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UCSD Pascal: the SofTech Microsystems (SMS) Era

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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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  • 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
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 cont1
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
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
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
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
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