Feeds

David Caminer, creator of the first business computer

We salute the architect of LEO

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

The Power of One Brief: Top reasons to choose HP BladeSystem

Made in Britain

The Lyons managers returned to the UK with one useful piece of information. The Americans had pointed them towards a group at Cambridge University engaged in building their own computer. The name EDSAC (Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator) was the clue to its key difference from ENIAC - it was the first practical computer with a means of storing programs. To do this, it used an array of "delay lines" that retained data as constantly refreshed ripple patterns in troughs of mercury.

Here's an EDSAC simulator showing it in action.

EDSAC was still a work in progress when the Lyons team went to Cambridge to assess its possibilities. They were sufficiently impressed to hand over £3000 - nearly £100,000 in today's money - to speed up the project.

Leo 1 in situ

Leo 1 at Cadby Hall
Source: Leo Computer Society

Renamed LEO (Lyons Electronic Office), the version specially built in-house under the lead of a young engineer called John Pinkerton ran its first test programs on 6 May 1949.

But calculating a table of squares and a list of prime numbers wasn't going to make much of a dent in Lyons' labour shortage problems. Caminer's job was getting it to do something useful.

A programming language, even at assembly level, would have been a help. LEO came with no such luxury. But it took Caminer's team only two years to tame the beast, and in November 1951 it was proudly running "The Bakery Valuations Job" to track and cost the labour and material of cakes, biscuits and bread moving through Lyons various profit centres.

LEO had begun earning its crust.

The World First Business Computer

In Caminer's own words: "It was a system with three input channels and two output channels all working concurrently with the computer’s calculating operations. Magnetic tape had been put aside for the time being and the input transports were punched card readers and electronically sensed paper tape readers.

Leo 1 control desk

Source: Leo Computer Society

"The output was to a line printer and a card punch. Data were read into buffer stores so as to be ready immediately they were wanted by the calculating unit in the main frame. Similarly, results were flashed out to the output buffers ready for printing or punching.

"It was all like a three ring circus, except that there were many more than three things happening at once."

Caminer's address to The Guildhall conference for business leaders, November 2001

Using blade systems to cut costs and sharpen efficiencies

More from The Register

next story
Report: American tech firms charge Britons a thumping nationality tax
Without representation, too. Time for a Boston (Lincs) Macbook Party?
Child diagnosed as allergic to iPad
Apple's fondleslab is the tablet dermatitis sufferers won't want to take
Microsoft takes on Chromebook with low-cost Windows laptops
Redmond's chief salesman: We're taking 'hard' decisions
For Lenovo US, 8-inch Windows tablets are DEAD – long live 8-inch Windows tablets
Reports it's killing off smaller slabs are greatly exaggerated
Cheer up, Nokia fans. It can start making mobes again in 18 months
The real winner of the Nokia sale is *drumroll* ... Nokia
Seventh-gen SPARC silicon will accelerate Oracle databases
Uncle Larry's mutually-optimised stack to become clearer in August
prev story

Whitepapers

Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.