Now that’s what I CALL retro computing

March 31st, 2008 | Categories: programming, retro computers | Tags:

I work at the University of Manchester which is where the world’s first ever stored-program electronic digital computer was made back in 1948. It was originally called the Manchester Small Scale Experimental Machine but everyone called it Baby and it didn’t occur to it to mind. Before I get flamed to death by US computer historians – yes the ENIAC was built 2 years before Baby but it had a fundamentally different architecure (as explained by Alan Burlison in his blog – here). As Alan says, if you wanted to reprogram ENIAC, you needed a pair of pliars.

Many people who are a lot more eloquent than me have written a lot about the history of this machine (here for example) so I won’t say too much about it here except that it had only 128 bytes of memory which were arranged in 32 x 32 bit binary words and that it had an instruction set of only 7 commands which made programming it a bit tricky to say the least.

If you think you are a real programmer who is up to the challenge of coding for a 60 year old machine then Manchester University is holding a program “The Baby” competition (closing date 1 May 2008) to celebrate the Baby’s 60th anniversary. There is a photo realistic Java-based simulator of the machine, complete with example programs, over at the competition website along with an instruction manual to get you started. With only 7 instructions to learn how hard can it be?

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