Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Fifty Years of the Nova

My friend Blake recently emailed me a link to a video tour of much gear brought together this past fall to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Data General's Nova minicomputer. I was a bit surprised not to have heard of it, not that I could have made it to Denver for two days of reveling in old systems.

The Novas and their successors in the Eclipse line had a good run. By the end of twenty years, though, a prescient eye could see the run coming to an end. About 1990, an article in Focus, the Data General Users Group magazine, mentioned a 386-based PC beating an MV/20000 minicomputer on a sorting benchmark. I would imagine that the PC cost at most $5000; the one reference I can find on-line for MV/20000 pricing says that they cost $200,000 and up when introduced in 1985. One could do a number of things with the minicomputer that one couldn't do with the PC, for example support a lot of word-processing users. But by the early 1990s organizations wanted to use the PCs for word processing. And by the middle of the 1990s, RISC-based systems running UNIX had largely supplanted the old minicomputers for such work as the PCs hadn't taken over.

I must say that I enjoyed working with the Novas and Eclipses. Given a day or so to brush up, I might be able again to write programs and scripts for them. Yet what then? Pretty much everything I did on the machines was for use, not play, and I doubt anyone is now doing the those tasks on them.

Yet here are to this day machines emulating the Eclipse instruction set to run old programs. How many, I can't say. Probably the people at Wild Hare Computer Systems have a good idea.

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