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LEO, the British computer that roared

Reg readers quiz duo who worked on world's first biz computer

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Live Chat Just graduated and looking for a career in computers during tough economic times? Try breaking into tech during the 1950s when most people hadn't even heard of a computer.

Yet, that's exactly what brothers Frank and Ralph Land did and within a relatively short time from the closing of their studies at the London School of Economics, the brothers joined an elite unit working on what has became known as the world's first business computer - LEO, or the Lyons Electronic Office (LEO).

Based on EDSAC - one of the first digital computers running a stored program and pioneered by Sir Maurice Wilkes - LEO was the product of the forward-thinking brains of Victorian era tea-and-biscuits emporium Lyons, where it started its life running operations.

Frank Land, one of LEO's first programmers, knocked the bugs from LEO and wrote macros on paper. By 1967 he was running a national network of LEO teams. Ralph was the outfit's business brains, exporting LEO systems around the world and managing to outsell burgeoning behemoth IBM.

Neither had graduated in something called "computing" because such courses didn't exist.

As we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the birth of Wilkes, and following our recent Geek's Guide on LEO, Reg readers talked to Frank and Ralph.

In a special Live Chat we talked about the origins of LEO, how it worked and how it differed from EDSAC; software development using paper and pencil; computing in the 1950s; how LEO went to work building Cold War missiles; and how LEO outsold IBM. You can read the transcript by clicking the window below. ®

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