The Italian cousin
Olivetti, a large office mechanical and electrical equipment located in Ivrea, in North-West Italy, embarks in the design of computers in the late 50s. It starts a cooperation with Bull, creating a joint-venture abandoned by Bull in 1962 and bought by General Electric. It operated as a division of GE, then of Honeywell until its take-over by Bull in the late 1980s. The relations between the French and the Italian operations were marked by a succession of love-hate intervals while, with only a few exceptions, the two companies sold common products .
In 1980, Saint-Gobain, at that time the prime shareholder of Bull, attempted a take-over of Olivetti, at the expense of CII-HB's ambitions in the office business. This effort failed and Saint-Gobain remained a sleeping partner in Olivetti.
In the mid 1980s, Bull established a joint venture (SIAB) with Olivetti, with manufacturing in Cassis, for designing and manufacturing banking teller equipments. Bull and Olivetti maintained separately their presence in the personal computer business that they both quit that market in the mid 1990s.
|1949||establishment of Oliveti-Bull joint venture between Compagnie des machines Bull and Olivetti to market Bull's card equipment in Italy|
|1955||establishment under the impulse of Adriano Olivetti of an Electronic Research Laboratory in Pisa, in liaison with Pisa University under Mario Tchou.|
|1957||Development of a computer prototype (ELaboratore Elettronico Automatico) named IV at Barbaricina, a suburb of Pisa. Technology was vacuum tubes.|
|end 1957||Modification of Elea IV by using transistors|
|1959||Introduction of Elea 9003, a transistorized business computer. It had a core memory of 20 to 160 KB and was using magnetic tapes. On that computer, up to 3 programs were able to run simultaneously. A key architect was Ettore Sottsass|
|circa 1960||Compagnie des Machines Bull and Olivetti 's joint venture Olivetti-Bull markets Bull's computers noticeably Gamma 60 in Italy.|
|1963||Olivetti buys back Bull interests in Olivetti-Bull|
|31 Aug 1964||General Electric purchases Olivetti
computer business that becomes Olivetti-General Electric, later named GE
Information Systems Italia.
However, some engineers remain within Olivetti S.p.A. to develop office automation computers (Programma 101 in 1965)
|1965||Introduction of Olivetti-General Electric GE-115 (born Elea 4001)|
|1970||GEISI is sold by General Electric to Honeywell. It will be known as HISI (Honeywell Information Systems Italia).|
|1974||Introduction of Series 60 Level 62 computer, running GCOS 62.|
|1979||Introduction of DPS4, a compatible upgrade of Level 62|
|1979||Denial by CII-HB of HISI proposal for
an hybrid version of DPS-4 able to run GCOS4 or GCOS7.
CII-HB was then contemplating to develop Archer, a low-cost MOS machine, that will be finally introduced in ... 1986 as DPS-7000.
|circa 1980||HISI develops for Honeywell a small member of DPS-6 product line|
|1982||HISI stops the development of DPS-4 and proprietary architectures and start to develop open systems for Honeywell, based on Motorola micro-processors.|
|1985||HISI is bought by Groupe Bull, as part as Honeywell assets.|
|circa 1988||Honeywell-Bull Italia engineering is integrated with French Systems division.|
|May 1989||Creation of Compuprint, a manufacturer of serial printers|
|1992||Italy engineering is responsible of hardware development of Pegasus a multiprocessor PowerPC system developed in common with IBM Austin.|
|1996||Bull imposes drastic cuts in R&D and closes manufacturing in Italy.|
The American operations
|n 1964, the GE Computer
Department, with its headquarters in Phoenix AZ, was initiating the production of the
GE-400 main product line and just decided to introduce a high end product line the GE-600
It will soon embark in the build-up of the MULTICS system, derived from the GE-600
This chronology begins at the time of the entry of GE in the computer business.
|1948||GE Electronics Laboratory in Syracuse wins an order for a USAF tube computer, named OARAC|
|December 1955||Homer R. (Barney) Oldfield from GE Microwave Laboratory at Stanford.CA is contacted by George Haller to analyze a RFP from bank of America for an Electronic Method of Accounting (processing checks automatically)|
|august 1956||San Francisco's Bank of America contracts with GE the development of its ERMA accounting and check sorting system. GE decided to develop a general purpose system, and subcontract the check sorter to NCR.|
|September 1956||establishment of the Computer laboratory and plant in Phoenix AZ. lead by Homer R. Oldfield under Harold Strickland|
|Herb Grosch joins the Computer laboratory to establish a service bureau using an IBM 704 on Arizona State College premises.|
|1957||Creation of the GE Computer Department inside the Industrial Electronics Division|
|Jones & Laughlin orders a GE312, designed by Arnold Spielberg for process control|
|February 1958||delivery of first ERMA system, accepted at year end 1958|
|December 1958||Barney Oldfield is replaced by Clair Lasher as head of the Computer Department. Oldfield moved to Raytheon|
|1959||Decision to launch the GE-225 a 20-bits computer designed by Arnold Spielberg, announced later in the year.|
|1960||Introduction of ERMA computer under the name of GE-210. It will also be sold by NCR as NCR-204|
|1960||Decision to launch the Mosaic line, a family of four 24-bits computers. The lower models will be announced as GE-415, GE-425 and GE-435. They will be known as Compatible GE-400 series.|
|1962||start of design of GE-235, a faster version of GE-225|
|July 1962||first sales pitch by John Couleur of M2360 against the Y of Mosaic|
|13 February 1963||Harrison Van Aken is named head of Computer Department replacing Clair Lasher|
|1Q 1963||the Couleur's project is taken in consideration for the future GE-600 in lieu of Y in GE-400|
|8 April 1963||massive reorganization inside General Electric. Fred Borch replaces Ralph Cordiner as CEO, Hershner Cross becomes Group vice-president. Cross found necessary to build an international dimension for GE computers. The departure of Harold Strickland on conflicts with Cross followed.|
|1963||introduction of GE-215|
|September 1963||Spielberg leaves GE for IBM San Jose. Later he will join SDS.|
|February 1964||First shipment of Datanet-30 a data communications minicomputer|
|1964||First shipment of GE-400|
|march 1964||re-Hiring of Lou Rader from Univac as Industrial Electronics division. Rader will stay in Charlotteville and will focus on international affairs.|
|1964||Acquisition of Olivetti computers and of Compagnie des Machines Bull|
|1964||First Time-sharing operation at Dartmouth College of the DTSS Dartmouth time-sharing system on a GE-265 (GE-225 + Datanet-30)|
|Jun 1964||Introduction of GE-600|
|Feb 1965||Availability of GE-635 prototype under EMBRIO operating system|
|1965||Disclosure of the order by MIT (for project MAC) of a derivative of GE-600, the GE-645. A new time-sharing software, MULTICS, started to be implemented by GE Cambridge laboratory (CISL), MIT and Bell Labs.|
|Nov 1965||Introduction of GECOS-II, a multi-programming system for the GE-600|
|January 1966||Departure of H Van Aken and replacement by Lou Wengert as general manager of Phoenix|
|august 1966||Transfer of Process Control Department in the Industrial Process Control Division under Lou Rader The Information Systems Division remains under Herschner Cross, acting general manager|
|Nov 1966||Eugene R. White named manager of engineering of Computer Department replacing John Weil.|
|December 1966||Stanford Smith is selected as head of the Information Systems Group replacing Hershner Cross and reporting to the president of the company.. L|
|1967||The GE disk files
projects (DS-15 and DSU-270) are cancelled.
Departure of John Couleur
|1967||Lou Wengert appointed general manager of ISED Phoenix.|
|1967||GE-600 encounters manufacturing problems , due to a change of components supplier. Sales of GE-600 are suspended world-wide.|
|1967||installation of GE-ISED peripheral plant in Oklahoma City|
|1967||Replacement of GECOS-II by GECOS-III, adding time-sharing subsystem (TSS)|
|1967||The GE-645 and GE-655 projects are transferred to Syracuse under Walker Dix|
|1968||Introduction of IDS (Integrated Data Store) data base
IDS was developed in 1962 by Charles W Bachmann.
|April 1968||John Haanstra from IBM joins GE as head of advanced planning|
|Dec 1968||Hilliard Paige is
named head of Information Systems Group succeeding Stanford Smith
John Haanstra becomes Information Systems Equipment Division manager in Phoenix
|1969||Introduction of GE-655 that will better known as H-6000 after 1970|
|July October 1969||Shangri-La planning meeting at Hollywood-by-the-sea FL, attempting to plan for a new Advanced Product Line|
|August 1969||John Haanstra dies in his private aircraft crash. John Burlingame from Syracuse, named in replacement.|
|February 1970||abandon of the APL project|
|May 1970||announcement of the cession of the world-wide GE computer business, except time-sharing to Honeywell|
|October 1971||closing of Syracuse Semiconductor department|
Bull-General Electric 1964-1970
Two phases mark the relatively short period spent by Bull under General Electric.
The first phase, between the merger and 1967, has seen the fast adoption of the GE products by the sales network, the integration of the European sales force of Bull and of GE and the continuation of some Machines Bull projects under GE.
|Oct 1964||Installation of first GE-400 in Bull, rue de la Boétie|
|Oct 1964||First Bull-GE layoff of 650p|
|12 Nov 1964||Formal take-over of Bull by General-Electric.
Creation of Compagnie Bull-General Electric handling sales and Société Industrielle
Bull-General Electric covering engineering and manufacturing.
Both companies share the same management. Compagnie des Machines Bull becomes a holding company.
Bull-GE absorbs the GE computer operations in continental Europe, except Italy handled by Olivetti-General Electric.
Henri Desbruères (ex-SNECMA) is named chairman (PDG), while Mr. Fancher is president (directeur général)
|Nov 1964||Introduction of Gamma M40 for scientific and industrial markets|
|Dec 1964||First shipment of GE-400 in France|
|Dec 1964||Start of discussions with Olivetti-General-Electric to delineate the role of BGE and OGE to satisfy the low and medium computer markets. B-GE relinquishes its 5% of shares in Olivetti-Bull, allowing a total integration of Olivetti-GE|
|Manufacturing of GE-400 in Angers plant.
It remained in production until September 1971.
|26 Feb 1965||Internal BGE announcement of GE-115, developed by OGE|
|24 Apr 1965||Second lay-off,|
|1965||First shipment of GE-635 to ASEA Sweden
This system had been ordered for scientific business prior the Bull-GE merger. ASEA was a General Electric licensee.
|Oct 1965||First shipment of Gamma M40 (to Berliet, Lyon)|
|Nov 1965||First shipment of GE-600 to EDF
The order was eventually canceled in 1966 by EDF due to hardware and COBOL problems
|1966||Introduction of Gamma-140.|
|Mar 1966||Introduction of GEADAC (General Electric Automatic Data Acquisition and Circulation system) a follow-on of Programmateur Numérique|
|1966||De la Rue-Bull, the UK distributor of Bull, is
taken over by GE. The stock is divided between GE direct 25%, BGE 50%. De la Rue keeps
It will become in 1968 GEIS Ltd.
|Jun 1966||Suspension of GE-600 sales in Bull-GE
No such formal announcement was made in the US, but sales were closely monitored at the highest level of the Division.
|Oct 1966||Decision to cancel the Gamma 140.
The announcement triggered a wave of resignation in France sales network (triggering the creation of the software house Sogeti) and in engineering (fueling the CII engineering).
The Gamma 140 manufacturing license is sold to the Czechoslovakian company Tesla.
|Dec 1966||Initiation of the "Charlie"
This project marks the origin of GCOS64 and GCOS product line
|Jul 1967||General Electric controls now 66% of shares of BGE and SIBGE|
|Oct 1967||William R Smart is named president of BGE and SIBGE replacing Mr. Fancher.|
|1967||First shipment of GE-55
it will remain in production until October 1971.
|Jan 1968||Initiation of GE Advanced Product Line project (alias L-178) where BGE is in charge of the intermediary size processor (R-370) and a part of software.|
|1 Feb 1968||Creation of a Small Systems Division at Bull-GE|
|Mar 1969||First GE-600 operating under GECOS III at Crédit Lyonnais|
|Jul-Oct 1969||Shangri-La seminar held by GE Information Systems Division at Hollywood-by-the-Sea, FL|
|Sep 1969||Announcement of GE-58|
|Jan 1970||Pierre Davous leaves the direction of R&D at Medium Systems Bull-GE and is replaced by Marc Bourin|
|May 1970||Jean Pierre Brulé named president (Directeur général) of Bull-GE replacing William Smart|
|15 May 1970||Announcement of the acquisition of General Electric's computer activities by Honeywell|
The acquisition of Olivetti and Compagnie des Machines Bull by
General Electric was seen by Americans as somewhat premature, needing a substantial amount of cash to acquire and to make profitable those foreign
subsidiaries, when investments made by the American arm were opportunity
driven and many products were not really competitive. For Europeans, it has been
significant opportunity to learn management techniques from General Electric and
to face the problems to reach the state of the art.
Perhaps GE did not invest enough in U.S.A. to build a marketing force able to sell the systems it made and would have benefit to learn more from its European counterpart.
Certainly, the qualities of GE techniques lead its upper management to believe that managers tought at Crotonville's school could run indifferently airplane engines, lighting lamps and computers businesses without being able to understand it. The lack of commitment to the computer market by GE was certainly one of the cause of its eventual failure.
However, GE recognizes a future in the computer service business, specially its time-sharing ventures in the 1960s and the 1970s. It remained present in that market after its divestiture from the manufacturing of computers, until the showdown of GENIE in the 1990s.
Revision : 23 janvier 2003.