer site to pre-process the information.
GE’s main selling point is the integration of services which the new MarkLink system offers. All the necessary
hardware, software, maintenance, and networking facilities can be obtained from General Electric. ™,f* the
need to order minicomputer equipment from one supplier, get custom software from a systems h ° usa ’ ca '' up
phone company to get data channels, and then make arrangements with a time-sharing service to gel’the sysfe
signed on. The entire job can be handled under one roof, including installation, networking, and customer
To market the MarkLink system (as well as conventional, Mark III f,me*/iar/ng ^
corporate structure. Formerly the General Electric Information Services Division thefirm has ac ^ ed
Honeywell’s timesharing operations in the United Kingdom, Australia, and continental Europe. The combined
enterprise is now called the GE Information Services Company.
Elements of the MarkLink System
MarkLink’s computing resources include three ele¬
ments: (1) on-site terminals and minicomputers, (2)
data communications lines, and (3) host computers.
This three-part package defines a computer system
that includes both distributed processing and time¬
Basically, the system works like this: users working at
display terminals enter information which is sent to
one or more on-site minicomputers, the mini¬
computers handle initial processing tasks, and when
necessary, communicate (automatically) through GE
network facilities to host computer centers. These
house the permanent information base, master
software library, data backup, and so on.
The minicomputers comprise the distributed pro¬
cessing element of the system. Through their use,
communications to the host computer are minimized,
thus cutting down on network communications use
and on the cost of centralized processing. The logic
of this approach is that it is cheaper to localize some
processing tasks rather than send everything hun¬
dreds of miles away to the big CPU. While GE doesn’t
actually build the minicomputers and terminals, it
does place its name on the products. Texas Instru¬
ments makes the hardware under contract, with GE
providing a modified operating system compatible
with the overall approach. Up to 16 display units may
be connected to a single minicomputer. The minis
have their own floppy disks and, if needed, hard
surface disk drives.
The host computers form the time-sharing portion of
the system. They complete any complex processing
tasks and keep the customer’s numerous locations
linked together in a common data environment. The
raw power of a group of big mainframes tied together
in a cluster provides an edge in processing and
storing huge chunks of data, and in ensuring
reliability of the system. These clusters are located in
three cities: Cleveland, Ohio; Rockville, Maryland;
and Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Through the
network facilities, the computers can reach out to 600
metropolitan areas in 22 countries.
GE uses Honeywell 6088 computers at its end, but
runs them under a special operating system. The
approach used is called “transaction processing.”
Using this technique, if several remote users want to
utilize the same software package, the computer
places a single copy of the program in its active
memory area, rather than generating a separate copy
for each user. Through this “shared software”
method, GE says it has cut terminal response times
nearly in half. We were told that response times of 4-6
seconds or less could be expected in most cases, in
contrast with a lag of 8-10 seconds experienced with
conventional time-sharing techniques. The same
technique, we’re told, is also applied at the mini¬
Tying the host and minicomputer subsystems to¬
gether is a set of GE-owned and operated network
lines. Here the emphasis is on the protocol used by
the sending and receiving computers. While IBM
3780 protocol may be used (especially if an in-house
mainframe is connected between mini and host), a
newer development called X.25 protocol is preferred
for the link to the GE host computers.
The X.25 protocol has become an international
standard for information exchange, and it uses
something called “packet switching” to allow several
computer conversations on the same network line.
(Please don’t ask us for details on this one: we can
only tell you that, somehow, it lets several computers
stay hooked up at once, giving each one the same
2400 baud communications performance.) Because
the several conversations require only one line, the
cost of transmission is lowered.
The unification of all the various aspects of this
distributed processing package is perhaps the
strongest aspect of the GE MarkLink system. GE
provides the terminal hardware and maintenance,
owns and services the communications lines, has
worldwide facilities to service the multinational
customer, and can write custom software as needed
to support MarkLink user applications.
The custom software aspect of GE’s operation
deserves some discussion. Although GE has some
5,000 regular time-sharing customers, with over
2,000 applications programs already on file, GE
Distributed Systems Manager Arthur Simms told us
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that most MarkLink customers would desire at least
some custom software in order to take advantage of
MarkLink’s mix of local minicomputer and remote
CPU. Some applications require a real-time (that is,
continuous) connection to one of the central pro¬
cessing centers, while other applications would call
up the center once an hour, once a day, or only as
needed. The minicomputer’s capability of editing, file
storage, retrieval, and so on, could be utilized to
minimize network or CPU charges, and of course the
appropriate software is needed to break the task into
minicomputer and hostcomputertasks. The software
could, of course, be written by the customer,
providing such resources were available.
According to Simms, while some custom software
would likely be desirable, GE’s staff of programmers
would be able to get the software running “a matter of
months” sooner than custom software houses could
perform the same assignment. Such a claim might be
buttressed by the sheer size of the GE operation.
Some 2,000 employees of GE Information Services
Company are located stateside; another 1,000 are
stationed in Europe and Australia.
The price of a MarkLink system depends, of course,
on the number of terminals, printer, minicomputers
and other devices involved. But aside from size, the
customer has choices in each of three areas: terminal
equipment, network access, and CPU access. GE
provided us with the following sample price esti¬
Terminal equipment includes the display terminals,
the minicomputers, line printers, floppy diskette or
hard-surface disk drives, and local memory. This
equipment may be either leased or purchased. A
minimum system containing the minicomputer, two
diskette drives, one CRT terminal, and the most
inexpensive printer would cost $800 a month in¬
cluding both rent and maintenance. The same
configuration would sell for $21,260.
A large terminal system with 16 CRT terminals, a
minicomputer with two hard-surface disks (20 Mega¬
bytes total), a good-sized local memory store (352
Kilobytes) and two high-speed printers would rent for
$3,690 per month or sell for $93,290.
Data transmission facilities are provided by GE on
either a leased-line or dial-up basis. These are special
data lines, not voice lines, and are maintained
separately from conventional Bell System lines, since
they are owned by GE. The prices quoted were based
on a distance of 50 miles or less to the nearest GE
network node, or connection point, which we were
told existed in most major cities. With the leased line,
for a cost of $830 a month, unlimited transmission
would be allowed. The dial-up line option costs $25
per hour while in use.
According to Mr. Simms, these network prices are
very competitive. “I would be astounded if any other
remote computing service offered data transmission
prices anywhere near that price,” he said.
CPU time likewise is available in either of two plans:
(1) in small quantities, or (2) at a fixed price. The retail
cost, used for standard customers (some get a break
on this price for various reasons, said Simms) is 13
cents per Computer Resource Unit, or CRU. Storage
is assessed at 11 to 80 cents per unit depending on
the nature of the storage. “Of course,” joked Simms,
“Don’t expect that any customer would get a monthly
bill for 13 cents.” We knew he wasn’t kidding when he
mentioned the minimum monthly price for a fixed
allotment of processing: $15,560. Under the fixed
allotment plan, processing up to an agreed-on limit is
handled with a monthly fixed charge.
Such fixed CPU charges, said Simms, appeal to large
customers who wish to ensure that their data
processing bills remain stable over a period of time.
Two- to five-year agreements are possible fixing
these charges and allowing the customer up to a
certain amount of central processing. The minimum
fixed amount just mentioned would be adequate for
some order entry and inventory control applications
of a multi-location company.
The first company installing the MarkLink system,
we’re told, is a national wholesaler with just these
MARKLINK* System Data Flow Diagram
MARKLINK CLUSTERED HOSTS
‘Service Mark of the General Electric Company
- 5 -
order enter and inventory control applications in
mind. They plan to install 900display terminals linked
to 170 on-site minicomputers which in turn will talk to
the full-size computers at GE’s computing centers.
Competition in the Market
GE’s Simms admitted that the MarkLink system
would not initiate a “new era” of price competition.
He said the primary value to the marketplace would
be the integration of services GE could provide, with
a single dealer handling all aspects of a distributed
processing system. Especially considering the pre¬
sent fragmentation in the market for distributed
processing systems, this seems to be a valid claim.
Since the MarkLink system was first advertised on
December 12, 1978, the response has been very
favorable, according to GE’s Simms. As of late
January, in addition to the massive account (170
minicomputers and 900 CRTs) with which GE started
the MarkLink development project, a chain of hotels
has signed on for a national reservations system, a
large company has agreed to install an order entry
and inventory control system, and two other firms
have signed letters of intent to join the MarkLink
In some ways, the GE package resembles an offering
by ADP Network Services (see box). Both companies
have a long history of offering time-sharing services.
Both are now offering an on-site distributed pro¬
cessing element to complement the massive central
CPU systems built originally for conventional time¬
For major users of commercial time-sharing, espe¬
cially those with multi-site needs, these two offerings
should be on your “must see” list of new data
ADP SAYS ITS “ONSITE”
IS STILL A UNIQUE SERVICE
ADP Network Services, a major competitor of GE in
the commercial time-sharing business, was first to
offer an integrated system in which customers lease
an on-location computer to reduce their monthly
processing charges. The ADP OnSite service
includes a DEC 2020 computer which accommo¬
dates up to 32 users.
ADP emphasizes that with OnSite, all processing is
done at the customer location, and all user
programs and the data base reside in the local
computer. They say that GE’s offering doesn’t
accomplish this, since the MarkLink Terminal is
only intended for temporary storage and the limited
processing of data on its way to the big CPU
complex at a GE processing center.
With ADP, on the other hand, the OnSite computer
is said to do all the work, with remote ADP time¬
sharing computers accessed only rarely in a typical
application. ADP says worldwide communications
of data are still possible, because each OnSite
computer is linked to the ADP time-sharing net¬
work. But while the remote user logging on from a
foreign city accesses the network communications
lines, in the end his data is processed only by the
company’s OnSite computer, and is not subject to
CPU time charges. As each remote user logs on to
the ADP network, he specifies a particular OnSite
computer he will be working with. A multi-location
application can be centered around one or more
OnSite computers in this way.
Thus ADP maintains it has a complete in-house
time-sharing system. By doing away entirely with
the need to access an ADP headquarters CPU
(except for data backup or in case of local
equipment failure), ADP claims the OnSite system
can process for $20,000 or less a work load that
would cost $35-40,000 on a MarkLink system.
Durango’s F-85, Smallest of the Small
It's only been about a year since Durango was formed, but shipments have already begun on the firm’s new F-85
desktop computer. An all-in-one-package system aimed at small business, the F-85 consists of printer, keyboard,
CRT display, and mini-diskette drives. Especially since Durango is now talking about adding communications
ability to the F-85, which would allow it to be used in a distributed processing environment, we feel the system
deserves a closer look at this time.
The F-85’s designers quite correctly call their new
product a desktop computer, and it does fit the
description. By combining the components inside a
single plastic case, Durango has put a considerable
amount of computing power—and all the accessories
thereto—within arm’s reach.
In price, the F-85 comes in at the low end of the
business application microcomputer market with a
$13,520 bottom line. Programming is in Basic, with
additional software modules available to meet most
of the needs a small business would normally have in
the way of accounting, payroll, invoicing, and so on.
Central to the F-85’s design is a dot-matrix impact
character printer tucked behind the keyboard. The
Durango engineers designed this themselves in order
to create the framework around which other compo¬
nents could be fitted. The printer accepts standard
computer-width forms, and has a print element that
works both left-to-right and right-to-left. With this
bidirectional capability it can putout 165 characters a
second. The nine-by-nine dot matrix can be
squeezed by program control into a tighter pattern
yielding 217 characters on a line, enough to place 12
columns of figures on a single sheet.
The F-85 comes with two mini-diskette drives, which
may be either single- or double-sided. Either way, a
high density format is used, providing close to a
Megabyte between two single-sided floppies or
about 1.9 Megabytes between a pair of dual-sided
diskettes. The drives are made for Durango by
Upon seeing the positioning of the printer apparatus
and keyboard, one might gain the impression thatthe
printer is to be used simultaneously with the
keyboard, typewriter-fashion. But instead, the printer
is treated as a program-controlled device, and the
screen fulfills the function of showing previous
operator actions and prompting further steps.
Just in front of the printer is the keyboard, which
includes a standard typewriter set, a 10-key numeric
pad, a couple of columns of control keys, and a
column of function lights at extreme left on the
To the left of the printer sits a display screen angled
slightly toward the operator. This 9" CRT displays 24
lines of 80 characters each.
Durango salesmen in the Bay Area, where the initial
marketing thrust is strongest, like to emphasize the
system’s compactness by carrying the F-85 to the
customer’s office for an on-the-spot demonstration.
The F-85 can be user-programmed in Basic, or can be
operated with Durango-supplied small business
applications software. The applications software is
available at extra cost, and is said to be provided with
instructional materials, training, and assistance in
converting from previous procedures to the system.
The Basic compiler supplied as standard equipment
includes 14-digit floating point arithmetic (for precise
scientific or statistical calculations) and a number of
other features, among them string and array pro¬
cessing. An interactive editor is also provided.
The applications software packages available at this
time include five different aspects of small business
accounting. The central package is the general
ledger software. This may be linked with accounts
payable, accounts receivable, sales order
processing, and payroll packages so that each
element in the software system reports as needed to
the general ledger, keeping the accounting system
The system may be implemented either fully or in any
combination of the packages. Durango expects many
first-time computer customers to begin with ac¬
counts receivable and invoicing functions, and later
follow up by gradually converting payroll, accounts
payable, and general ledger to the computer system
as it becomes a part of the business’s overall
accounting system. Durango maintains that the
system can be installed and integrated smoothly into
a business acquiring computerization for the first
The Durango Background
For such a new computer company, Durango offers
some impressive credentials. Its president, George
Comstock, and two other executives came over from
Diablo Systems, the now-Xerox subsidiary that
Comstock started in the sixties. Diablo, of course, is a
leading producer of daisy-wheel character printers,
and the individual records of Comstock, Waggoner,
and John Scandalios, Durango’s marketing vice-
president, in the Diablo success story do lend
credibility to their quest for a position in the desktop
Durango was formed about a year ago when
Comstock apparently became stifled in the Xerox
bureaucracy and distressed at the setback in his own
fortunes that resulted from the fall of Xerox stock in
price from $170 a share when Diablo was merged into
it to $40 a share. The starting three captured $1.5
million in front money from two venture capital
groups and began work on the system design, later
snaring an addition $2.5 million backing in the first
Some sixty employees now work for them. Despite
the fact that few systems have been installed yet
(most of them in the Bay Area where Durango
maintains a direct sales force), Comstock is pre¬
dicting that 1000 units will go out the door in 1979.
point, so untried, evaluation of the system’s operation
cannot really be made at this point. The design
approach seems sound, and the firm’s engineering
department talks about adding communications
capabilities (including RS-232 and IBM 2780/3780
simulation) that will make it applicable to big
business as well as small. Those enhancements are
scheduled for this spring. Beyond that, the company
is considering a built-in modem for the machine, the
possibility of controlling additional display screens
from the basic unit (minicomputer fashion) and even
adding a hard disk capability. These last three seem
at least six months or more away, and though touted
in company literature as if here today, are still, as
Waggoner put it, “under evaluation.”
Like many other small computer companies,
Durango isn’t afraid to claim tomorrow as already its
own, advertising features that are not yet imple¬
mented. This practice is so widespread, however, that
one can hardly single out one firm for joining in. It
could be they’ll succeed in stuffing all that techno¬
logy in there. If they do, the F-85, driving a hard disk
and four CRTs and communicating by modem, will
be as saucy a competitor as any desktop computer
system the industry is likely to come up with. At least
until next year.
In our last issue, the chart on page 9 in the article by
RDC contained several errors. First of all, the scale at
the bottom was shown incorrectly; and secondly, the
bar for UCS should have indicated 52%. Below is the
entire chart the way it should have appeared, and we
apologize for any confusion the errors might have
NEW PRODUCT PLANNING PROBLEM
Vnftc.zndja.QZ ofa Highzit Vzndoft
ATSU’S CORPORATE ASSOCIATE MEMBERS
ADP Network Services
American Terminal Leasing
Avco Computer Services
Boeing Computer Services Company
Citibank - Interactive Computing Center
Corporate Time-Sharing Services, Inc.
Datanetwork, Honeywell, Inc.
Data Resources, Inc.
G.E. Information Services Company
Informatics - Data Services Div.
Insco Systems Corporation
I. P. Sharp Associates, Ltd.
Litton Computer Services
Minicomputer Modeling, Inc.
National Computer Network
On-Line Systems, Inc.
Quantum Science Corporation
Scientific Time-Sharing Corporation
SDC Search Service
Sun Information Services
Telenet Communications Corporation
Time-Sharing Resources, Inc.
United Computing Systems
University Computing Company
Warner Computer Systems
Western Union - Data Services Company
BENCHMARK PROPOSALS BEING CONSIDERED
BY THE ASSOCIATION
Attention consultants: The Association is seeking
proposals for independent benchmarks to be run on a
variety of medium-size computer systems. If your
firm has tackled projects like this before and would
like to be considered, contact the Association
immediately. Tel. (303) 499-1722.
- 9 -
ATSU and ASCII Chapters, Local Contacts and Special Interest Contacts
Searcy — ASCU Local Contact
Mountain View — ATSU Local Contact
Commodity Research Institute
Newport Beach — ATSU Local Contact
Commercial Bankers Life Insurance
Los Angeles — ATSU Local Contact
U S. Gen’l Accounting Office
San Diego — ASCU Local Contact
Christian Mgmt. Consulting Services
Brea — ASCU Local Contact
Rodgers & Rigby, CPA’s
San Bernardino — ATSU Local Contact
California State College
Greenwich — ATSU Local Contact
Charles J. Clock, Jr.
Special Interest Contact for
West Hartford Public Schools
William A. Rousseau
Pompano Beach — ATSU Local Contact
Alpine Engineered Products, Inc.
J. L. VanGoethem
Miami — ASCU Local Contact
Ryder System, Inc.
Honolulu — ASCU Local Contact
Boise — ATSU Local Contact
★ Leon Stevens
Chicago - ATSU Chapter President
Standard Oil Company
John A. Koziol
Chicago — ATSU & ASCU Local Contact
Continental Materials Corp.
James E. Lewis
Marshalltown — ASCU Local Contact
Iowa Valley Comm. College District
Special Interest Contact for APL
W. D. Landry
Abbeville — ASCU Local Contact
Coastal Chemical Co., Inc.
* ATSU and ASCU
R. G. Korbeck
Baltimore — ATSU Local Contact
Baltimore Gas and Electric Company
★ Stuart Lipoff
Boston — ATSU Local Contact and
Special Interest Contact for
Arthur D. Little, Inc.
METRO WASHINGTON, DC.
Frank E. Rockwell
Glen Dale — ATSU Local Contact
Astro Data Systems
A. Steven Wolf
DC — ATSU Local Contact
U.S. General Accounting Office
J. Ben Friberg
Grand Rapids — ATSU Local Contact
Cadillac — ATSU Local Contact
Kysor Industrial Corp.
★ Larry Leslie
Special Interest Contact for
L. R. Bakewell
St. Paul — ASCU Local Contact
Real Estate Dynamics, Inc.
Dann E. Kroeger
Kansas City — ASCU Local Contact
Townsend Communications, Inc.
Special Interest Contact for
Data Base Applications
American Broadcasting Corp.
Robert J. Loring
Haddonfield — ASCU Local Contact
Cardiac Long-Term Monitoring SVC
★ Bennett Meyer
Special Interest Contact for
Samuel A. Scharff
Englewood — ASCU Local Contact
Dr. Dina Bedi
Special Interest Contact for
Briarcliff Manor — ATSU Local Contact
Elmira — ATSU Local Contact
Thatcher Glass Mfg. Co.
Philip N. Sussman
New York City — ATSU Local Contact
International Paper Company
NEW YORK CITY CHAPTER
Goldman Sachs & Co.
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
International Paper Co.
Cincinnati — ATSU Local Contact
Procter & Gamble
Cleveland — ATSU Chapter President
Diamond Shamrock Corp.
* Howard Tureff
Cleveland — ATSU Local Contact
Diamond Shamrock Corp.
* David Wilson
Toronto — ATSU Local Contact
P S. Ross & Partners
Salem — ASCU Local Contact
Oregon Fruit Products Co.
★ Dale Hummer
Pittsburgh — ATSU Local Contact
Westinghouse Electric Corp.
D. T. Wu
Philadelphia — ATSU Local Contact
DuPont De Nemours & Co.
Ralph N. Bussard
Houston — ATSU & ASCU Local Contact
Price Waterhouse & Company
W. W. McChesney
Alexandria — ASCU Local Contact
Country Legend Stores, Inc.
Anil K. Bhala
Green Bay — ASCU Local Contact
L. D. Schreiber Cheese Co.
Racine — ASCU Local Contact
David J. Ritter
LaCrosse — ASCU Local Contact
LaCrosse Garment Mfg. Co.
John J. Stewart
Wausau — ASCU Local Contact
Van Ert Electric Co., Inc.
Milwaukee — ATSU Local Contact
LOCAL CONTACTS WANTED
Become an ATSU or ASCU Local Contact for your area. Your name
and telephone number will be listed on this page in each issue of
Interactive Computing, enabling other members to contact you
with their questions. Only users, not suppliers, are eligible to apply
by writing to the Association.
Published jointly by the Association of Time-Sharing Users and
the Association of Small Computer Users. ©Copyright 1979, P.O:
Box 9003, Boulder, Colorado 80301. Telephone (303) 499-1722.
HilSel Segal *
Leon Stevens *
ATSU is an independent non-profit association providing a forum
for the discussion of remote computing topics. ASCU, organized
as a sister association to ATSU, is also independent and non-profit
and is devoted to serving the informational needs of small