Keynote: 60s and early 70s – Eastern European Cooperation in Computing

Blagovest Sendov

The International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP) was established in 1960 within the framework of UNESCO and all academies of sciences of the socialist countries of Eastern Europe, which then had prerogatives to organize and manage the international scientific cooperation of these countries, joined as members. In consequence, IFIP’s model was used to structure collaboration in the computing field in Eastern Europe.

The Commission for Scientific Problems in Computing (KHBBT) of the Academies of Sciences of the socialist countries was established in 1962 in Warsaw. One of the ideas was to use the contacts with the West through IFIP to assist the development of computer science in the East. As in IFIP, the Commission formed Technical Committees and Working Groups – the 1st WG was GAMS “Group for Automatic Programming of Middle-Class Machines”, and it produced an algorithmic language named ALGAMS.

The presentation will review these early days of cooperation and will shed light on the pioneers, documents and chronology of developments.

USSR: First Computers and Evolution of Cybernetics

Vladimir Kitov

The first Soviet computers „MESM“ and „M -1“ were created in academic laboratories.  Creating these computers started in 1949 under the leadership of S. Lebedev in Kiev and I. Bruk in Moscow, and these were completed at the same time in December 1951. On December 4, 1948, in the USSR the prominent Soviet scientists I. Bruk and B. Rameev registered the patent №10475 for an invention of an automatic digital computer. At the same time in Kiev the computer pioneer S. Lebedev started creating computer MESM. Over the next two years under his leadership principles of MESM were developed, individual modules were created and united into holistic computer MESM, which included about six thousand electronic tubes. The Bruk’s computer „M-1“ had several thousand semi-conductor devices and 730 electronic tubes. Less than two years after the creation of MESM and M-1, in 1953 the Soviet industry created computer „Strela“. Unlike its predecessors, computer „Strela“ was not a unique one but was produced in industrial series. Seven computers „Strela“ were implemented in seven major organizations of the USSR. The first Soviet serial computer „Strela“ played a prominent role in calculations for the first satellites and nuclear physics, in solving military control problems, as well as problems of science and education. In the 1950s the Soviet Union began to create the first computer centers. The first scientific articles, books and textbooks on computer and programming topics were published. Cybernetics in the USSR, after an eight-year stint as „bourgeois pseudo-science“ took its rightful place as one of the major sciences. Universities started courses on computers and programming. During the second part of the 1950th there were projects that proposed to extend the use of computers from scientific calculation tasks to solving Soviet economy and military tasks by using network technologies.

IBM in Central and Eastern Europe

Petri Paju

This presentation will offer an overview of International Business Machines (IBM) Corporation’s business in Central and Eastern Europe from pre-WW II times to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. When and how did the later king of computer trade first entered central Europe, how did it cope with the difficulties of cold war and manage to increase its business especially from the 1970s onwards? In a few countries, IBM was able to maintain a small national subsidiary (almost) throughout the period of study. From 1965, moreover, IBM’s special office in Vienna, Austria was able to start business beyond the Iron Curtain and compete with other western manufacturers who had already been able to sell (some) computers to socialist customers. All in all, this talk provides new information about this little known western computer business in Central and Eastern Europe and their professionals‘ enduring contacts with developments elsewhere.

Albania:  40 Years of Computers in Albania

G.Beqiraj, J.Kacani, N.Frasheri

The first computers entered Albania in 1971 with the creation of the first Center of Mathematical Calculus, first as a department in the Faculty of Natural Sciences of University of Tirana and later under the Academy of Sciences. There were two Chinese digital computers of second generation, using perforated tapes and Algol60, joined by a third one few years latter of the same generation. The Center of Mathematical Calculus did a colossal work during the 70s and opening the road for the application of mathematical methods in collaboration with a number of passionate engineers and other specialists. In early eighties a project was funded by UNDP, culminating with the transformation of the old Center in the Institute of Informatics and Applied Mathematics (INIMA), and the first research and government metropolitan network in Tirana based on two mainframes and three minicomputers supporting 50 terminals in the city. Reversal of the political and economic system in early nineties was catastrophic for INIMA, which started from scratch focused and new technologies and Internet.

Bulgaria: History of Computing in Bulgaria

Kiril Boyanov

The presentation will focus on the development of Computer Science in Bulgaria: The use of mechanical calculating machines goes back to 1937 and the first electronic computers were imported at the beginning of the 1960-ies. A short description of the first Bulgarian computer “Vitosha”, built with vacuum tubes, and the organization of the research, development and educational activities are given. The creation of an intergovernmental commission on the cooperation within the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECOM) in the area of electronics and computing gives a significant push in the creation of solid a research and production base in Bulgaria. The country develops and produces mid-class computer systems, hard disc and magnetic tapes, I/O devices for tele-working and data processing. The main parameters of the production for the period 1971-1990 are presented. The following progress in the manufacture of computer systems and devices in Bulgaria – mini and personal computers is presented. The cooperation between the academies of sciences in the ex-socialist countries on the development of new generation computer systems is reported in brief. The main parameters and information on the devices and systems produced as a result of this cooperation are also given.

Yugoslavia: Contribution to the History of Computing and Informatics in the West Balkan Countries

Franci Pivec, Marijan Frković, Niko Schlamberger

The history of computing in informatics in the area, which is now known as West Balkans Countries has not been systematically and methodically considered so far. There are a few books that are more or less memoirs and therefore provide a rather narrow and specific view. The ambition of this paper is not to offer a comprehensive overview of the beginnings of deployment of computers in former Yugoslavia but rather to serve as a seminal paper for those that would like to explore the issue in depth. In particular, the paper covers deployment of first computers in Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia and further development of related business, profession, and science.

The history of computing in WBC can be roughly divided into three periods: before 1965s, 1965s to 1975s, and after 1975s. The division is arbitrary and reflects the authors’ perception and experience but can be argued. Before 1965 the deployment of computers was limited to purchase of computers and their use mostly in university. After 1965, computers have been imported also for commercial purposes, training centres have been established, and first faculties of computing and informatics have been founded. In the seventies the country has developed an ambition to produce its own computers. The start was license production of computer peripherals in Croatia and Serbia and after that also license production of computers. This effort culminated with “eigen”-production of minicomputers in Slovenia. Parallel to hardware production also a noticeable development of software can be registered, starting with general usage application software. After 1975 the achievement of Suad Alagić must not be overlooked, as his DBMS concept was probably the world’s best at the time.

Details about CER-10, the 1st Serbian Digital Electronic Computer, are available in Vol.12, no.1, Spring 2014 issue of IT STAR’s Newsletter.

Czechoslovakia: History of Computing

Alena Šolcová

The first ideas of computer construction started in the 1935 when Antonin Svoboda (1907 – 1980) and Vladimir Vand (1911 – 1968) began work at the Skoda Works. They designed an original position locator for use by anti-aircraft artillery. It was based on the concept of the analog solution of differential equations describing dynamics of the airplane.

Both men were pioneers in computing – Antonín Svoboda in Prague and Vladimír Vand  in Great Britain. In 1946 Vand´s mechanical computer helped in evaluating Fourier coefficients and this invention played the important role in the studium of the molecular structure and in the discovery of the structure of DNA.

In 1947 Antonin Svoboda designed a sophisticated semi-automatic punch card computer and began to teach a course entitled “Mathematical Machines” at the Czech Technical University in Prague. In 1950-1956 designed and supervised the construction of the first fully automatic digital computer in Eastern Europe – SAPO.  In 1957-1963 designed and supervised the construction of automatic digital computer EPOS 1, in 1963-1964 worked on EPOS 2, an advanced version of EPOS 1. Then Svoboda escaped from the Czechoslovakia to U.S.A. Following development will be also described.

Hungary: Computing in Hungary – Through the History of Five Institutions

Balint Domolki

At the end of the 80s the computing scene in Hungary was dominated by five (state owned) institutions. Their story may well reflect the first three decades of the history of computing in Hungary:

  • The first computer in Hungary was built in the late 50s from Soviet documentation in an academic group being the predecessor of the Computer and Automation Institute of the HAS (SZTAKI).
  • Market oriented application development started in the mid 60s at INFELOR, later – together with an educational and a support institution  – forming the Computer Application Company (SZAMALK).
  • A PDP-compatible family of minicomputers was developed and manufactured at the computer department of the Central Research Institute of Physics (KFKI), with many applications in Hungary and abroad.
  • For the co-ordination of the Hungarian activities in the Unified System of Computers (ES EVM) the Computer Research Institute (SZKI) was created, later becoming an important R&D center for hardware, software and applications.
  • Manufacturing of computing equipment, mainly under French license was done in the VIDEOTON Computer Factory, with considerable export of (mini)computers and peripherals to the neighboring countries.

 History and Highlights of a Computer Museum

Istvan Alfoldi, Mihaly Bohus, Daniel Muszka

Since the mid-seventies,an intensive collection work targeted at the preservation of used equipment from all computing centers in Hungary has taken place, together with a series of adventures in accommodating the outcome in various warehouses. The devoted work of a handful of volunteers mainly from the University of Szeged has been helped by the outstanding intellectual and financial support of the John von Neumann Computer Society, resulting in one of the largest in Europe collection of computing equipment. Some of its unique features are the existence of full configurations and that many of the equipment have been preserved in operating condition. A carefully selected part of the large collection is exhibited in the newly built Szent-Gyorgyi Albert Agora in downtown Szeged, with the slogan “The past of the future”, providing an overview of the history of computing from the abacus to the internet, including also valuable relics from the life of John von Neumann. The first Hungarian “cybernetic animal”, the Ladybird of Szeged, has been chosen as the symbol of the exhibition.

Italy: The Early Approach to the Computer Era

Corrado Bonfanti

This presentation gives a concise account of the origin, course and aftermath of four far-reaching initiatives that bloomed in Italy at almost the same time, in a few months encompassing 1954 and 1955. It happened that the Polytechnic of Milano and the INAC (an Institute of the National Research Council located in Roma), urged by the need of hard computations, embraced the “buy” approach and purchased an already commercially available computer: it was an American CRC 102-A at Milano and a British Ferranti Mark I* at Roma. The University of Pisa and the Olivetti multinational company, afforded instead the “make” approach and launched two projects that – along two or three years – won the challenge to set up a computer entirely designed and built in Italy: the CEP at Pisa (a single powerful scientific machine) and the Olivetti ELEA 9000 (a business-oriented and fully transistorized computer).

The already mentioned simultaneity of the four initiatives didn’t imply any underlying overall strategy but clearly indicates that the need to enter the Computer Era was widely perceived throughout the Country. As a very fruitful consequence, the efforts complemented each other and – although resting on mutually independent scopes and resources – several kinds of collaboration arose since the beginnings. As a matter of fact, computing centers at Milano and Roma together with Pisa’s and Olivetti’s laboratories became the incubators for the fist – and quickly increasing – generation of Italian informaticians.

Lithuania: The History of Computing at a Glance

Antanas Žilinskas

Computers, computer science and computer engineering have more than 50 years of history in Lithuania. We start with a description of main directions of research and applications of the early days of computing. Then continue the presentation of computing up to 1990. Some remarks about contemporary situation complete the presentation where education aspects are also surveyed.

Romania: History of Computing in Romania

Vasile Baltac, Horia Gligor

Computers in Eastern Europe were built in the 1950-1960s not very long after the first computers launched in USA and Western Europe. The paper presents a chronology of Eastern European first generation computers compared with the chronology of Western first generation computers.

The first Romanian computers are described: CIFA-1 (1957) in Bucharest, MECIPT-1 (1961) in Timisoara, DACICC-1 (1962) in ClujNapoca. The role of Academician Grigore C. Moisil, a great mentor of all teams is presented.

Cases of international cooperation among Western and Eastern countries and among Eastern countries are presented, e. g. Prof. Sir Maurice Wilkes, FRS, from Cambridge University, the father of microprogramming, and the Timisoara team, Grigore C. Moisil brought to Romania several famous Russian professors, Timisoara team and at the Hungarian Academy Institute. Victor Toma supported the creation of Vitosha, the first Bulgarian computers (1963). His role was recognized by his election as Honorary Member of the Bulgarian Academy in 2008.

The first generation computers were followed by a series of second generation transistorized computers CET -500 (Victor Toma-1963), MECIPT-2 (Lowenfeld, Kaufman, Baltac – 1963), DACICC-200 (Muntean, Farkas, Bocu -1964).

In the 1965-1966 the government recognized the need of a computer industry. All research teams were assembled in a powerful R&D Institute for Computer. A license from CII-France was acquired to produce IRIS-50, computer renamed in Romania as FELIX C-256. The license was given by decision of General De Gaulle in infringement of embargo of USA for such a technology. Factories were built and a computer industry was born in the 1970s. The institute first enlarged the FELIX family with two additional members and further developed a minicomputer family named INDEPENDENT -100 to celebrate 1977 the year of the first centenary of Romanian Independence. A joint venture with Control Date Corporation – USA, then a powerful IT corporation was set up in Bucharest, manufacturing modern peripherals. A software industry emerged.

The other countries in Eastern Europe decided to build a unified series of computers Ryad (EC EVM) and further Mini EVM (SM EVM). The reasons of Romania not participation at Ryad, but actively joining SM EVM are recalled.

The paper reviews the link between political decisions and computer industry development and traces roots of the present IT development in the past. A case of professional restoration (MECIPT-1) is presented.

Museums of Computer History as Teaching Support for Computer Subjects

Ana Pont Sanjuán, Antonio Robles Martínez, Xavier Molero Prieto, Milagros Martínez Díaz

We show how a group of teachers of the Universitat Politècnica de València (UPV) have included the visit to the Museum of Computer History as an additional activity of the Computer Organization subject with the main objective of increasing the student motivation and to spread the history of computers among young people. The Museum of Computer History of the UPV is an official museum recognized by the government of the autonomous region of Valencia.

One of the main difficulties when teaching basic subjects related with computer fundamentals and organization to computer engineering undergraduate students is to provide an applied vision close to the current real word able to motivate and encourage them to study the subject.

To learn about the basic principles of how computers work, how the main hardware components interact and, the role of the assembly language is currently of little interest for our students because in order to explain these concepts we traditionally use simplifications and abstractions that are far from the technological reality of today. Nevertheless, proceed in this way is necessary to create a solid knowledge base that later permits to teach more complex concepts and current paradigms. But, obviously this basic point of view of a computer is unattractive for our students which use in their daily lives devices and applications based on the latest technologies. These habits complicate the motivation for the contents of the core subjects.

We have found that our Museum of Computer History can be an interesting tool to help us in this educational challenge. So, in this work we explain how the experience has been organized during the current academic year and how we make a relationship between museum collections and the topics of the studied subject. Finally we show how the experience has been evaluated to know the satisfaction level of our students and the degree of objectives achievement.