Here is a brief history of the computers I've had the pleasure of knowing.

The IBM 360

The first computer I ever used was an IBM 360 that I used during a summer program in physics at Ohio University in the summer of 1969. They gave us a 2 week course in Fortran and then let us play as much as we wanted. This was punched cards of course, but it was still exciting. My first hack was a program to solve the Insanity Blocks puzzle that was popular then.

IBM Accounting Machine

The next computer I got to use was actually a step back from the IBM 360 (if that seems possible). During my second summer in college (1971) I got a job at a local accounting firm which had some ancient IBM accounting machines which IBM was still leasing (remember in those days you didn't buy IBM computers, you leased them). This computer read stacks of cards, had accumulators and simple arithmetic (no disk or memory) and printed reports. It was programmed by taking a board about a foot square out of the machine and using cables to route signals from card fields to accumulators and to the printer. It was like an old telephone exchange with cables and big connectors going from one hole to another.

CDC 6400

My next computer was the CDC 6400 machine running the Scope operating system. This was the main computer at Northwestern for the students and it also took punched cards, but it also had some teletypes hooked up to it. On this machine I learned Pascal, LISP, and assembly language. One of the first good chess programs was written there by some hackers, I think it was called CHESS. You could play it on the teletypes and it usually beat the crap out of you.

This was where I first learned about hacker's hours. Friday nights were the best time to use the computer because normal people were out partying.

Dec-10 KA Running Tenex

Finally I got to start using a decent interactive computer when I spent my first summer in grad school (1975) at SRI International in the AI Center. They had a Dec-10 running Tenex from BBN hooked up to the Arpanet. It had these huge drums (not disks) for disk storage and since the drums had one head per track there was no seek latency so the machine was pretty fast. And, of course, I was on the net, which almost no one had heard about in those days.

Dec-10 KI Running Tops-10

University of Texas got its first Dec-10 in 1975 after I returned from my summer at SRI. This ran the Tops-10 operation system which is pretty crude by today's standards but was a considerable improvement over most mainframe systems.

PDP-11 Running Unix

In about 1977 the University of Texas got a PDP-11 running Unix and hooked up to the Arpanet. This was my first experience with Unix and I liked it alot (good thing since I've spent more time using Unix then anything else). I started hacking on it immediately and did mostly systems level stuff like enhancing the email program.

Altair 8800

In 1977 I bought one of the first personal computers available. It came as a kit from a mailorder company called MITS. It was just the bare machine, no disk, no memory, no keyboard, no monitor, no floppy. I put it together with a soldering iron then added 4K of memory, a serial board, a used keyboard, a video board (16 lines of 64 characters in 1K of memory), a TV modified to be a monitor, and a 300 baud modem (also a kit).

I then wrote my own assembler on the university computer and wrote my own little operating system which let me use the machine as a terminal. Since I had no disk or floppy, every time I powered it up, I had to toggle in a small bootstrap program so I could dial in to the university computer and download my operating system.

Dec-20 Running Tops-20

When I got to SRI I started using the Dec-20 running Tops-20 (a derivative of Tenex) and connected to the Arpanet. I did mostly programming in Interlisp on that machine.

Foonly Running Tenex

Our group got tired of paying the high per minute rate for the Dec-20 being charged by the Central Computing Division so we bought two Foonly computers. Foonly was a small company started by a Stanford grad who figured he could built Dec-20 clones for much less than Dec was charging.

Xerox Dolphin Running Interlisp

In 1982 I got to use a bit-mapped personal computer for the first time. Xerox started selling the commercial version of the famous Alto computer which had a large bit-mapped screen and a mouse.

Apple Mac

About 1985 I got my first Mac, the Fat Mac and I started programming it immediately. I got the first version of Inside Macintosh which was the version that looked like a phonebook.

Sun Running Unix

I first started using Sun machines while at SRI and enjoyed using them for the 18 years I was at Sun.

Windows PC

I found I had to move from the Mac to Windows/Intel. When I decided I needed a new laptop, there was nothing available from Apple that I liked and the choices in the Wintel world are quite impressive. I ended up with the Digital HiNote Ultra II laptop (133MZ Pentium, 48MB memory, 1.2G disk) and I've been pretty pleased with it. The only regret is that by buying one of the less popular brands, it is difficult to find hardware accessories for it. And Win95 isn't that bad. I continued buying Windows laptops and desktops for many years.


Now I'm back to Unix after all these years. I have a hand built PC running Ubuntu with 64GB of memory and many TB of disk.