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Comments, Queries, and Debate: The Burroughs 5000 Discussion Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129564D
Original Publication Date: 1988-Mar-31
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-06
Document File: 2 page(s) / 16K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

Saul Rosen: AUTHOR [+2]


Department of Computer Science Purdue University West Lafayette, IN USA

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Copyright ©; 1988 by the American Federation of Information Processing Societies, Inc. Used with permission.

Comments, Queries, and Debate: The Burroughs 5000 Discussion

Saul Rosen

Department of Computer Science Purdue University West Lafayette, IN USA

I would like to comment on "Discussion: The Burroughs B 5000 in Retrospect," which appeared in the special issue of Annals (Vol. 9, No. 1, 1987) dealing with the B 5000. That discussion contains a great deal of interesting new material provided by the people who produced the B 5000 and developed its unique hardware and software systems. However, I think that some readers might get a distorted impression of the computer environment of the time.

Burroughs deserves a great deal of credit for having the courage to lead the computer industry in ways that are so well described in the reported discussion. But there were also important areas in which Burroughs lagged behind the rest of the computer industry. I myself left Burroughs in 1958 when Burroughs introduced a new vacuum-tube computer (the B 220) at a time when all new competitive computers used transistors. About 10 years later, in my article "Electronic Computers: A Historical Survey" (Computing Surveys, Vol. 1, No. 1, March 1969), I stated: "The 5000 was late in delivery and disappointingly slow when finally delivered in 1963. A more recent and faster version, the B 5500, is now being delivered and has a number of enthusiastic supporters."

In the Annals discussion there are statements made about cost- performance that seem meant to be provocative, but they are not challenged and are presumably accepted as true. There is a statement by Collins: "In fact, as with most universities, you don't really look at cost- performance except for the purpose of bragging to the other universities ... If you sat down and looked at cost-performance, the thing [i.e., the B 5000] was an order of magnitude over the 7090."

Twice in the discussion the question came up as to why Bernard Galler and the University of Michigan did not get a B 5000 instead of an IBM 7090. I think it was a bit of a cop-out for him to say that they did not consider the B 5000 because the Burroughs salesman told them that they would not be able to change the operating system. The University of Michigan needed a computer that could do large-scale scientific computing, and the B 5000 was definitely not able to handle that kind of computing load.

I was at Purdue in those days, and we did not for a moment consider the B 5000 as a possible alternative to the IBM 7090. We found the B 5000 architecture interesting and fascinating, and we taught about the architectural advances in the B 5000 in the computer courses that we were introducing into our new computer science program. We recognized the ATLAS in England and the B 5000 in Pasadena as forerunners of a new type of computer with memory management schemes that were tr...