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A Computer Called LEO

timothy posted more than 11 years ago | from the one-lump-or-two dept.

Businesses 103

frisket writes "The history of computing is full of unsung heroes and heroines, their battles against disbelief, and the machines they created. This is one of those fascinating stories: the first real office computer, designed for business rather than science or research, and built from scratch by the British company of Lyons in 1949-51 -- whose primary business was their huge chain of tea-shops." Read on for more of frisket's account of A Computer Called LEO, which sounds not only like a good story, but also like a bit of comeuppance for tea drinkers in the coffee-obsessed tech world.

In the early mists of computing -- pre-WWII, during, and immediately afterwards -- only a few scientists were really aware of what a computer was or could be, and no-one considered a computer to be anything other than a scientific or military tool. Except one man, John Simmons, a progressive and enthusiastic manager for the Lyons tea-shop empire in Britain, who also happened to be a brilliant mathematician and zealous proponent of the principles of scientific management.

Georgina Ferry tells the full story of how the young Simmons saw the need for automation as early as the 1930s. The monstrous task of accountants' clerks adding up copies of all the waitresses' bills for 250 tea-shops was done with mechanical calculators, and his dream was of removing this drudgery by automation.

He had seen the future of mechanical automation on a trip to the USA in the 20s, but it wasn't until after WWII that he was able to send two trusted lieutenants on an electronic fact-finding mission which included meeting Herman Goldstine, godfather of ENIAC, at Princeton. The resulting enthusiastic report, and a visit to Douglas Hartree at Cambridge, England, enabled Simmons to persuade the Board of Lyons to let him build a computer from scratch.

Post-war Britain had no dollars to buy American computers, but more tellingly, computers were viewed in the US and England by their scientific and mathematical fathers as tools of science. Simmons saw them as tools of business, and astonished them all by building one to do business processing.

The Lyons Electronic Office (LEO) was started in 1949 and entered service in 1951 with punched tape, mercury delay lines, and a program to analyze costs in the Bakery of the tea-shop business. It thus became the first purpose-designed business computer, years ahead of the first US business system (GE's 1954 UNIVAC).

It was so successful that Lyons set up a subsidiary to make and sell them to British industry. LEO spawned LEO II and eventually LEO III, which offered true multiprocessing. Sadly, British industry was slow to grasp the opportunity. Leo Computers had some notable and significant sales through the 50s and into the 60s, including winning the biggest commercial data-processing contract in Europe at the time (to the UK Post Office in 1964), but the Lyons Board eventually sold off their subsidiary, and it passed through mergers and acquisitions into ICL and oblivion, but that big PO contract was so successful that the Post Office persuaded ICL in 1969 to make five last LEO 326s which continued in service until 1981!

Ferry has managed to condense a 30-year technological saga into a thoroughly readable and hugely entertaining book without neglecting the underlying causes of Simmons' original quest to improve business efficiency. Her descriptions of the contributory threads of UK and US computer development are succinct and accurate, and they balance her careful explanations of the hugely complex world of running a large catering business manually, the complex interplay of family-business relationships, and the differences between UK and US commercial ethos in the post-war period.

At this distance in time, Ferry has been fortunate to have been able to include material verbatim from many of the people directly involved, so there is an air of immediacy which you don't get in books on earlier science. There's a full list of sources and a detailed index, and numerous photographs taken at the time. This all makes the book valuable on several levels, and it would make a great gift to anyone in business as well as computing.

Georgina Ferry is a science journalist and author, and has written accounts of scientific achievements in several fields. Recent contributions include a Life of the only woman Nobel laureate, and co-authorship of a book on the social and political aspects of work on the Genome. The BBC has a bio here. A Computer Called LEO: Lyons Tea Shops and the World's First Office Computer is available from Amazon UK. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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first post (-1)

ericmc42 (563909) | more than 11 years ago | (#5862877)

Suck it

i think this might be at the top of the page (-1)

Sexual Asspussy (453406) | more than 11 years ago | (#5862880)

could someone check? kthx


Sexual Asspussy (453406) | more than 11 years ago | (#5862907)

Re:i think this might be at the top of the page (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5862964)

dood get on efnet and contact me...i need you to write a perl script for me...yours always, kewsh /3

Linux sucks so bad it makes me shit my pants (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5862888)

Windows XP is so superior you linux users and open sores programmers need to give it up. I mean if it takes a highly technical user like me 3 days to figure out how to change the screen resolution of xwindows then something is wrong!

Re:Linux sucks so bad it makes me shit my pants (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5862937)

I mean if it takes a highly technical user like me 3 days to figure out how to change the screen resolution of xwindows then something is wrong!

Sounds like you're just stupid to me...

Re:Linux sucks so bad it makes me shit my pants (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5862940)

Because all operating systems are written by programmers, I assume that any operating system is much smarter than me. Thus, any good operating system should try to outsmart me by restricting my options at every turn. Linux, like all versions of Unix, is lousy at restricting my options because at the command line virtually any operation can be performed with ease. (For example, 'rm -rf /win' could 'delete an entire mounted directory, with no popup window warnings whatsoever.)

I'm proud to say that there is no such danger in XP. Windows pop up when I want to make a change, and then more pop up to ask if I'm sure I want the change. Thankfully, Windows XP looks after my computer's well-being by occasionally switching configuration settings from the way I want them to what the OS programmers think they might probably ought to be. Boy, I'm just impressed with how smart they are. Once I learned to live with whatever the default settings are on any new hardware I install, I can't say the number of hours I have saved.

I use that spare time to reboot my Windows XP machine multiple times a day. Technical support personnel recommend that I do it regularly-- kind of like brushing my teeth. To help remind me of this necessity, windows pop up to tell me to reboot whenever I make a configuration change. By now my machine is minty fresh, I figure.

There is no such useful rebooting in a Linux system. It is as reliable as the sunrise, with uptimes in weeks, months and years. Virtually no configuration change requires a reboot, to boot. Imagine all that plaque in the computer. Gross!

In XP I am prevented from making dangerous fundamental configuration changes unless I use a special "registry editor". I have found it so useful to have this separate editor that I hope in future versions they go all the way and supply a separate editor for each file on the disk-- in that way windows could pop up at every keystroke to warn me that changing any line in the file I am editing could cause the system to not run properly. If this were only the case, people would finally learn that it is best to just stick with the mouse and they would be freed of the need to constantly move their hands back to the keyboard. (If one stops to think about it, the mouse is a much better device to use than the keyboard. Ever hear of someone getting carpal tunnel syndrome from a mouse? No. It's comfortable and ergonomic. Like Morse code devices. That's how long distance communication started, after all.)

Linux, by contrast, requires no special editor to change configuration files. The fact that there is no "registry" in Linux allows the abomination of using any text editor whatsoever to do the configuration. Can you believe that configuration files are usually stored clear text? Talk about dangerous!

I am also happy to report that I have experienced no truth to the rumor that Windows disks become corrupt after improper shutdowns. Indeed, I have been forced to improperly shutdown the machine innumerable times after it locks up, and I have no apparent problems to report regarding the disk. No such claim can be made for Linux. They say something about lack of data points. Excuses are all I ever seem to hear from the Linux crowd.

By sheer size alone, Windows XP beats Linux hands down. It is so much bigger, it is _obvious_ that it is better. Why would you want a small OS with the large disks and RAM sizes we have these days? For this reason alone, I heartily recommend Windows as a way to maximize resource utilization. Your CPU and disk will constantly be pegged to the limit, the way god intended. The Linux kernel and drivers accounts for only about 750KB. Why, even the Microsoft Win16 subsystem uses more space than that.

It is no surprise that Windows XP costs $300 on the retail market and Linux doesn't cost anything. People know what they want, and they want Windows XP. Because Linux is free, that means it's basically worthless. The same goes for all the development tools, remotable GUIs, and applications, which all cost money for Windows (i.e., are worth something) and free for Linux (worthless!).

Installing software is very easy in Windows XP. I usually slip in CDs without even reading instructions or warnings, and just double click on whatever window pops up. There is no need to read anything or touch the keyboard. (Did I mention that I hate that thing?) Well, OK, I have learned the hard way the machine locks up if I don't take the time to close all other applications.

Linux, by contrast, requires typing on the keyboard to get anything to install at all. And you always have to know the NAME of program you want to install. For example, in Slackware, you have to type "pkgtool" to install a program. Linux needs to get with the 21st century!

Windows XP follows the DOS convention of putting \r\n at the end of every line of a text file. While this is only a mild concern because of the relative rarity of text files on Windows machines these days-- thank god--it helps to differentiate between the text files and the other files. Sadly, Linux makes no distinction between text and other files.

If I legitimately purchase Windows XP, I can call Microsoft customer support to get help with my problems. After a short hold time of an hour or so, they always help me. Ever since I told them that I was dual booting to Linux, they were able to flag my account and now each time I call even the entry level support personnel I am connected to say that Linux is the source of my problems. Everyone seems to agree that Linux is no good. The more I listen, the more I'm impressed with the knowledge of the support staff there.

By contrast, in Linux, all I have is stockpiles of resources and documentation that I would actually have to read in order to understand. Sure, I could obtain Linux support from a commercial organization, but they would probably just tell me I have to use a text editor to fix up my system.

In the end, I have no need for that old computer donkey Unix. I don't need to run big Unix tasks, after all. I refuse to become one of those a bug-eyed computer users, that's for sure. As soon as I can keep Windows XP from crashing for long enough, I'm going to delete my Linux partition, i.e., the equivalent of moving it to the Recycle Bin, saying that I'm sure, emptying the Recycle Bin, and again saying that I'm sure I want to empty it.

Actual Question (-1, Offtopic)

Tighe_L (642122) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863113)

I have this problem, For some reason X will not go into the resolution I want, I have 3 video cards in my system:

  • Gforce 2 Ti 200 AGP
  • Gforce 2 MX 400 PCI
  • ATI Rage Fury PCI

I am using xinereama

  • The AGP card will run up to 1600x1200 but I can run it 2048x1536 in windows.
  • The PCI geforce card will only run up to 1280x1024, which is fine by me...
  • The real kicker is that the ATI Rage Fury will only run in 640x480, I can run it 1024x768 in windows

Anyone have suggestions?

Re:Actual Question (1)

Tighe_L (642122) | more than 11 years ago | (#5864363)

Geez, Yes it is off Topic, but does it really deserve a -1 score?

dsfg (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5862917)


Colossus (5, Interesting)

whoever57 (658626) | more than 11 years ago | (#5862944)

It was a huge failing of the British govenrment to keep secret the existence of what was possibly the world's first computer.

See for details of what British engineers achieved before ENIAC existed.

Re:Colossus (1)

Blaine Hilton (626259) | more than 11 years ago | (#5862960)

I've always wondered why there is not more mention of Colossus. Before the Enigma machine was found on the sub, they had just about cracked it with that huge computer.

Define "computer" (2, Interesting)

tuffy (10202) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863174)

If you mean "electric computer", the Colossus is certainly one of the first, though I recall experiments in electrostatic computers that predate it (the names of which escape me). But, of course, the works of Babbage in non-electric computers predate the Colossus. And works in mechanical computing predate Babbage going all the way back to the abacus.

The Colossus was an important achievement. But, like many inventions, it was not without predecessors in some form or another.

Re:Define "computer" (2)

Graspee_Leemoor (302316) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863276)

Colossus was a scary computer.

"Obey me and live, or disobey and die"

I know this will get modded offtopic so I was going to AC post it, but /. seems to have turned AC off for logged in people. Hmm.


Re:Define "computer" (2)

tuffy (10202) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863334)

Colossus was a scary computer.

Good thing we have Victor Newman [] to save us from the terror of Colossus :)

(I noticed the lack of AC posting too. Fortunately, mods usually ignore offtopic stuff posted at 1).

Re:Define "computer" (1)

Colin Douglas Howell (670559) | more than 11 years ago | (#5866826)

You're right, a lot depends on how you define "computer". The early to mid 1940s saw several electromechanical and electronic digital computing machines in the U.S., Britain, and Germany: the Atanasoff-Berry computer, the Harvard Mark I, the ENIAC, the Colossus, and Konrad Zuse's Z3 and Z4.

I'm going to propose something a bit heretical. When I consider what "computer" means to us now, I think these early machines might be better called "proto-computers". The word "computer" makes me think of a fully electronic, digital machine that can do general-purpose computations, so that rules out electromechanical relay-based machines like the Zuse machines and the Harvard Mark I, as well as electronic machines specialized for one specific use like the Colossus and the Atanasoff-Berry computer. I also think of a machine that stores its programs in the same sort of electronic memory used for the data. This excludes the ENIAC, which was programmed by rewiring.

In other words, to me "computer" really is a synonym for what was originally called a "general-purpose electronic digital stored-program computer".

That type of computer was created after World War II. Around the time ENIAC was completed, its creators and other Americans and Britons interested in electronic computing discussed how to design a computer that would run stored programs. Several papers were published based on these discussions.

Afterward, many of these people rushed off to build their own machines. The British were the first to complete theirs, followed by Americans and Australians. In my view, these were the first true computers, according to the modern meaning of the term. Since their development was really a group effort, I don't think it means very much for any one nation or one machine to claim special credit for being first here.

By the way, Colossus also has a special disadvantage in taking credit for being an important step in the development of computers. Since it was a top secret project, the engineers who worked on it could only apply their experience indirectly, and others could not learn anything from its construction. So Colossus could not contribute as much to computer design as it otherwise might have.

Re:Colossus (3, Interesting)

u38cg (607297) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863256)

There were very few people who knew about it with any real understanding.

As far as those in authority were concerned "the boffins did it". As far as they were concerned, there was no interest in examining what they had done and deciding if it should be released. Bear in mind also the Cold War was opening up; many at that time thought there would be a shooting war within a decade, and opening military at that time was a non-starter.

In short, you can't really blame them. It would be fifty years before anyone in power (except maybe Gore ;) ) realised what computers would mean to society.I doubt I would think any differently in their shoes.

Re:Colossus (1)

whoever57 (658626) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863401)

What I think is interesting, is how the war pushed several areas of technology -- there were great advancements, yet, clearly the idea that technology's advance could be so rapid had not entered the conciousness.

The idea that Colossus would be irrelevent because of further strides in computing very quickly did not enter into the minds of the civil servants who kept it secret. The idea that there was commercial advantage to be gained from it also did not enter into their minds.

And amazingly, that it took until the '70s for the story to come out!

Re:Colossus (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5863927)

Well, Colossus was very secret until an exposé was written. At the time the former operators were aghast that this person wasn't locked up for revealing state secrets, but now we realise that the release was probably endorsed by the UK government - the USA at the time was making a big hoohah about ENIAC, claiming (incorrectly, and knowingly so) that it was the first computer. The rumour is that the UK had had enough and prodded someone to release the info for them so they could go full-disclosure on it. And it worked! Still a lot of text books with incorrect history, and a lot of people who don't have all the facts, though.

I recently went to Bletchly Park (the home of Colossus) and managed to get a personal guided tour of the rebuilt machine. It is quite amazing, and a thing of beauty. Watching a reel of punched paper tape whizz round at 5K characters per second is really something. They've managed to get schematics for just about everything, and there's enough old post office gear still available (Colossus was built from stock Post Office parts - when the 10 Colossi were dismantled the parts went back into circulation).

By the way - the Colossus had nothing to do with Enigma - a common misconception! Enigma was broken by the "Bomb" - a mechanical device. Colossus was used to break Lorenz machines, which were used for the top-flight communications - Hitler talking to his generals etc.

At the end of the war, the Bombs and the Colossi were dismantled, and all the documents destroyed. Why? Well, that's a story for another time... ;-)

Keeping Colossus a secret (1)

Colin Douglas Howell (670559) | more than 11 years ago | (#5866949)

To me, it was quite reasonable for the British government to keep Colossus a secret, and it didn't cost Britain much.

Remember, Colossus was developed as a code-breaking enterprise, not as a computing project. British ability to read German codes was very important in winning the war. Afterward, Britain faced the threat of Stalin's Soviet Union, and the Soviets did a great deal of spying. So at the time it must have seemed quite prudent to prevent the Soviets from learning about Britain's code-breaking experience and expertise.

Of course, later development of electronic computing technology would make that decision irrelevant, since encryption and decryption machines could be made far more compact and powerful than the German and British wartime technologies. But who in the late 1940s could have known that would happen? The transistor wasn't invented until 1947, and wasn't used widely in computers until the late 1950s. Integrated circuits were invented in 1958 and didn't enter computers until the 1960s. In 1946 no one had any good reason to think that the Colossus experience might not be useful later; thus it was worth protecting.

And Britain didn't really pay a price for keeping Colossus secret, apart from limited bragging rights, which don't mean that much anyway. Britons learned a lot from the American ENIAC experience and were just as active as the Americans in building early computers. The first few stored-program computers were all British, as was the first commercial computer (the Ferranti Mark 1, which was introduced just before the first UNIVAC). So British computer development didn't need Colossus to move ahead, and probably would not have advanced much by knowing about it.

Of course, the British position in the computer industry declined over time, but this has much more to do with the U.S. simply being far larger and far more economically powerful. (Perhaps Britain's postwar socialist policies had an effect as well, I don't know.)

Re:Keeping Colossus a secret (1)

LizardKing (5245) | more than 11 years ago | (#5868246)

it must have seemed quite prudent to prevent the Soviets from learning about Britain's code-breaking experience and expertise

A good hypothesis, but one that assumes that Colossus continued to be important to the British intelligence services. However, at the end of World War Two, Colossus was simply scrapped and its creators moved to unrelated projects. So Britain did pay a price as the valuable experience gathered during the Colossus project was wasted - its creators banned from furthering their acheivements in the commercial world thanks to the Official Secrets Act.


IBM vs Lyons (5, Interesting)

tomgarcher (604260) | more than 11 years ago | (#5862947)

Lyons being a food company apparently had many bad run ins with the UK government over rationing in WWII. This meant that hardly any computers were bought by the UK govt (apart from those purchased by the post office). By contrast IBM had a great relationship with the US govt before it got into digital/electronic computing (i.e back in the days of mechnical computing) and this fed through into a lot of demand for IBMs electronic computing offerings. Sad to say, another example of the UK govt managing to kill innovation stone dead and sabotage the economy. Willing to bet the dumb civil servant even managed a knighthood for his efforts.

Re:IBM vs Lyons (1)

Mainframes ROCK! (644130) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863227)

"Sad to say, another example of the UK govt managing to kill innovation stone dead"

Like destroying Colossus [] at the end of WWII?

Re:IBM vs Lyons (1)

nanoakron (234907) | more than 11 years ago | (#5866806)

I hear also that IBM had a great relationship with Nazi Germany.


computers and tea (5, Funny)

mcmonkey (96054) | more than 11 years ago | (#5862996)

The relationship of advanced calculating machines and tea was documented by this guy [] .

The Human Brain and Alcohol: +1, Patriotic (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5863086)

Good news [] for the Moron-In-Command []


Get Your War On 23 []

Re:computers and tea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5863677)

Russian Tea HOWTO []
Linux and tea ... mmmmmm!

Timothy, go get a dictionary... (2, Funny)

yomegaman (516565) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863009)

...and look up the definition for 'comeuppance'.

Re:Timothy, go get a dictionary... (1)

GigsVT (208848) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863080)

Hah, yeah, that is pretty hilarious.

Re:Timothy, go get a dictionary... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5863087)

That's where I comeuppance side Timothy's ass. It's absolutely fantastic, but not as tight as it used to be.

forgive him (1)

B3ryllium (571199) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863095)

he's from the south ...

Re:forgive him (1)

utopyr (621354) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863345)

Most all my life, I've heard Yankees say that folks from the South are stupid, bigoted, and prone to violence. This puzzles me--they say it as if this were a bad thing.

Re:Timothy, go get a dictionary... (2, Funny)

alwayslurking (555708) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863165)

You can find this definition, i.e., "literally, a coming up, an improvement of one's situation", a few pages before the entry for embiggen, I think..

Re:Timothy, go get a dictionary... (1)

NaturePhotog (317732) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863552)

It was the poster, not Timothy who wrote that. And in any event, he's merely embiggening the meaning of the word. It's a perfectly cromulent use of the word :-)

Re:Timothy, go get a dictionary... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5863728)

Not unless the poster likes to speak of himself in the third person:

Read on for more of frisket's account of A Computer Called LEO, which sounds not only like a good story, but also like a bit of comeuppance for tea drinkers in the coffee-obsessed tech world.

the tea tastes good though (-1, Offtopic) (562495) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863010)

very good tea.

Too soon (3, Funny)

grub (11606) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863019)

LEO would have been a great success had John Carmack been around to write Quake for it. Of course the cost of the paper spewing out of the machine would have been prohibitive.

Re:Too soon (-1)

SS Sugar Bear (667172) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863135)

That was fucking lame. Shut your yap, nerd.

Re:Too soon (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5863695)

What you be sayin?

Real Linux Nerds... (3, Funny)

joeszilagyi (635484) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863030)

...drink their tea straight. More of a caffeine hit, and it tastes better than coffee. And, you don't get that nasty twitch that Red Bull gives you.

Brits are worthless... (-1, Troll)

Suppafly (179830) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863043)

The only thing they know is tea and bad teeth. Everything else they just mooched off of Americans.


Re:Brits are worthless... (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5863097)

Oh for God's sake. Two words. Bletchley Park.

Still, if we're worthless, you won't want us to join in any of your military adventures, even if only to lend a respectable gloss to what you're up to. We actually had more of our boys killed by your lot than the Iraqis ...

Re:Brits are worthless... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5863161)

You had more people killed than the US? That doesn't make you better you clueless bowler hat wearer. It makes you stupid and in some cases dead.

Now go invade Syria -- and this time try and stay the hell out of the way of American gunfire, it's very bad for whining Limeys.

Re:Brits are worthless... (1)

cowsgomoo666 (663881) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863215)

More Brit soldiers were killed by US soldiers in blue on blue fire than by the Iraqis.

Re:Brits are worthless... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5863546)

More Brit soldiers were killed by US soldiers in blue on blue fire than by the Iraqis.

Er, that's what I said. In case it wasn't clear, I'm a Brit ...

Re:Brits are worthless... (1)

cowsgomoo666 (663881) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863628)

i got you.
I was commenting on this guy:

Re:Brits are worthless... (2, Interesting)

waldo2020 (592242) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863244)

I guess you never read enough history that the poles and brits have a huge head start on enigma decrypts using their mechanical computers (bombes) and developed the Colossus to break "fish" code. The americans and pre-NSA were children still playing with paper and pencil in those days. It wasn't until the brits and poles gave them everything on a silver platter that they even started to get a clue...

Re:Brits are worthless... (1)

easter1916 (452058) | more than 11 years ago | (#5865083)

Wow. You're really tough.

Brits are NOT worthless... (1)

joggle (594025) | more than 11 years ago | (#5864062)

BTW, the guy you're responding to isn't indicative of the general US population. You guys are obviously America's closest allies (I guess Canada and Israel are pretty close too...) and we've always helped each other in a pinch. Go Brits!! (really :-)

Re:Brits are NOT worthless... (1)

eurostar (608330) | more than 11 years ago | (#5864191)

I hardly think that following the US like so many dumb sheep into some illegal aggression for reasons built of shamefull lies, can give the Brits any aura whatsoever. BTW: just saw that Bush is already on campaign for the next elections, kitted out on an aircraft carrier like some moron in a hollywood film. This must make it ok then.

Re:Brits are worthless... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5864965)

Since I think that going into Iraq was the correct thing I would also like to say thanks Brits. I am sorry that you feel that it was not worth it. But then you live in a free country and can say what you like.

Redundant... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5863054)

...Bill Gates did already invent this before..

Storage Technologies (1)

rf0 (159958) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863069)

Its always nice to understand where things came from. I mean my dad says, "I remember the days when we use to use paper tapes". To my kids I will say, "I remember using floppies". Wonder what my kids will say


Re:Storage Technologies (1)

Smallpond (221300) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863154)

I remember when we used to have to type at a keyboard and read words on a screen. Hold on a second, my direct cranial connection is loose.

Re:Storage Technologies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5863186)

I remember when we actually stored data on local physicial media...

Re:Storage Technologies (-1, Offtopic)

snatchitup (466222) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863185)

My kids will say (about storage)...

I remember a brief period in the early 2000's when we stored our doodie in wet toilet paper. It was great! Then they went and took it away. I mean, you could eat off of my ass, now it burns red thanks to dry toilet paper.

Re:Storage Technologies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5863446)

Your kids are wierd.

Re:Storage Technologies (1)

pdbogen (596723) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863490)

"I remember the days when you had to use your muscles and eyes to interact with computers."

Re:Storage Technologies (1)

kin_korn_karn (466864) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863741)

"I remember the days when computers were separate boxes that you had to read a screen to interact with"

Re:Storage Technologies (2, Interesting)

Andy_R (114137) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863690)

My father (who was a LEO programmer in the 60s) told me of the 'drum drive', precursor of the disk drive. The principle was the same, but the 'platter' was a cylinder, which had the benefit of constant track length, but the drawback of being similar in form factor, noise level and maufacturing tolerances to a washing machine.

If I recall correctly, they managed to cram ana amazing 50k of data onto a drum.

Re:Storage Technologies (1)

bobbozzo (622815) | more than 11 years ago | (#5866462)

IIRC, those were modeled after early phonographs and/or music boxes.

Magnetic drums (2, Interesting)

Colin Douglas Howell (670559) | more than 11 years ago | (#5868289)

Yes, magnetic drums were a very common storage device until disks took over in the 1960s and 1970s. By the way, drums generally had a line of fixed heads all the way along the drum, so there was no need to move the heads and thus no seek latency, only rotational latency. And while drums were as big and noisy as washing machines, so were the disks of that era.

Magnetic drums weren't used for quite the same purposes as disks, though. Disks were for file storage, but drums were more often used as a low speed high-density working memory, similar to a modern virtual memory swap device. Running programs were swapped between core memory and the drum.

Before magnetic core memory became cheap enough to use in low-cost computers, some people even built low-end computer systems with a magnetic drum as the only working memory. Such computers were much slower than computers with electronic memory, since you might have to wait an entire rotational delay for a desired memory word to come under the read heads. Clever programmers arranged the instructions and data on the drum memory to minimize this delay.

Re:Storage Technologies (0)

Slouchy-a-go-go (472497) | more than 11 years ago | (#5864875)

Well, let's hope it's "I remmeber using Windows..."

first racist post (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5863111)

My computer consists of thousands of chained up Chinese kids doing math by hand. I feed them opium.

British lies (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5863124)

Once again the lie that Britain had something to do with the development of computers (a US invention by the way) is rolled out.

We'll be seeing the monthly article about Alan 'British Fag' Turing next.

Re:British lies (0, Flamebait)

waldo2020 (592242) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863210)

somehow you seem to be under the mistaken impression that the effing yanks invented everything in the world. I guess you never heard of Colossus or Zuse's electronic computers that were built before ENIAC. Yet another stupid moron ignorant american opens it's mouth and shit falls out.

Naivety. (1)

gilesjuk (604902) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863229)

A computer need not be electronic. Have a look at Babbage sometime.

Early computers were people, they computed log tables. But they used to make mistakes, so Babbage designed a mechanical device to do the job. It was never completed and other such machines failed do to the inaccuracy of metal work back then.

So I think you need to revise you dumb troll opinions on who are the godfathers of computing.

Sure the US was arguably the first nation to produce a programmable electronic computer, the UK built electronic computing devices before the US, however they weren't programmable.

Re:Naivety. (1)

richi (74551) | more than 11 years ago | (#5866584)

Sure the US was arguably the first nation to produce a programmable electronic computer, the UK built electronic computing devices before the US, however they weren't programmable.

You miss the point: the UK built the first electronic computing devices (before the US), AND the UK also built the first programmable computing devices. ENIAC was a toy.


So don't keep up hangin'.... (1)

Garion911 (10618) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863133)

Did it run Linux of BSD?

Re:So don't keep up hangin'.... (-1)

SS Sugar Bear (667172) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863204)

BSD is dead, just like Alan Fag Turing.

could it be? nah. (1)

kajoob (62237) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863207)

When I first saw the headline I was hoping that if the computer's last name was Laporte it would be cut in half with a sawzall. Sorry for the inside joke ;-)

Morgon Webb, will you marry me?

Re:could it be? nah. (1)

Vengeance (46019) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863545)

I suspect that Morgan Webb would be a lot more likely to consider you if you spelled her name correctly ;-)

Re:could it be? nah. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5863817)

He meant Moron Webb. they are well matched too

Leo Computer Society (4, Informative)

alext (29323) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863225)

The LEO veterans have a web site with some interesting pics here [] .

Y'know, that Leo 1 desk looks awfully like the computer that terrorized Emma Peel [] in The House that Jack Built [] . Spooky!

First business computer? (1)

192939495969798999 (58312) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863253)

There are always 2 sides to technology - coming up with the idea for the machine itself, and coming up with a use for such a machine. I think it's a doubly amazing achievement that this machine had a specific purpose, and was not just a general computOr (back in those days, "computer" had an "O" in it). My dad did some work with the ENIAC, and from his descriptions, it was essentially to replace a room full of people using adding machines, and that's about it.

i only know - very useful (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5863274)

LEO []
try it for yourself.


GE Univac? (4, Informative)

tinrobot (314936) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863306)

"It thus became the first purpose-designed business computer, years ahead of the first US business system (GE's 1954 UNIVAC)."

General Electric did not create the Univac, it was Mauchley and Eckert for Remington Rand.

BTW - My dad used to work for GE computers. I had a Multics terminal in my house as a kid. Learned how program that way.

Dang, I'm old...

Re:GE Univac? (1)

Alien Being (18488) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863568)

Not quite right. A snippet from: []
In 1950, Eckert and Mauchly were bailed out of financial trouble by Remington Rand Inc. (manufacturers of electric razors), and the "Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation" became the "Univac Division of Remington Rand." Remington Rand's lawyers unsuccessfully tried to re-negotiate the government contract for additional money. Under threat of legal action, however, Remington Rand had no choice but to complete the UNIVAC at the original price.

BTW - My first computer-related job was operating a GE-625. We didn't need no stinkin' terminals or OS.

Re:GE Univac? (1)

frisket (149522) | more than 11 years ago | (#5864402)

The phrase in parentheses was meant to refer to GE's *purchase* of a UNIVAC in 1954.

Amazing stuff (3, Funny)

JaredOfEuropa (526365) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863347)

Such stories are always a good read, and put things into perspective nicely. Here are a bunch of guys doing payroll on a machine that probably has less computing power than the battery in my laptop!

And here I sit, watching the secretary on her 2,4GHz P4... playing freakin' freecell.

It had to be said... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5863351)

Imagine a Beowulf cluster of these!

Ahhhh... (2)

ilduce (141065) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863442)

It's somehow gratifying to read about how the product I'm using (my computer) and the product I'm drinking (an indian black tea) are connected in history in a way which neither coffee nor red bull can compare.

To set the record straight for those who call tea girly, no product which for its aquisition entailed the conquest and enslavement of an entire (sub)continent can be called girly... Even if I drink it out of cute little porcelain cups with my cute teapot. It's still manly. Arrrrghhh (manly grunt)

LEO. . . (3, Funny)

AlaskanUnderachiever (561294) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863537)

So. . does it say bad things about me that the second I see "LEO" I think. . .

Law Enforcement Officer?

Re:LEO. . . (1)

joggle (594025) | more than 11 years ago | (#5864021)

So. . does it say bad things about me that the second I see "LEO" I think. . .

Same for me, different meaning:

Low Earth Orbit (common acronym used in orbital mechanics)

Re:LEO. . . (1)

syukton (256348) | more than 11 years ago | (#5865835)

I think "Law Enforcement Organization" m'self.

The English Electric Leo-Marconi KDF9 (2, Informative)

Animats (122034) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863583)

There were several other machines in that series, the most famous being the English Electric Leo-Marconi KDF9, circa 1960. The KDF9 was a true stack machine, like a Java VM. Way ahead of its time.

The Burroughs 5500 was a very similar stack machine from the late 1950s, but was more successful commercially. It was produced in quantity, had a good OS (the Master Control Program), and did the back-office work of many banks for a decade. It was even a shared-memory multiprocessor.

Re:The English Electric Leo-Marconi KDF9 (1)

bobbozzo (622815) | more than 11 years ago | (#5866454)

a good OS (the Master Control Program)

Was this the computer in TRON??

George, too (4, Interesting)

OldCrasher (254629) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863642)

Somewhere in all the mess that surrounds LEO is George. George I, II & III. I think (usual provisos about senility apply), George I was the OS on later LEO's. ICL ploughed on with this OS for years. In 1981 I was coding Cobol at ICL on a rare 2966, on VME-B, being hosted on George III - a feat common on IBM machines but less so on ICL.

George-III had some multi-user features, but mostly they used it just for multi-processing.

VME-K and VME-B which were meant to be new OS's inherited quite a bit of George and were still in use till at least the late-80's on 2900 and 3900 series ICL kit.

Imagine MS-DOS at 40 years old? Eyyyyhhhh!

Re:George, too (1)

Mainframes ROCK! (644130) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863985)

OldCrasher seez ...

Imagine MS-DOS at 40 years old? Eyyyyhhhh!

Funny you should put it that way, the original DOS for the IBM 360 (maybe even worse than MS-DOS IMHO) is almost 40 years old now. And its successor DOS/VSE is still in use.

Re:George, too (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5864920)

I don't think George had anything to do with the Leo family. George I (and its spooling variant George II) were operating systems for the ICT/ICL 1900 series that ran on operators executive ... the source code* was far too 1900 specific to have been ported from anything else. George 3 (and the paged version George 4) were much more sophisticated operating systems that - like Multics - had features that did not reappear for another 10-15 years.

* Just as Unix source had the "you are not expected to understand this" comment, the G1/G2 source (any version of either could be generated from a single GIN source tape) had at a key point the comment "You are advised in your own best interests not to alter the following section without contacting "


Electronic Abacus (1)

yoey (247125) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863777)

This was once discussed [] at /. in a facinating archived article at the Economist entitled, "Electronic Abacus [] ."

Available in U.S.? (1)

smoon (16873) | more than 11 years ago | (#5863849)

Does anyone know if/when this will be available in the U.S.?

This doesn't appear be available online from usual [] suspects [] . It can be ordered from the UK version of Amazon, but who _really_ wants to pay shipping on that?

Re:Available in U.S.? (1)

morn (136835) | more than 11 years ago | (#5865797)

The shipping's only £4.94 (about $7.92 at the moment). If Amazon in the US has import CDs or books, it's actually often cheaper to order them from and have them shipped.

I have parts ot two LEOs... (2, Interesting)

Simon Brooke (45012) | more than 11 years ago | (#5864110)

I have a mercury delay line transmitter and receiver (but not the mercory-filled tube which used to fit between them) from a LEO mark 2, although I don't know which machine they came out of. I have a power supply unit (one of many in the original machine) from The Corby Steelworks LEO Mark III machine.

early network (1)

mattsucks (541950) | more than 11 years ago | (#5864799)

If they'd built two, they would of course had to connect them with a T1.


Another book about LEO (1)

greenreaper (205818) | more than 11 years ago | (#5865243)

I haven't read the reviewed book. I have however read this book [] , and it was incredibly good - one of those "couldn't put it down" moments. I would recommend it to all wishing to learn about this historic machine.

Online paper about the business case for LEO 1... (1)

NickPelling (107930) | more than 11 years ago | (#5865258)

Good luck to Georgina Ferry with her book.

If you want to read more about LEO 1, here's a paper [] I wrote last year discussing the business case for it.

OK, it was for Uni, but what the hey - Walter Skok gave it 80%, so at least one nerd out there likes it. :-9 [*]

Cheers, .....Nick Pelling.....

[*] *sigh* Walter, I guess I owe you a drink for that... :-)

Location (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5865363)

I checked amazon/borders for this ISBN #. It did not show up. Any idea where to buy this book?

Re:Location (1)

frisket (149522) | more than 11 years ago | (#5866417)

Use the link in the article. It's at Amazon UK (don't ask me why they can't pool their ISBN data, it's prolly some crazy publishers' market-protection kick).

Quick some one port linux to LEO! (0)

sh2kwave (310977) | more than 11 years ago | (#5865557)

i am sure it would make a decent webserver, however i don;t think its power consumption would justify it.

dad guess what i found at the swap meet today
what son?
A LEO!!!!, btw umm your gonna have to park your car somewhere else now and start sleeping outside in a tent.
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