Bull SPS-7

from a paper of Jean-Louis Guédé


Among the UNIX products developed by Bull from the Motorola MC6800 microprocessor,  the SPS-7 took an important part. It originated from the SM-90 project designed in 1980-1981 by the PTT research center CNET.

The SM90 has been designed and prototyped by CNET and its license had been offered to the French computer manufacturers ( Bull, ThomsonTelephone, TRT, CSEE, ESD, SMT-Goupil, Telmat) to industrialize the product and to made derivative. This minicomputer could be used as the basis of a workstation or a small server and could be used for controlling industrial processes.

Bull, as it was the recognized national champion, felt itself constrained to market the SM-90 and develop derivatives that it market under SPS-7 product line.

SM-90 project

The SM90 was designed by CNET at Lannion for the internal needs of French Télécomunications as a minicomputer succeeding to the SM-80 (6000 SM-80 systems have been produced in the 1970s). The SM-90 prototype was available in 1982. The license was acquired in a non-exclusive basis by Bull-SEMS in June 1983, soon after its integration inside Bull. The other manufacturer that exercised the CNET license was Telmat.

An organization, created by the French ministry of Industry, was to oversee the SM-90 program, with CNET, INRIA and Bull-SEMS to design extensions. The contract gave to SEMS a one-year lead time to "industrialize" the SM-90.


The system core was the Motorola MC-68000 at 8 MHz. The most original part of the architecture being the SMBus allowing several processors to share a common memory, while having also a local RAM or EPROM memory.


The bus interconnected the processor board(s), one or several 512 KB DRAM boards, SCSI boards, GPIB interface boards and telephone lines boards.


The operating system was a port of AT&T Unix V7.

The software delivery included the ALIS software factory ("Atelier de génie logiciel") that was centered around the language Pascal-S, emphasizing modular programming. Other UNIX languages were also supported by ALIS.



While SPS-7 is a real derivative of SM-90, the project was not just the industrialization of the CNET prototype, but the recreation of a competitive UNIX system, from the SM-90 architecture. Consequently, the project took time and delayed the actual entry of Bull in the UNIX market, discouraging somewhat the sales forces that have been sold UNIX by the upper management of the company.

SPS7 has been formally introduced by Bull in 1985. It was manufactured in Echirolles.


As a typical time-sharing application did require more address space than a real memory DRAM could offer board, the memory addressing mechanism was extended to support paging..

Hardware Models

SPS 7/50 and SPS 7/70

Those models were evolved from SM-90 by introducing the 68010 microprocessor.

SPS 7/300

The SM-90 microprocessor was changed in SPS-7 into a MC68020 at 16.67 MHz. It was associated to the floating point coprocessor MC68881. The capacity of the bus was extended to up to 10 I/O boards.

The memory board was extended to 4MB

The SPS 7/75 was announced as a 68020 based real time system (without virtual memory ?)

The DPX2000 and the Q700/10 were versions of the SPS 7/300


The operating system was replaced by Unix System V, that was renamed as SPIX, a Bull poprietary name, supporting up to 32 user processes. The choice of System V was oriented by the strategic choice of Bull to promote X-Open standards.
SPIX included TCP/IP support, but also ISO/DSA and X-400 mailing system.

SPS-7 supported  windowing terminals through X-server and graphic terminals through GDS and GKS servers functions.

ALIS software factory was renamed SPALIS.

Oracle data base system was also ported on SPS-7

Le Lisp v15.2, the INRIA dialect of LISP, was ported to SPS-7 and in conjunction with KOOL helped the promotion of SPS-7 in the artificial intelligence market. It was complemented by SP Prolog a version of the AI language, in its Edinburgh version.


Bull, after acquiring the Honeywell business had seen SPS-7 competing with the Italian designed XPS-100. It discontinued the SPS-7 in 1990, announcing a "unified" DPX-2 Unix line that was soon (in 1992) to be also replaced by DPX/20 an OEM version of IBM RS-6000.