Series: History of Computing
Hardcover: 744 pages
Publisher: The MIT Press; First Edition edition (December 3, 1985)
Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
Shipping Weight: 2.9 pounds
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
Best Sellers Rank: #879,758 in Books (See Top 100 in Books) #116 in Books > Computers & Technology > Hardware & DIY > Microprocessors & System Design > Computer Design #4935 in Books > Computers & Technology > Computer Science #6060 in Books > Textbooks > Reference
This is primarily a technical history of IBM's early computers. It begins with the successors to Herman Hollerith's tabulating machine -- punched card accounting machines -- and ends with the announcement of the IBM/360 series.But in addition to a relatively detailed description of some of the engineering behind IBM's early computers, it also provides a view of how that engineering was affected by the politics of a large corporation and the needs of its customers.The authors are all long-time staff of IBM and participants in this early history. To their credit (and IBM's), they show both the muddle and the genius involved: how IBM wound up both at the head of the pack and with a set of incompatible products by 1960.The technologies involved are all 50 years or more out of date. However, if you plan to spend time working as an engineer or manager in a technical firm, then reading this book carefully, along with the works of Frederick Brooks, Samuel Florman, Robert Lucky, and Henry Petroski, might offer as good an education as many MBA programs.(See our Amapedia article for details on publication history, author background, and content notes.)
Just finished reading *IBM's Early Computers* and I'm sad to have it come to an end. What an epic struggle! From census tabulators in the 20's to playing catch-up with UNIVAC, to building the giant SAGE air defense computers, to making point contact transistors by breaking open diodes, to implementing the pioneering and massive SABRE airline reservations system. (That was a pair of 7090 solid-state mega-computers, running in tandem and serving thousands of terminals in real time.) Stops just short of the revolutionary IBM-360 systems but outlines where they were going with that effort. (I just ordered *IBM's 360 and Early 370 Systems* which is in the same MIT Press series.)It's a fascinating story of how the elephant learned to dance. Reads like a historical novel, yet is written with a lot of meaty detail on the technical aspects of the engineering challenges. (You'll get the most out of it, if you're technically inclined.) At times, it was a struggle of engineering versus the sales suits. Begins in the twenties, when IBM (under another name) made punched-card machines. The surprising thing was how much computing, organizations were able to do without computers. By the late forties, card machines could do arithmetic and multiple-step operations, under the control of plug-boards. When general purpose computers were proposed, sales and marketing declared that there was no market for them and that customers would never pay the higher monthly rentals required!In just ten short years, IBM went from being an electromechanical machine maker to a pioneer in state-of-the-art electronics. The management and engineering effort it took to do that on the massive scale of their company was nothing short of Herculean. In spite of being written by people who were actually there, this is no puff-piece. Tells of the failures, along with the triumphs. Meticulously documented, with over 80-pages of footnotes, this is truly a magnum opus!
I've had this book a few days now and am thoroughly enjoying it. So far, I've read through the chapters on electromechanical devices, and the early drum and tape calculators. Fascinating, the more so because I didn't previously know that I cared - I bought this because I'm interested in 'proper' (my programmer bias is showing) stored-program computers, particularly the 7094 and Stretch. So far, there's plenty of technical detail.I have one tiny gripe: the paperback is not very high quality considering its price. The layout looks like a cheap pulp novel only with about 0.5" of margin. There's a consistent blur to 2 or 3 lines two-thirds of the way down the page. At first I thought it might have been one of those print-on-demand editions, but the front matter seems to indicate otherwise. Still, though I wish it were better produced, I don't regret the purchase.
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