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UCSD Pascal: the SofTech Microsystems (SMS) Era. Mark Overgaard. Caveats. No attempt to review detailed history Focus on a few high level observations about that “era” One widely shared perception… “We missed the brass ring.” Many widely divergent…

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UCSD Pascal: the SofTech Microsystems (SMS) Era

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UCSD Pascal: the SofTech Microsystems (SMS) Era

Mark Overgaard


  • No attempt to review detailed history

  • Focus on a few high level observations about that “era”

  • One widely shared perception…

    • “We missed the brass ring.”

  • Many widely divergent…

    • Prescriptions for what should have been done

    • Predictions of the corresponding results

  • My attitude: celebrate the good things; don’t sweat the rest


  • A range of professionally productized, supported and marketed offerings based on the foundation delivered by UCSD

    • “UCSD p-System” as the umbrella product family

    • FORTRAN-77 and BASIC compilers, assemblers…

    • Among the serious OEM commitments:

  • TI: TI-99 personal computer

  • IBM: DisplayWriter word-processing line

  • “IBM PC Apprentice”: special education packages

  • DEC: Rainbow PC

Accomplishments (Cont.)

  • A mini-industry of supporting products such as books*

    • UCSD p-System Personal Computing: Overgaard and Stringfellow

    • UCSD Pascal Handbook: Clark and Koehler

    • Advanced UCSD Pascal Programming Techniques: Willner and Demchak

      *In addition to the programming text books from Ken Bowles and others

Accomplishments (Cont.)

  • Further evolution of UCSD Pascal technology; continued focus on portability as major differentiator

    • Example 1: “Universal Media”: p-code-based hardware-agnostic application delivery format

      • Physically based on 5 ¼” diskettes

      • Directly anticipated Java’s “Write Once Run Anywhere” (“WORA”?)

    • Example 2: “Liaison”: use-counted local networking layer; obvious benefits from application portability here, also

Bottom Lines

  • As David Letterman and Paul Schaffer would conclude: “It was definitely something.”

  • On the other hand, clearly SMS did not survive

  • Technical and marketing factors are both involved

Marketing: Was “UCSD p-System” the right name?

  • Portia Isaacson didn’t think so

  • Clearly many other marketing/business-related factors could be considered…

    • Royalty levels

    • Choices of market focus

    • Choices of concrete strategy on IBM PC platform, specifically

Technical: Maybe it was too early for “WORA”?

  • Assertion: only in the last 10 years or so has cost-effective compute horsepower (including RAM) enabled acceptable Write Once Run Anywhere

    • Various mixes of h/w acceleration, just-in-time compilation and other techniques help

  • In the 1980’s at least, the value proposition didn’t compute

  • My experience on customer priorities:

    • Priority #1: acceptable performance on their platform(s) of choice

    • Priority #2 (well behind): having a wide choice of platforms or making it easy for application vendors to cover lots of platforms with one distribution

Potential Scenarios for UCSD Pascal Still Active in 2004

  • Continue on campus…all open source (the “BSD Model”)

  • SofTech Microsystems makes different focus/business model choices, e.g.

    • Understand and seize the IBM PC opportunity with a radically different approach

    • Find a way to more effectively combine with the Apple Pascal momentum

    • Choose to focus entirely on educational uses

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