Language peer sets for CERN Autocode:
Designed 1961 ↑
1960s languages ↑
Early Cold War↑
Genus Early Autocodes ↑
UK historic algorithmic systems ↑
UK historic algorithmic systems/1961↑
UK historic algorithmic systems/Switzerland↑
Autocode for IBM 709
alternate simple view
Genus: Early Autocodes
Sammet category: Multi-purpose
Autocode for the IBM 709 bought to replace the CERN Mercury in 1961. The project got absorbed into the CHLF.
Howlett, Jack (1979) Howlett, Jack "Computing at Harwell 1948-1961" Atlas Computer Laboratory Report 1979
30 Years of Computing at CERN - Part 1 At the end of 1958, the availability of a programming language called Autocode, attracted the first users to the computer centre and marked the beginning of the 30 years of computing covered by this paper. It is interesting to note that the first Mercury Autocode compiler was written in 1956 (by R. A. Brooker), two years before the appearance of the first FORTRAN compiler! It had many features which appeared later in FORTRAN. Due to memory limitations, variable names were restricted to a single alphabetic character (5-bit Ferranti code). It is worth noting that in the mid 50's the European computer industry was still competitive. As far as competence, innovative ideas and successful products are concerned, European companies like Ferranti, English Electric and Elliott in England, Telefunken in Germany and Bull in France had little to envy their American competitors (e.g. ERA/Remington Rand, NCR, IBM). The size and the drive of the American market were, however, going to make the difference quite rapidly in the 60's.
The reasons behind the decision to acquire a Mercury were technical, political and financial. Technically the Mercury was definitely one of the most advanced machines around. It was considered superior to the Ferranti Pegasus, to the Elliott 404, to the English Electric 'Deuce', to the Bull 'Gamma 311' and to drum-type machines like the IBM 650. Ferranti was set up to produce a dozen units and CERN was going to get serial number 6. The fact that Harwell and Saclay had ordered Mercury's was given a certain weight. CERN had no experience in electronic digital computers and it was better to be part of a club of users. As to the price (one million Swiss Francs), it was five times cheaper than equivalent American machines like the ERA 1101.
After some struggling with faulty tubes, tape bins, machine instructions and Autocode, people with lots of data discovered the existence of an IBM 704 in Paris, which offered significant advantages such as magnetic tape units, card readers, line printers and FORTRAN! FORTRAN II allowed 6-characters variable names and, most important, it simplified the exchange of programs with Berkeley and Brookhaven. The 1959 CERN Annual Report indicated already that as the needs increase, it will be necessary to envisage the replacement of the Mercury by a more powerful system.
The next problem was how to use all those Autocode programs on the 709. One just wrote an Autocode compiler for the 709.