Monday, November 2, 2009

GE 635

Like most college graduates in 1969 I had two choices; go to grad school or go to the army. I chose grad school and in September entered the MBA program at the Amos Tuck School at Dartmouth.
At the time Tuck was in three buildings at the end of a road in a corner of the Dartmouth campus. Our computing facilities consisted of a small number of ASR 33 teletype machines in various locations around the school which were all wired to the GE 635 "mainframe" at the Kiewit Computation Center up the road behind Baker Library. The GE 635 ran the Dartmouth Time Sharing System (DTSS). The teletype machines had paper tape readers for loading your data or custom programs and printed all input and output on the rolls of paper fed through the back. Most of the programs we ran had been written in BASIC expressly for financial data or statistical manipulation.

The history leading up to 1969 is interesting and I will relate some of it here, but a complete retelling is available on the Dartmouth Computing site.
1962 - Dartmouth mathematicians John Kemeny and Thomas Kurtz proposed building a College computation center and chose to implement a "time-sharing" system based upon a concept first realized on a small Digital Computer Corporation PDP-1 computer by a team of scientists from MIT and Bolt, Baranek, and Newman, Inc. They request a NSF grant to fund the project.
1964 - The NSF granted $500,000 to Dartmouth for the development of a time-sharing system and the computer language BASIC. A GE 225 computer, plus software, carring a price tag of $800,000 becomes operational in February.
1966 - General Electric (GE) renamed DTSS as the Mark-I and used it to build the largest commercial time-sharing system. Based on the success of this work, GE and Dartmouth College embarked on a project to put DTSS on the newer and larger GE-635 computer capable of handling 200 simultaneous users which becomes operational in 1967.
1969 - GE gave Dartmouth title to the $25 million GE-635 computer that had been jointly operated for three years, now serving 300 terminals at Dartmounth and throughout New England. The College and General Electric also announced a new three-year partnership in "cooperative work in computer technology."

In 1970 GE sold its computer business to Honeywell who later moved away from time-sharing. At the time, the sales event did not make a major impression on most Dartmouth students as there were other events happening at the time in Laos, Cambodia and Kent State.
I enjoyed using the terminals, running the programs and playing a little with BASIC, but still failed to envision the future of these machines...

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