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Exploring the Computational Medium

History of Computing

Huub de Beer

2013

ALGOL Effort

Read about the history of the ALGOL effort and the dawn of computer science. From the 1950s on, early computer users tried to make communicating with a computer easier: wouldn't it be great if we could talk mathematics to a computer? And so the ALGOL effort started to create an international algorithmic programming language.

The first result, IAL (1958) was soon followed by ALGOL 60. The report on ALGOL 60, edited by Peter Naur, initiated a transformation of the early field of translator writing into a scientific field of formal languages and compilers. The ALGOL effort acted as a catalyst of the transition of the field of computing into a science.

The enthusiasm generated by ALGOL 60 could not be continued into a successor to ALGOL 60. When ALGOL 68 was finally finished, a schism in the ALGOL effort appeared: half of the members of the defining committee stated in a Minority Report that they considered the new language a failure.

Papers about the ALGOL effort:

Computer Pioneers

In 2007 I did a year-long project to describe the history of Dutch computer pioneers and their computers. This history starts in the late 1940s with the dream of building a large computing machine in the Netherlands and ends with the fall of Electrologica, Netherlands first computer industry, in the second half of the 1960s.

Electrologica

Netherlands first computer industry was the result of dreams of two worlds: the academic world of the Mathematic Center and the commercial world of the insurance company of the Nilmij. The mathematical center had gained a lot of experience building computing machines for the center and Fokker Industries. The Nilmij was looking to automate their administration and saw an opportunity to commercialize their efforts by financing a computer industry.

The marriage of academic freedom and the pressure to earn money didn't last. After the successful first machine, the X1, Electrologica was unable to come with a timely successor that could contest the machines of the competition. There was a short revival with the EL1000 fast punch-tape reader, but to no avail. From the early 1960s on Philips was making eyes at Electrologica to boost their own entrance in the computer industry. When the financial situation of Electrologica became critical in 1965, the acquisition interviews started in earnest. Next year Electrologica became part of Philips Computer Industries to fade away as an individual entity.

More about the Electrologica's story in my Dutch paper Electrologica, Nederlands eerste computerindustrie (2008)