[vcf-midatlantic] what no minis this year?

Herb Johnson hjohnson at retrotechnology.info
Thu Mar 10 13:40:06 EST 2016

> Noticed there were no mini computers listed in the vcf Exhibits this year?

Last year there were many minicomputers, mostly DEC; previous years had 
various brands of minis. It would be disappointing to me if no working 
minicomputers were represented this April. If their owners expected 
other owners to step up, it apparently hasn't happened yet.

For related reasons, I deliberately chose to bring S-100 computers, 
because apparently they weren't represented LAST year. And for my own 
interests. So far the other S-100 exhibit is early Cromenco products. 
I'm working hard to have a Ithaca DPS-1 running; hopefully I'll have two.

Running nothing fancy, I'm exhibiting the technology (8" floppy + S-100 
+ CP/M) and not specific applications or eye/ear attractive products 
(except I hope a front panel). What do I mean? What does this have to do 
with minicomputers?

S-100 development somewhat parallels minicomputer development; and is 
similar to a longer period of mainframe development. There were of 
course dominant brands (IBM and DEC, earlier companies) but other brands 
had good market share and introduced innovations. Ithaca was a 
significant S-100 brand, the company contributed to the IEEE-696 
standard. There were well over 100 S-100 brands of products, I'll call 
that out.

The sheer size of those minicomputer systems was mentioned. Yes, it's 
amazing how SMALL minicomputers were, to support computing power 
comparable to desk and room-sized computers of years and decades prior. 
Replacing old slow human and mechanical calculators and accounting 
systems, relay-racks of mechanical control systems in factories, and 
other applications in business, science and industry. They provided 
"computing to the people" with wired or dial-up terminals and BASIC; the 
beginnings of the "personal" computing revolution.

And in time, minicomputers and later microcomputers overwhelmed much of 
the "mainframe" market of use, some becoming like mainframe systems 
(higher-end DEC product line).

And yet, even in 2015, much computing use (beyond networking, no small 
thing) is about one operating system running one (sometimes a few) 
processors, with auxiliary processors operating specific devices. Not 
much change from S-100 and microcomputers, or minicomputers, or 
mainframes with printer and drive and I/O controllers decades ago.

And now?

This is largely forgotten history today, in part because computing is 
like water to fish now, it pervades modern culture and business and 
science. Few examine critically the history of, say, fresh water - until 
they lose access to it. Then history matters, or catches up to you.

Smart phones have been fee-based and service based - like minicomputer 
service contracts were. Bill Degnan pointed out, mobile-supporting 
services are as human-factors limited, as Windows 3.11/WFW was limited 
by display, bandwidth and processor. Looking backwards can sometimes 
inform you.

Herbert R. Johnson,  New Jersey USA
http://www.retrotechnology.com OR .net

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