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M/A '77 

The following articles are reprinted solely as items of interest for the independent evaluation by members of 
A TSU. The opinions, statements of fact, or conclusions expressed herein are not those of the Association. 

Mini Revolution in the Computer World 

Time-Sharing Loses 


Among tl^e nation’s technology lead¬ 
ers/Bell Laboratories is highly regarded 
for its expert management, and mis¬ 
takes in decision-making at this major 
subsidiary of the American Telephone 
and Telegraph Company are considered 

But missteps occasionally do occur, 
and William O. Baker, the Bell Labora¬ 
tories president, admits that one of 
them involved minicomputers—-the 
compact, task-oriented machines that 
are suddenly taking over many of the 
functbns drice performed only by big 
data processing systems. 

■\ # We‘€fcigi»afly. thought -tfeat' big cen¬ 
tral computers could handle all of our 
management information work,” said 
Mr. Baker. That was back in the mid- 
1960’s, when most experts believed 
that the big computers n^de by the 
International Business Machines Cor- 

Ground As Small 

poratidn, the Control Data Corporation 
and the Univac division of the Sperry 
Rand Corporation, among others, would 
provide all the data, processing power 
needed by any organization. 

In those years, before the potential 
of the minicomputer was recognized, 
the concept of big, central computers 
providing service akin to an electric 
utility was in vogue. Business offices, 
laboratories, factories, even private 
houses would have access to computers 
through terminals connected to tele¬ 
phone lines. 

Such computer time-sharing services 
do exist, but now the minicomputer has 
relegated that grandoise concept to a 
niche in the data processing industry. 
The Bet System, having caught up on 
its miscalculation, now deploys thou¬ 
sands of minicomputers to keep track 
of equipment orders, telephone net¬ 
work usage and many other opera¬ 
tions. "This is what we though we 
could do using just large, central com¬ 

its Boom in Sales 

puting systems/' Mr. Baker said. 

“The future belongs to the minis and 
the micros” said Eric D. Wolfe, a 
senior computer scientist who heads 
vhe Washington office of Bolt Beranek 
and Newman, a consulting firm. In 
scarcely more than a decade, mini¬ 
computers have turned into a $3 billion 
industry, and no end to the growth is 
in sight 

At a cost of a few thousand dollars, 
a minicomputer can be dedicated to 
carrying out a single job—doing a 
payroll, running a laboratory experi¬ 
ment, controlling a machine and so on 
—in lieu of using a central computer 
to handle all of the same tasks or any 
combination of them. 

The Digital Equipment Corporation 
in Maynard, Mass., pioneered the con¬ 
cept of small computers in the early 
1960’s. After the company introduced 
the first mass-produced commercial 
minicomputer in 1965, the company’s 
annual report boasted: “In the eight 

months between our announcement and 
the end of June, more than 200 of the 
computers were sold.” 

Installations of that basic Digital 
Equipment model, the PDP-8, have 
soared to 37,000 worldwide. Moreover, 
the company, which accounts for about 
35 percent of the minicomputer mar¬ 
ket, has sold some 72,000 minis of all 
types, including newer systems that 
would have been considered super¬ 
computers if they had been introduced 
10 years ago. Digital Equipment’s an¬ 
nual sales volume has climbed from 
$15 million in 1965 to the $1 billion 
that the company is expected to report 
for the fiscal year ending next June 30. 

Such growth has become almost 
typical throughout the field of mini¬ 
computers and associated products— 
printers, terminals, communications 
gear and the like. Data General, Micro¬ 
data Computer Automation, Applied 
Data Systems, Sycor, Datapoint, Codex, 
Basic Four and scores of other rela¬ 
tively new companies have joined in 
the boom. 

Such well known concerns as Texas 
Instruments, Burroughs, Honeywell, 
the NCR Corporation, I.B.M., Control 
Data, Sperry Rand, Hewlett-Packard 
and Perkin-Eimer • are also involved. 
Moreover, the consensus is that the 
industry is still in its infancy. '‘For 
this industry to stop growing, a dis¬ 
aster would have to strike the coun¬ 
try,” said Roland Thomas, a Data 
General vice president.' 

By any of a variety of measures, 
Mr. Thomas’s perception seems justi¬ 
fied, Price-earnings ratios that measure 
investor expectations are typically 
higher for the shares of small com¬ 
puter companies than they are for 
any other stock group, despite the re¬ 
cent big tumble in the group due to 
investor concern over the fierce com¬ 
petition in the field. The I.B.M. Series/1 
minicomputer introduction last fall is 
an even more telling commentary on 
ithe outlook for the small computer. 
“I.B.M.’s timing could not have been 

better,” exclaimed one industry source, 
citing the stretched-out deliveries 
from Digital Equipment, running six 
months and longer on certain product 

Such strong demand , results from 
a continuing decline in the cost of the 
technology. The PDP-8 that cost 
$18,000 at the time of its introduction 
12 years ago now costs $2,000. Be¬ 
cause of such favorable economics, 
some big companies have begun to 
break out part of the data processing 
load that traditionally was concen¬ 
trated in one central computer and, 
instead, are turning jobs over to mini¬ 

The lustiest of all the minicomputer 
growth markets, however, is now the 
small business application that makes 
it economic for companies in the $1 
million to $10 million sales range to 
afford a computer on their premises to 
perform payroll, billing, accounting and 
other functions. A study by market 
researchers Frost & Sullivan in New 
York forecast that such systems, now 
totaling about 100,000 installations na¬ 
tionwide. will soar to 460,000 installa¬ 
tions by 1984. Total value of the new 
equipment and software to be in¬ 
stalled; $17 billion. 

The reason for the minicomputers’ 
popularity is that they can do almost 
anything that the programming in¬ 
structs them to do. Nevertheless, such 
small computers do have limitations. 
They cannot store as much data as the 
big machines, nor can they process their 
jobs as fast, and they are limited also 
to the number of jobs that they can 
handle at one time. According to Mr. 
Wolfe of Bolt, Beranek and Newman, 
“there will always be a place for the 
big central processors.” 

But it’s from the opposite end of the 
size scale, the microcomputer, that 
trouble signals can be seen. The same 
semiconductor technology that makes 

up much of the minicomputer’s innards 
and that rendered the small computer 
an effective rival to the big main-frame 
computer continues to work its magic. 

Engineers can now cram all of 
the computer circuitry onto a silicon 
chip that measures about the size of a 
pinky nail. This is the so-called micro¬ 
computer and it could some day im¬ 
pinge on the growth of its bigger mini¬ 
computer brethren. Indeed, an annual 
survey conducted by Modern Data 
Sendees Inc., a research and publish¬ 
ing concern based in Hudson, Mass., 
already shows that about 16 percent of 
potential minicomputer buyers opted in 
1975 for the computer on a chip 

For the moment, however, the per¬ 
formance of the microcomputer is too 
limited to handle most of the jobs the 
minicomputer is called upon to do, so 
the micro devices are finding a home 
in video games, electronic timepieces, 
appliance controls and other applica¬ 
tions where, in essence, they supplant 
traditional integrated-circuit electronic 

Nevertheless, all of the technology 
is changing so swiftly that anything 
can happen. As a hedge, Digital Equip¬ 
ment, Data General and Texas Instru¬ 
ments have all devised microcomputers 
to complement their minicomputer 
product lines. And at this level the 
mini companies will some day buck up 
against such powerful semiconductor 
companies as Intel, Fairchild Camera 
and Instrument, National Semiconduc¬ 
tor. Motorola and others. 

The market growth of the minicom¬ 
puter will expand some 12-fold over 
the next 10 years, according to another 
Frost & Sullivan study, but it will be 
exceeded by that of the microcom¬ 
puter: its market growth over the same 
time frame will be an astounding 150- 

Reprinted by permission. The New York Times, Feb. 13, 1977, Copyright 1977. 

news in perspective 

Education _ 

Time-Sharing in Education 
Going, Going, But Not Gone 

Time-Sharing Confronted with Standalone Computers As 
Educational Institutions Examine One-on-One Approach 

When time-sharing was aborning, it was 
explained that the technique would 
allow many users to share the processor 
simultaneously as though each had ex¬ 
clusive use of the large machine. Termi¬ 
nals subsequently became almost as 
commonplace as the telephone. But in 
the 10 or so ensuing years, dramatic re¬ 
ductions in the cost of electronics have 
brought to the marketplace computers 
that are cheaper than some terminals. 

What follows, then, is a natural con¬ 
sequence. Do away with the terminal 
and modem, avoid the phone line 
charges and, instead, get your own ma¬ 
chine. Some people call this one-on- 

And it’s exactly what the University 
of California currently is looking into 
for instructional computing. Not a com¬ 
puter for each student, alas, but a suf¬ 
ficient number of standalone machines 
to accommodate students who must 
write, debug, and test programs to satis¬ 
fy classroom assignments, as well as 
those who just want to learn what a 
computer can do. 

Terminals out at Pasadena 

At the Pasadena Polytechnic school, 
a high school in southern California, 
they’ve just replaced their three termi¬ 
nals, which were time-sharing the Cal 
Tech computer across the street, with 
three small systems. It’s not such a new 
or startling idea, says supplier Gene 
Murrow. “It predates time-sharing. Be¬ 
fore they had time-sharing, they had 
one-on-one—one user and a $450,000 
computer!” says Murrow, who is sup¬ 
plying three $1800 computers. 

Murrow is president of fledgling 
Computer Power & Light Inc., Studio 
City, Calif. His microcomputer-based 
Compal-80, priced at a mere $1,863, 
comes equipped at that price with 12K 
bytes of read-write storage, IK of 
prom, a nine-inch crt and keyboard. 
Extended Basic, and the facility to at¬ 
tach an ordinary audio cassette recorder 
for auxiliary storage. The system has 


been purchased by a number of schools 
in the Los Angeles area. 

The concept of one-on-one is as natu¬ 
ral to youngsters as the personal auto¬ 
mobile is to their parents. It’s the age 
of transistorized radios for bicycles and 
of supermarkets selling pocket calcula¬ 
tors for less than $10. The home elec- 

THE $1800 Compal-80 system being used 
by a number of schools for instructional 
purposes is shown by Gene Murrow of 
Computer Power & Light. 

tronic video game, which attaches to the 
tv set, found its place under many a 
Christmas tree last year. Indeed, Crea¬ 
tive Strategies Inc. has projected sales 
of such games at 17 million by 1980, 
saying that prices for such games “will 
fall more rapidly than most industry 
members recognize.” The San Jose, 
Calif., research firm foresees prices for 
the low-end, limited-feature games 
dropping from $35 last year to $20 this 

Reeducate users 

Murrow, a former math teacher who 
has been writing instructional programs 
for years, is convinced there’s a place 
for small computers, too. But he finds 
he must reeducate users to the idea that 
three machines, or 32 of them, are better 
than an equal number of terminals shar¬ 
ing a larger machine. For one thing, a 

32-machine facility can have one system 
crash and still have 31 running. “Also, 
it’s much less likely to crash because it’s 
such a simple operating system,” he 
says. “The one-on-one is so much 
simpler than these complex time-shar¬ 
ing systems.” 

He adds that this is especially appeal¬ 
ing to school systems, which are deli¬ 
cious targets of bright students whose 
sole aim is to crash the system. Students 
love getting into the system exec and 
into restricted memory. They can do the 
same with a Compal-80, but then 
they’ve crashed only one system, which 
can be reloaded in 30 seconds. 

Educational consultant LeRoy Finkel 

STANDALONE computer systems for less 
than $5,000 each are considered ideal by 
the Univ. of California’s Charles W. Ste¬ 
venson. He prefers them over time-sharing 

of Menlo Park, Calif., recalls the big 
debate in schools not so long ago. It was 
over whether students should be al¬ 
lowed to use handheld calculators dur¬ 
ing exams. One of the strong arguments 
against it was that many students 
couldn’t afford those $200 calculators. 
“With the prices down to $25,” he says, 
“that argument gets destroyed. Maybe 
the concept of the future will be that 
everyone will have to have a home com¬ 

Continued . . . 

Stanford’s approach 

The problem of delivering computing 
services to students is being addressed 
anew this year by Stanford University, 
which has installed a Digital Equipment 
Corp. 2040 with 48 terminals. This is 
being called lots, for low overhead 
time-sharing. The system can be staffed 
by only four persons, costs $440,000 to 
install, and perhaps another $200,000 a 
year to operate. It will be for students 
and faculty only, not for those perform¬ 
ing sponsored research work, and it will 
take an estimated 85% of such workload 
off the large campus computing facility. 

Stanford’s progression, from a large 
mainframe supporting both sponsored 
research work and students and faculty 
to the installation of a smaller machine 
to serve only the latter category, stands 
in interesting contrast to the program 
being anticipated by the University of 

UC’s problem with a 6400 

This institution has 120,000 students 
and nine campuses, all with their own 
computing facilities for administrative 
dp, for research, and for instructional 
purposes. On the Berkeley campus, for 
example, students formerly submitted 
jobs in a batch mode to be run on the 
campus ( DC 6400. But the first run. after 
an anxious wait, would only serve to in¬ 
form the student that he was a terrible 
keypuncher—which he already knew. 
And subsequent submissions reinforced 
what he also suspected, that there were 
errors in his program. More recently the 
campus added two Digital Equipment 
pdp-1 1 /70s. 

“On either system, a student can get 
computing for a dollar an hour; and 
those are pretty capable systems,” says 
Charles W. Stevenson, manager of com¬ 
puter planning for the university’s Sys¬ 
temwide Administration. The two 
11 /70s offer two different operating sys¬ 
tems and several languages. When the 
first machine was installed, it was pre¬ 
dicted that terminal usage would range 
between eight and ten hours a day. 
“Their experience in the first six months 
was an average of 15 hours of use a day, 
seven days a week, on each of those 
terminals,” Stevenson says. Based on 
the use of 25 terminals on each system, 
he says they can amortize the equip¬ 
ment over a two- to three-year period 
at a dollar an hour. “They’re getting a 
lot of good computing at a buck an 

At that price, he adds, departments 
prefer the small systems. One professor 
predicts that within the next six months 
the campus will have three 11/70s and 
one 11/34. “And he considered that to 

be roughly equal to the capabilities of 
the 6400” at approximately the same 
price. “And yet one is far more ap¬ 
proachable and has a lot more interest 
for instructional purposes.” 

Take that a step further and you have 
an even more approachable situation, 
the fabled one-on-one—a standalone 
machine for instructional computing. 
It’s like a terminal, except that while the 
student sits at the keyboard he has the 
entire machine to himself. It would be 
portable—cumbersome, perhaps, but 
portable—and could be taken into a 
classroom for use there. “All you’d need 
is a three-wire outlet in the wall.” 

Why a terminal? 

“Why buy just a terminal,” Stevenson 
asks rhetorically, “and then add insult 
to injury by paying phone charges and 
the cost of modems and that sort of 
thing, when you can get what you really 
need for instructional computing in a 
standalone version for under five 

He expects soon to be issuing an rfp 
for this machine. It would have a floppy 
disc or cassette, graphics capability, 
maybe in color, an interactive program¬ 
ming capability in some language such 
as Basic or apl, at least as much user 
space as in a multi-user time-sharing 
system, full typewriter keyboard, and 
some form of coursewriting software or 
firmware, such as Pilot or Dialog. And 
it should be able to communicate with 
a host computer, should that be desired, 
and to other devices, such as in labora¬ 
tory experiments. 

“My target price is five grand for 
that,” Stevenson says. “1 think it’ll come 
in for less than that from what I’ve seen 
so far.” In a few' years, he adds, such 
a computer should be available for a 
third to a half of that price. At a unit 
price of $5,000. it’s easy to figure how' 
many can be purchased for the cost of 
installing and operating the larger 
time-shared systems over, say, a tw-o- or 
three-year period. 

The Compal-80, for example 

To show that this is not an idle dream, 
he produces a brochure on the Com¬ 
pal-80 system, saying, “It doesn’t take 
very many hours of use at a dollar an 
hour to pay for the use of that.” He 
figures it would be less than 18 months. 
“Probably less than that if you have 
them in public areas w'here they’re used 
to the extent that those terminals on the 
dec machines are used on the Berkeley 
campus. And no phone charges.” 

He has also visited with other pro¬ 
spective vendors, some that regretfully 
can talk only in terms of a hierarchy of 

machines. “If you’re talking about 200 
of these standalone machines, they w ant 
you to get one of their big machines. 
If you w-ant 50 of them, then they want 
to talk about their medium-sized ma¬ 
chines, and if you need one to four, then 
they w ant you to get this other (smaller) 
one. But I think they’re missing the 
point. Because in no case are those 
systems completely symmetric, and I 
think it’s a mistake to go into this kind 
of a thing and assume that all systems 
will be in one particular kind of envi¬ 

Stevenson wants to be able to allow 
professors to write their courseware, 
whether it’s called computer-assisted in¬ 
struction or computer-managed instruc¬ 
tion, on the same type of machine. And 
allow them to do this in the privacy of 
their offices, at home, or in the same 
setting where students congregate. Ven¬ 
dors, unfortunately, want to provide 
profs with an expensive one-on-one ma¬ 
chine to develop their courseware, over¬ 
looking the fact that the programs they 
develop w'on’t necessarily run on the 
students’ machines, and vice versa. 
There’s no symmetry there. What’s re¬ 
quired is complete program transferra- 
bility without change. 

Books vs. courses 

He regrets the fact that few academic 
institutions give a prof equal credit for 
writing good courseware as for writing 
a book or technical paper, though hope¬ 
ful that this will begin to happen. “Well 
done courseware may involve far more 
thought and careful preparation and 
money than writing a book,” he says. 
Whbn this is recognized, it may be pos¬ 
sible to store the courseware on a floppy 
or cassette and sell it in campus book¬ 
stores with its companion workbook, 
thus providing a royalty to its creator. 
“People sell audio courses now; why not 
also sell digital courses?” Stevenson 

Nor w'ould this be restricted to 
campus bookstores. What with the cur¬ 
rent boom in the hobbyist market and 
the anticipated proliferation of home 
computers, one could also sell, say, in¬ 
come-tax preparation programs, games, 
checkbook-balancing programs, and 
personal records inventory programs. 

“I’m not saying these things will re¬ 
place computing everywhere,” Steven¬ 
son adds. “Not by a long shot. But it’s 
for a class of instructional use that cur¬ 
rently is not being handled very well by 
anybody—because it’s either too expen¬ 
sive or it’s unapproachable or you can’t 
get money to pay for it.” 

—Edward K. Yasakl 

Reprinted by permission. Datamation , Jan. 1977, Copyright 1977, Technical Publishing Company.