I have moved my blog to Wordpress at theunixgeek.wordpress.com. I will still be checking back periodically on this one as well, though. 19 April 2009


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Monday, January 5, 2009

Today's Old Computer: Imlac PDS-1

It's been quite a while since the last time I wrote a "Today's Old Computer" article (click on the old computer portal at the top to see some of the other ones), so as I was paying the Old Computers Museum website a due visit, I came across a mostly-undocumented interesting machine called the Imlac PDS-1. This "professional" computer was released in 1970 and programmed in assembly language.

Upon further research, it's quite surprising what this "minicomputer" could do! Its graphics were completely vector-based (something modern operating systems only beginning to implement. As a further matter, I can't believe it's already 2009, 39 years ahead of 1970, and we're still dealing with raster graphics on our displays) and could do multi-window editing of text, graphics, photosetting. Even more surprising to some would be the fact that the Xerox Alto, which was designed in 1972 and constructed in 1973, was preceded by the Imlac PDS-1.

The Imlac had a sort of precursor to the mouse as we know it today. Instead of moving around a little round object and pressing a button, one would point at the screen with a light pen and press a pedal (funny that this should be mentioned - I came up with this idea last year or the year before but it seems to be 39 years old or even older).

Oh, and what's up with the portrait displays?

Either way, the Imlac PDS-1 seems like a computer such ahead of its time that it's quite surprising! Vector graphics throughout its assembly-based operating system (ok, that latter part maybe doesn't so amazing, but I still haven't seen a person or group bragging in this millenium that they wrote a completely vector-based operating system in assembly language), a precursor to the GUI, photosetting, and rather small compared to the sizes of computers in that time! RAM and other hardware specs don't even matter that much when it comes to talking about the Imlac. I'd like to see something like this today!

Image from the Old Computer Museum website