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Development of Systems Software for the Ferut Computer at the University of Toronto, 1952 to 1955

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129801D
Original Publication Date: 1994-Jun-30
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-07
Document File: 10 page(s) / 42K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

J.N. PATTERSON HUME: AUTHOR [+2]

Abstract

The Ferut computer was a copy of the Mark I computer at the University of Manchester. Two years after its delivery, in Toronto, systems software had been developed to vastly enlarge the community of users. To go from a few dedicated programmers patient enough to deal with the extremely difficult machine code to a situation where anyone with two hours to spare could program successfully was a major advance. This article retraces the steps in this pioneering experiment in automatic programming, in which the author played a central role.

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Copyright ©; 1994 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Development of Systems Software for the Ferut Computer at the University of Toronto, 1952 to 1955

J.N. PATTERSON HUME

The Ferut computer was a copy of the Mark I computer at the University of Manchester. Two years after its delivery, in Toronto, systems software had been developed to vastly enlarge the community of users. To go from a few dedicated programmers patient enough to deal with the extremely difficult machine code to a situation where anyone with two hours to spare could program successfully was a major advance. This article retraces the steps in this pioneering experiment in automatic programming, in which the author played a central role.

In the late spring of 1952 an electronic digital computer built by Ferranti Ltd., Manchester, England, arrived at the University of Toronto. It was a copy of the Mark I computer at the University of Manchester and the second computer ever sold. Our computer was dubbed Ferut, combining the names of the manufacturer and the new owner. It was set up in the Physics Department across the hall from an office that I, a relatively new assistant professor, shared with C.C. (Kelly) Gotlieb, who held the title of chief computer of the Computation Centre. I had been using the center's IBM punched-card equipment to carry out wave-function calculations for complex atoms, a considerable improvement over a hand-cranked Millionaire mechanical calculator that had been the best the Physics Department had when I finished my PhD in 1949. Ferut was to me a dream come true -- days of computation could be compressed into minutes. But there was a catch -- we had to get the new machine going. From a hardware point of view the maintenance engineers had their hands full with hundreds of vacuum tubes and thousands of soldered connections, a job that was to keep them busy for months.

In September 1952, ACM had a meeting in Toronto, and this attracted a number of the people from the University of Manchester whose brains could be picked for details of operating systems and machine language. This job fell to me and Beatrice H. (Trixie) Worsley, since Gotlieb was taken up with responsibilities of the conference. There was no manual with the computer and none was brought from Manchester. But a user of that computer, D.G. Prinz, had prepared one and had the facts carefully memorized. We found ourselves sitting behind him as he typed, in a most systematic way, a sort of on-line version of the Prinz manual, adding comments as he went. That was the beginning of my conversion from physicist to computer scientist -- wave- function calculations had to wait while operating system programs were written -- and I was elected. I could not have done this without the encouragement of W.H. Watson, who was both head of the Physics Department and dir...