from GECOS to GCOS8
Part I- General Electric
Electric was in the early 60s the largest
private user of IBM computers. GE had no intent of considering electronic computers as one
of its strategic segments. However a decentralized management structure allowed the
hyper frequencies lab to enter the computer field through a bid for the checks sorter shop
at Bank of America. (ERMA project). That was the beginning of the Computer Department
established at Phoenix AZ.
GE also embarked in the process control computer business through the GE-312 that evolve later into GE-225 and into GE-265 (Dartmouth Time-Sharing System). The first direct entry of GE in the general purpose computer business was a 24-bits machine code-named Mosaic that was introduced in 1963 as GE-400. However, the upper model planned for GE-400 was hardly competitive with the just announced IBM/360.
Origin of GE-600
A solution to the performance problem of the
"Y" model of the GE-400 came from a project initiated outside the Computer
Department , in the Military Department that had developed a computer for the US Air Force
Cape Canaveral Missile Range, called M236 and installed at Eleuthera
(Bahamas). That computer was a 36-bits computer due to the computation requirements of
radar tracking and to the required exchange of data with IBM 7094 located at the Cape. The
chief architect of the M-236 was John Couleur who will become later a technical leader of
the GE Large Systems.
According to the initial plan, the central processor was to be designed at Syracuse, NY and the Input-Output Controller in Phoenix, with peripheral subsystems common to the GE-400 line. The product line took the name of GE-600 initially with two system versions with different clock values, the GE-625 and the GE-635. The software would have been developed in Phoenix with people brought from various user departments. Eventually, the processor's team migrate from Syracuse to Phoenix, while the technology team remained for a while in Syracuse.
The main innovation of GE-600 was the creation of a SMP Symmetric Multi-Processing platform, probably the first actually built in the world. While, at that time, much talk was about the reliability of a redundant system, the main advantage was different: SMP was limiting the development cost to a single design for building a line covering a range of power that would had needed probably three designs (as IBM did at that time).
In 1964, GE decided to take over Olivetti computer assets and the majority of Compagnie des Machines Bull of France. The expected value of those acquisitions was to establish an international European base for the general purpose computers. Both the GE-400 and the GE-600 were to be sold by the two European subsidiaries of General Electric.
The first GE-600 introduced in Europe was a GE-635 sold to ASEA in Sweden before the Bull-GE merger. ASEA (now part of ABB) was a General Electric licensee and used the GE-600 for scientific applications.
After jettisoning its RCA licenses, Bull was selling many
GE-400 systems and started to market the GE-600 over its original market. It got a
contract for the billing of Electricité de France , the largest power utility in the
world, that required COBOL, while the compiler was still in its infancy in Phoenix. It
required far more reliability from magnetic tapes than GE was then providing. GECOS II was
an operating system that was optimizing batch processing (without an attached processor,
as were at that time organized many IBM shops) and remote-batch (using Univac 1004
or GE-115 small computers as terminals). It supported multiprogramming but not very
The initial GE-600 systems were using GECOS-II operating system, a multiprogramming batch oriented system, based upon large (specifically IBM 7090) users requirements of that time. Thanks to the multiprogramming facilities of the OS, there was requirements for supplemental I/O converters (à la 1401) and remote batch was supported with initially Univac 1004 as terminals.
Programming Languages were:
Files on tape and discs supported sequential and random
organizations (GEFRC) and IDS was being announced.
The operating system kernel was redesigned, adding also a
time-sharing system (TSS) extending the functions of the Dartmouth Time Sharing
System on the GE-265. It became GECOS III and was well accepted by
existing customers. Introduced in 1968, while MULTICS
was still in its infancy, no commonality was envisioned between GECOSIII and MULTICS.
The technology of the GE-635 was based on discrete transistors (Sylvania SUHL). Printed circuits were not fully used and the manufacturing cost of a system was high. A single processor system represented three large cabinets not including peripherals.
A first improvement was brought in 1967, when a new model with an integrated circuits technology was designed by the Syracuse team of GE. Its performances were better than those of the 635 and the manufacturing cost lower. It was introduced as the GE-655 at a price significantly higher than that of the 635.
GECOS-IV was a project developed in Central research Laboratory in Schenectady in 1967 under the direction of Robin Kerr. Their goal was to integrate GECOS, the work at Dartmouth and the their DESKSIDE project. GECOS-IV required a modified CPU to provide a "virtual machine" capability. It also challenged a strength of GECOS-III, its time-sharing capability.
Mark-III and General Electric Information System
In 1964, GE had helped the Dartmouth College NH to develop an interactive system for teaching programming. The hardware was a GE-200 front-ended by a communication processor developed initially for store and forward communication messages the GE Datanet-30. The terminals were AT&T Teletype 33 ASCII typewriters connected through 300 bauds Bell modems.
The Dartmouth College, perhaps inspired from MIT CTSS, had developed a special purpose operating-system including an interpretive processor of the BASIC (Beginner's All Symbolic Instruction Code) language also created for this system, christened GE-265.
General Electric started to market the BASIC service, through a special division that took over the maintenance of the Dartmouth College software. As the hardware perspective of the GE-200 was limited, the Dartmouth College accepted the GE offer of porting the DTSS (Dartmouth Time-Sharing System) to the GE-600. GE started to replace its GE-265 by GE-635 as Mark-III systems.
The hardware of Mark-III system was originally completely standard, but the software was developed and maintained independently from Phoenix. General Electric Computer Division and its affiliates (e.g., Bull General-Electric) were not entitled to license their customers with Mark-III software.
Mark-III systems main center was concentrated in Cleveland OH, but expanded with a center in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The customers of the timesharing service were connected transparently to the computer centers.
With Mark-III, the applications were expanded to email and batch applications. Eventually, GE added to the base systems several IBM 370 computers to provide batch services without recompiling applications to the peculiarities of GE-600 code (differences in scientific operations precision in particular.
GE ISD was later instrumental in the evolution of Honeywell Large Systems by pushing Phoenix to use IBM and IBM compatible peripheral subsystems on the DPS-8 product line. GEISD had developed since the early 70s their own versions of peripheral subsystems shared between Honeywell and IBM computers and pressured Honeywell to introduce a standard facility.
After acquisition of the GE computer business by Honeywell in 1970, General Electric kept the timesharing business in an Information Services Division that is still alive. The ISD European Operation was momentarily kept inside Honeywell-Bull, but was retroceded to GE circa 1975.
Toshiba Corporation was a licensee of General Electric in Japan and also using the computer licenses of the GE-600. The Japanese , at the end of the 1960s, started to design their low-end version of the GE-600. They used obviously integrated circuits and designed a micro-programmed execution unit. Under the provisions of cross-licensing, Toshiba's design was later brought back in Phoenix under the ELS (entry level system) code name.
In 1973, Datamation reported, from information
apparently collected from Richard Bloch that In 1969, John Haanstra, somewhat skeptical about the results of
the Shangri-La task force attempted to establish as a parallel effort or as a back-up
effort a project, to be done in cooperation with Toshiba that would have closed the gap
between the GE-400 and the GE-600 product lines. It would have been a dual-personality
machine operating in GE-400 as a 3xGE-435. The death of John Haanstra in August 1969 would
have suspended the project.
GE APL advanced product line
Around the end of 1967, however, IBM S/360 was starting
to submerge its competitors and GE had to recognized that its set of product lines covered
few segments with a competitive edge.
John Haanstra left APL to head the Phoenix computer department, were he brought impulses from the APL project, such as 9-bits PSI channels, microprogrammed peripheral subsystems that improved the GECOS offering for many years to come.
After a new attempt by GE to redefine a new product line (in a 4 months meeting named Shangri-La in summer of 1969), the GE management finally decided in April 1970 to sell its Computer Department. Honeywell was the buyer of all the assets (including Phoenix as well as the European subsidiaries)
Revision : 20 février 2003.