Feeds

World's first biz computer was British – and sold teacakes

60th anniversary of the LEO is today

Build a business case: developing custom apps

Pictures Forget BlackBerry and Bill Gates: the first business computer in the world was British and was used to help sort the logistics for bakery distribution.

Tea merchants, bakers and Wimpy burger founder J Lyons and Co instituted the enormous programmable computer – LEO – in its Hammersmith office to help with deliveries of perishables including cakes way back in 1951. Today is LEO's 60th anniversary.

You can read about LEO's driving force, David Caminer, in one of Reg Hardware's Unsung Heroes of Tech articles.

Leo 2, credit Leo Computer Society

LEO II, showing the tabulator and the control desk

The beast of a machine comprised 5,936 valves and 64 mercury memory tubes. Each memory tube was 5ft long and weighed half a ton. It took up 5,000ft2 (464m2) of floor space and required 30,000 watts of energy.

Valves would regularly fail, with up to about 50 a week being replaced at one point, said the London School of Economics.

The user interface wasn't particularly developed: LEO was controlled from a control panel, with several oscilloscopes set up to monitor contents of the storage area. In a method vaguely reminiscent of some IT practices today, the early computer programmers used to listen to the computer's "music" to see what it was up to:

The machine also had a speaker installed and programmers could hear the sounds generated as LEO performed certain calculations. The programmers became so accustomed to certain frequency variations, that they could detect something was wrong with a program by the sounds produced through the speaker. The programmers also used this speaker arrangement to generate some of the first "computer music".

Leo 2, credit Leo Computer Society

"Listening to the computer's music" LEO II

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
The Return of BSOD: Does ANYONE trust Microsoft patches?
Sysadmins, you're either fighting fires or seen as incompetents now
Microsoft: Azure isn't ready for biz-critical apps … yet
Microsoft will move its own IT to the cloud to avoid $200m server bill
Shoot-em-up: Sony Online Entertainment hit by 'large scale DDoS attack'
Games disrupted as firm struggles to control network
Cutting cancer rates: Data, models and a happy ending?
How surgery might be making cancer prognoses worse
Silicon Valley jolted by magnitude 6.1 quake – its biggest in 25 years
Did the earth move for you at VMworld – oh, OK. It just did. A lot
VMware's high-wire balancing act: EVO might drag us ALL down
Get it right, EMC, or there'll be STORAGE CIVIL WAR. Mark my words
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Scale data protection with your virtual environment
To scale at the rate of virtualization growth, data protection solutions need to adopt new capabilities and simplify current features.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?