24 July 2011

Sun JavaStation NC

[This post was originally published in the networkmuseum.net.]

In the second half of the 1990s a few vendors had a dream: Let's build a computer where the operating system, applications and data are somewhere on the network.  IBM succinctly described the dream in in the manual of its Network Station 300.
"The Network Station Series 300 is designed for environments that combine a need for multiple server access with browser access to applications and data that reside on a corporate intranet or the Internet. ... [It] can be thought of as the 'Internet computer'."
(IBM's Network Station will be featured later in this museum.)

These computers were known as network computers - a phrase still trademarked by one of the vendors.

Sun's contribution was the JavaStation - or the JavaStation NC (where NC indicates that it is a network computer).  The first JavaStation version looked like a brick.  The second (and 'real') version of the JavaSation had a much more futuristic appearance.
On the technical side the major innovation of the second version was the ability to operate outside the context of an intranet.  It could boot on its own, and then use applications, data and other services from the Internet, without any 'local' facilities.
On the outside there is hardly any indication of the intended use of the JavaStation.  Two 'doors' at the rear reveals something more about its intended use.
The key connector is the RJ-45 socket that enables it to be connected to the network.  Provision is also made for a (PS/2) keyboard, a (PS/2) mouse, microphone, speakers and a serial connection (and, of course, electricity).

In order to estimate the size of the JavaStation it is pictured below with a matchstick.
On the inside it has a (fast for the time) 100Mhz MicroSPARC IIep CPU and provision for up to 64MB of RAM.

05 July 2011

Mechanical adding machine

It is hard to imagine a greater contrast to the mainframe featured in the previous post than the mechanical adding machine pictured below.  It probably dates from around 1970.  I remember in the 1970s South African Post Offices closed at 16:30, but closed for financial transactions at 16:15.  If you walked into the Post Office after 16:15 the lady behind the counter was busy balancing the books using an adding machine like this one.

We got our first electronic calculator in the mid-1970s.  It had an LED display and used horrendously expensive and hard to obtain AAA batteries.  Of course the mechanical model below required no batteries and kept on working even during blackouts.
To use the adding machine one would use the stylus and enter the number by pulling the dials downwards.  To add 5 one would place the stylus into the hole next to the black 5 and pull it until it reached the bottom.  To add tens one would use the dial to the left of the units, and so on.  Every number entered was added to the running total displayed through the holes at the top.
To subtract, one would use the red numbers and 'add' it, and then add 1.  If the reader has not previously encountered tens complement arithmetic, now is the time to figure it out.

To reset the adding machine to 0 one pushed the red 'clear all' lever back and all the dials spun back to 0.

13 June 2011

UP's IBM System z9

Here is the IBM System z9 mainframe that until recently ran the critical applications at the University of Pretoria.

It is interesting how simple such a powerful machine looks from the inside.

But from the outside it is simply beautiful.