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Lyle R. Johnson

Lyle R. Johnson is a senior member of the staff at IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Center.

Titles by This Author

No new product offering has had greater impact on the computer industry than the IBM System/360. IBM's 360 and Early 370 Systems describes the creation of this remarkable system and the developments it spawned, including its successor, System/370. The authors tell how System/360's widely-copied architecture came into being and how IBM failed in an effort to replace it ten years later with a bold development effort called FS, the Future System. Along the way they detail the development of many computer innovations still in use, among them semiconductor memories, the cache, floppy disks, and Winchester disk files. They conclude by looking at issues involved in managing research and development and striving for product leadership.

While numerous anecdotal and fragmentary accounts of System/360 and System/370 development exist, this is the first comprehensive account, a result of research into IBM records, published reports, and interviews with over a hundred participants. Covering the period from about 1960 to 1975, it highlights such important topics as the gamble on hybrid circuits, conception and achievement of a unified product line, memory and storage developments, software support, unique problems at the high end of the line, monolithic integrated circuit developments, and the trend toward terminal-oriented systems.

System/360 was developed during the transition from discrete transistors to integrated circuits at the crucial time when the major source of IBM's revenue was changed from punched-card equipment to electronic computer systems. As the authors point out, the key to the system's success was compatibility among its many models. So important was this to customers that System/370 and its successors have remained compatible with System/360. Many companies in fact chose to develop and market their own 360-370 compatible systems. System/360 also spawned an entire industry dedicated to making plug-compatible products for attachment to it.

A Technical History

In describing the technical experiences of one company from the beginning of the computer era, this book unfolds the challenges that IBM's research and development laboratories faced, the technological paths they chose, and how these choices affected the company and the computer industry. It chronicles the transformation of IBM into a computer company in a remarkably few years, discussing projects that ended in frustration as well as the more successful ones, and providing a sense of the atmosphere, the people, and the decision-making processes involved during the company's rapid technological transformation.

IBM's Early Computers is a unique contribution to the modern history of computers. It focuses on engineering alternatives rather than business and general management considerations and reveals the significance of imaginative solutions to problems in design and technology, from initial experiments with electronics in digital machines to the threshold of the System 360 era. This fair and balanced account of IBM's role in shaping today's electronic revolution identifies the individuals (both inside and outside the company) whose pioneering work influenced developments at IBM.

The book's fourteen chapters briefly survey the card machine era and then cover electronic calculation, the magnetic drum calculator, the Defense Calculator and other first-generation products, ferrite core memories, magnetic tape, and disk storage development, programming, transistors, "Project Stretch" (which involved disappointments but led to one of IBM's greatest successes) high-speed printers, research, and new-product-line considerations.

IBM's Early Computers is included in the History of Computing Series, edited by I. Bernard Cohen and William Aspray.