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The following articles are reprinted solely as items of interest for the independent evaluation by members of The Association of Time-Sharing Users and The 
Association of Small Computer Users. The opinions, statements of fact, and conclusions expressed herein are not those of either Association. 

Desktop Computer, Mini 

Differ Widely 

easy to use, especially for individual users. 

Desktop computer buyers can easily link 
programs from cartridges, large disks or 
floppy disks, edit easily and quickly from 
their keyboards and execute individual pro¬ 
grams in memory with the ability to inter¬ 
rupt and branch to service routines. 

Minicomputers, by contrast, are optimized 
for flexibility, speed, power and multipro¬ 
gramming, Bode said. Users of this equip¬ 
ment class can execute many programs con¬ 
currently in main memory and swap many 
others automatically from disks. 

With the resulting increase in operating 
system complexity, users can maximize 
hardware and software performance if they 
have the expertise and inclination to do so. 

i ' UCT 


c vff§ 


Multiterminal Capability 


Interpretive; Requires 

No Compiling 

Multilanguage Capability 
Requires Compiling 

Integrated Package 

Usually Packaged 

As Stand-Alone System 

Can Accommodate 
Added Memory and 

Can Expand to Multiproc¬ 
essor Network 

Using Same Software 

Unable to Serve 
as CPU in Multiproc¬ 
essor Networks 

Can Control 
Distributed Network 


Program Editing Con¬ 
trolled By Firmware 

Software Modules 
Developed by 
Executive Packages 

Requires Little 
Training to Program 
And Operate 

Requires Systems 
Manager With 
Specialized Training 

Contrary to popular user opinion, many basic differences in product characteristics separate 
desktop computers and minis. 

By Jeffry Beeler 

CW Staff 

PHILADELPHIA — Much confusion has 
arisen recently about the distinction between 
desktop computers and minis, but many 
basic differences separate the two classes of 
equipment, according to Fred Bode, market¬ 
ing manager of Hewlett-Packard Co/s Cal¬ 
culator Products Division. 

Although both desktop computers and 
minis use basically the same technology, 
they take very different approaches to op¬ 
timizing that technology, Bode explained 
during a seminar at a recent conference here. 
They also serve fundamentally different 
types of users, he noted, although their ap¬ 
plications do not differ substantially. 

Focusing primarily on scientific and tech¬ 
nical applications, Bode said desktop com¬ 
puters are optimized to be "friendly" and 

the marketing manager said. 

Differences in Users 

Because of the differences in how the two 
CPU classes optimize their technology, 
desktop computers primarily suit "profes¬ 
sional noncomputer users," whereas minis 
mainly serve DP experts, Bode explained. In 
the former category, he included users like 
"scientists, engineers or business people 
who are experts in their professions [but 
who] do not necesarily want to become com¬ 
puter sophisticates." 

In the latter category, he included users 
who "are experts at what they do but [who] 
in general have developed expertise in the 
use of computers as well. Such users de¬ 
mand flexible and expandable systems be¬ 
cause they attack a much wider range of 
computing problems than users with little or 
no DP background, he said. 

Bode partly attributed the frequent failure 
to understand the differences between 
desktop computers and minis to converging 
product trends. As desktop computers and 
minis have grown more alike in perform¬ 
ance, cost and size, the line separating the 
two equipment classes has become increas¬ 
ingly blurred, he explained. 

Bode also blamed the confusion on the ori¬ 
gin of desktop computers. Most of the cur¬ 
rent leaders in that product market — 
Hewlett-Packard, Wang Laboratories, Inc. 

and Tektronix, Inc. — began as programma¬ 
ble calculator manufacturers. 

As a result, "many people still regard 
[desktop computers] as calculators with 
considerably less power and capability than 


Elsewhere in his address, 
Bode further contrasted desk¬ 
top computers and minis by 
noting how they differ in the 
following product characteris¬ 

• Keyboard access. Desktop 
computers provide immediate 
or "live" keyboard access that 
allows users to perform many 
operations while running pro¬ 

Minicomputers, on the other 
hand, provide a multiterminal 
capability that allows concur¬ 
rent program development 
and multistation operation in 
conversational or batch mode, 
Bode said. 

• Languages. Most desktop 
computers use an interpreta¬ 
tive language like Basic and 
APL, which users can run 
without compilation: Lan¬ 
guage selection depends on 
the firmware users specify 
when they buy their systems. 

Minicomputers, by contrast, 
usually use Fortran, Cobol 
and other languages that re¬ 
quire compiling. The language 
that mini users select is deter¬ 
mined by the software they 
obtain for their systems. Bode 

• Packaging. Desktop com¬ 
puters usually come in an in¬ 
tegrated package incorporat¬ 
ing all the peripherals that 
constitute a typical system, 
whereas minis are often con¬ 
figured as stand-alone units 
without peripherals, the HP 
executive noted. 

• Upward compatibility. 
With desktop computers, this 
usually means "transportabil¬ 
ity of data and programs to 
larger machines via either data 
communications or some stor¬ 
age media like tapes, floppies 
and hard disks." Bode said. 

With minicomputers, the 
concept means users applying 

the same set of software, can 
grow from a processor with a 
small memory base to a very 
large multiprocessor, multi¬ 
disk system. 

• Distributive systems. Al¬ 
though most desktop com¬ 
puters are compatible with 
and can report the results of 
their local processing to larger 
CPUs, they cannot serve as 
central processors in multi¬ 
processor networks. Bode 
pointed out. 

Late model minicomputers, 
however, usually come with 
operating systems that allow 
the machines to control dis¬ 
tributed processing networks. 

• Operating systems. Desk-- 
top computers usually provide 
firmware-controlled editing 
capabilities that facilitate pro¬ 
gram development. 

With most minis, on the 
other hand, users develop 
their software with the help of 
"very powerful" operating 
systems. Bode said. These ex¬ 
ecutive packages permit the 
configuration of software 
modules like file managers, 
editors and device drivers. 

• Operating personnel. Be¬ 
sides requiring little formal 
training to operate and pro¬ 
gram, desktop computers per¬ 
mit easy access and can be eas¬ 
ily modified to suit custom ap¬ 
plications. With minis, by 
contrast, users require DP 
managers with specialized 
training to configure hard¬ 
ware/software systems and to 
coordinate the activities of 
their computer operators. 
Bode said. 

Reprinted with permission, COMPUTERWORLD, May 8, 1978, 
©Copyright CW Communications inc., Newton, MA 02160 

Take Vendor Claims With Salt, 
Microdata Executive Advises 

By Jeffry Beeler 

CW Staff 

PHILADELPHIA — Consultants and other 
disinterested parties have long warned users 
to challenge minicomputer makers' glowing 
sales claims, but now the advice comes from 
one of the vendors — and in unusually hard- 
nosed language. 

"Be an extremely tough negotiator when 
you're in the market for a system, and make 
sure you get your vendor's key guarantees 
in writing," Jack Bertch, Microdata Corp.'s 
vice-president, warned prospective mini¬ 
computer owners at a recent seminar. 

Although the DP industry is slowly shed¬ 
ding its reputation for unreliability and in¬ 
adequate service, "caveat emptor still applies 
to hardware acquisition, and it will never 
disappear completely," Bertch said. 

Outlining some pointers first-time users 
should keep in mind when selecting a mini¬ 
computer system, Bertch stressed the impor¬ 
tance of not underestimating installation 
costs. "Estimate the total amount you will 
have to pay for your new system, then dou¬ 
ble the figure because no matter how care¬ 
fully you try to predict your expenses, un¬ 
anticipated costs will invariably arise," he 

In choosing a prospective hardware sup¬ 
plier, users should list every capability they 
expect from a reliable vendor and then rate 
the available candidates in each performance 
category, Bertch recommended. Some of the 
selection criteria most frequently mentioned 
by companies that have already installed 
minicomputer systems include operating 
system software, vendor reputation, system 
reliability, price and field maintenance. 

After rating each of the potential suppliers, 
users should compare their findings with the 
evaluations of current minicomputer users, 
Bertch continued. 

Consultants can also prove an "ii 
valuable" aid to first-time users, not 
just in selecting the right hardware 
vendor, but also in defining the users' 
needs and generating systems specifi¬ 
cations, Bertch said. He advised pro¬ 
spective buyers to rely heavily on their 
consultants. "Drive your consultant 
nuts," he urged. "In most cases, it 
won't be such a long drive." 

After a lengthy and thorough vendor 
evaluation has narrowed the field of 
potential hardware suppliers to a few 
candidates, first timers should visit lo¬ 
cal minicomputer users in their respec¬ 
tive industries, Bertch recommended. 
"But," he added, "you should not limit 

yourself to the installations chosen by 
the vendors because they will show 
you only their most successful ac¬ 

Rather, users should choose for 
themselves what sites they wish to 
visit, either by calling companies listed 
in the yellow pages of their local phone 
directories or by contacting Interna¬ 
tional Data Corp. (IDC) in Waltham, 
Mass. "For a small fee, IDC can make 
available to you its prepared lists of 
computer users in every major city in 
the country," Bertch told his listeners. 

If the final stage of vendor selection 
ends in indecision about two dif¬ 
ferently priced systems — all other fac¬ 
tors being equal — users should pick 
the more expensive configuration, pro¬ 
vided the difference in cost does not 
exceed 15%, he asserted. 

Before making the final vendor selec¬ 
tion, users should alsp prepare detailed 
plans for emergency computer back¬ 
up, determine how often the hardware 
suppliers will perform preventive 
maintenance and how much it will 
cost, uncover any hidden expenses and 
find out if the vendors' software 
would be transportable during sub¬ 
sequent systems upgrades, Bertch ad¬ 

"Very often, users acquire software 
only to discover later they can't con¬ 
tinue to use the package when they ex¬ 
pand their configurations," he ex¬ 

After choosing a hardware supplier 
and specifying a system, first-time 
users should hire an attorney to review 
the contract and make sure it does not 
unduly favor the vendor. "In 90% of 
the cases, the contract does favor the 
vendor," the Microdata executive 

Reprinted with permission, COMPUTERWORLD, May 8, 1978, 
©Copyright CW Communications Inc., Newton, MA 02160 

Hardware From the Service Firms 

National CSS offering a ‘megamini’ and others will resell DEC 2020s 

Any doubts that the big computer service 
firms intended to move aggressively into 
the hardware market were eliminated last 
month as a number of companies an¬ 
nounced plans to remarket DECsystem- 
2020 computers and National css un¬ 
veiled plans to introduce a 370-compati¬ 
ble megamini called the 3200 series. 

Automatic Data Processing, of Clifton, 
N.J., launched a major program to offer 
the 2020 to customers as an in-house 
processor that would be linked to adp’s 
time-sharing facilities. Tymshare, Inc., of 
Cupertino, said it aims to move custom¬ 
ers from its shared DECsystem there to 
their own machines without considerable 
reprogramming and will do this with a 
2020 sometime in the late spring. 
Rapidata, CompuServ and Dataline Sys¬ 
tems Ltd. all plan to acquire DECsystem 
2020s this spring and summer for the 
same purpose. 

And while these announcements rep¬ 
resent a major commitment to hardware 
sales as an integral part of their time¬ 
sharing offerings, the ncss project is, in 
scope, the most ambitious undertaking. 

In effect ncss is gambling it can emu¬ 
late ibm’s sbs strategy—combining data 
communications, hardware, distributed 
processing, and software all into one 

NCSS gambles that it can 
emulate IBM’s strategy for 
SBS—combine data 
communications, hardware, 
and distributed processing 
in one package. 

package—long before the giant computer 
manufacturer ever gets sbs off the 

$16 million system 

Toward this end, ncss has spent $16 
million developing a system that will 
compete head-on with the largest dec, 
Data General, Hewlett-Packard, Inter¬ 
data, and Prime offerings, and serve as a 
370 replacement. Importantly, also, the 
company intends to apply sometime this 
summer to the Federal Communications 
Commission for permission to compete 
as a specialized communications carrier 
providing a national packet-switched 
network. That network is already opera¬ 
tional, and ncss only needs a green light 

A 370-compatible megamini 
called the 3200 series 

from the fcc to put it in business, com¬ 
pany president Robert Weissman says. 

The introduction of the 3200 and its 
commitment to the data communica¬ 
tions market represent significant steps 
for ncss, which in fiscal 1978 (ncss’s 
fiscal year ends Feb. 28th) has seen reve¬ 
nues jump more than 16% over last year’s 
$41 million plus figure and pretax profits 
increase about 34%. To accommodate 
this growth and its new ventures, the 
company has moved into new corporate 
headquarters in Wilton, Conn. Concur¬ 
rently, its former headquarters in nearby 
Norwalk have been converted to a base 
for the firm’s newly formed computer 
division—a group that will be headed up 
by 34-year-old former iBMer James 
McGuire, who previously took ncss’s 
data base management system nomad 
from ground zero to over $8 million in 

Compact controllers 

Unlike adp, which is buying dec hard¬ 
ware off the shelf then reselling it, ncss 
has manufactured its own machine 
through a subsidiary of U.S. Phillips 
Trust. This approach is a definite plus in 
the company’s favor, McGuire claims. 
Specifically, by producing its own 370- 
compatible megamini, ncss has, it 

claims, improved on the original, design¬ 
ing the controllers to be far more com¬ 
pact than the 370 controllers. “This 
makes the sytem less expensive and not 
nearly as big,” says McGuire. “As a result 
the customer can use it without the com¬ 
puter room environment needed for the 

He adds the scaled down megamini is 
particularly suited for a distributed pro¬ 
cessing environment, a market ncss 
wants to penetrate. “The 3200 could also 
be used as an extension of a saturated 
370, if the 370 owner wants a second 
machine dedicated to the new, dis¬ 
tributed applications for on-line program 
development,” an ncss marketing paper 
on the 3200 reads. 

Additionally, the 32-bit machine, 
which sells for about $200,000 fully con¬ 
figured and is in the 370/135 plus power 
range, offers multiple language ca¬ 
pability, the ability to run all 370 applica¬ 
tions, simultaneous time-sharing, rje 
and batch capabilities, and virtual mem¬ 

Microcode not a constraint 

However, the system’s real selling 
strength is ncss’s existing operational 
and applications software, the company 
believes. “With ibm the user has to accept 
whatever ibm chooses to give him,” notes 
Bob Weissman. “And if ibm decides to 
change its software or the microencoding 
embedded in the system, the user has to 
scramble. But since we produce and 
maintain our own software, that’s not a 
constraint for us.” 

Moreover, the lack of constraint may 
provide ncss with an edge over some of 
the pcm’s which are vulnerable to ibm’s 
changes. And make no mistake about it, 
ncss may be introducing a megamini but 
its sights are set on a larger target. As’ 
Weissman points out, a customer who 
needs 370/158 power to handle his peak 
processing requirements once or twice a 
month, can simply plug into the ncss 
network. The 3200 coupled with the 
packet-switched capability gives a cus¬ 
tomer the tools he needs to set up his own 
distributed network, and ncss’s big 370s 
and Amdahl machines provide him with 
big system capabilities without the ac¬ 
companying overhead. 

On paper the ncss strategy makes 
sense. What will happen in the market¬ 
place is an altogether different question. 

—Laton McCartney 

Reprinted with permission, DATAMATION, April, 1978, ©Copyright Technical Publishing Company, 
Greenwich, CT 06830.