Inventing the PC

Inventing the PC: The MCM/70 Story

Zbigniew Stachniak
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 225
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt810m4
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Inventing the PC
    Book Description:

    Inventing the PC details the invention and design of the MCM/70 computer and the prolonged struggle to bring it to market. Zbigniew Stachniak offers an insider's view of events on the front lines of pioneering work on personal computers. He shows what information and options PC pioneers had, how well they understood what they were doing, and how that understanding - or lack thereof - shaped both their engineering ingenuity and the indecisiveness and over-reaching ambition that would ultimately turn a very promising venture into a missed opportunity. Providing comprehensive historical background and rich photographic documentation, Inventing the PC tells the story of a Canadian company on the cutting-edge of the information age.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-8146-3
    Subjects: Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 3-8)

    This book attempts to tackle one of the most intriguing issues in the modern history of computing – the dawn of the personal computer – not by comprehensive analysis of technological context and sociocultural environment, as is customarily done in the history of computing narratives, but through the details of a case study of a little-known company by the name of Micro Computer Machines (or MCM). In May 1973, MCM, a Torontobased electronics company, publicly demonstrated the MCM/70 portable computer. Powered by a microprocessor and operated using a sophisticated programming language called APL, the MCM/70 was positioned to be a small, practical,...

  5. 1 At the Beginning, There Were Two
    (pp. 9-21)

    In the fall of 1971 in Toronto, Merslau (Mers) Kutt, a wellknown Canadian entrepreneur, met Gordon Ramer, a software engineer and the assistant director of the York University Computer Centre, to chat about computer technology.

    The two had briefly met three years earlier, at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, where Kutt was the director of the university’s computer centre. It was a brief and apparently inconsequential meeting following a lecture, organized by Queen’s, that had attracted Ramer strongly enough to make the 260-kilometre trip from York University, on the outskirts of Toronto. By the fall of 1971, things were entirely...

  6. 2 Inventing the PC
    (pp. 22-37)

    The idea of creating a small desktop computer for personal use did not occur to Kutt suddenly. It was, rather, an evolutionary process powered by his expert knowledge of the computer field, his innate technical curiosity, and, most of all, by his ceaseless search for new ways of making people’s interaction with computers more user-friendly in large organizations such as universities.

    Kutt knew and understood academia as well as he did the computer business. He had earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Mathematics and Physics from the University of Toronto in 1956. After graduation, he did some electronic circuit...

  7. 3 The Making of the MCM/70
    (pp. 38-64)

    The first months of 1972 that followed the incorporation of KSI were rather unusual. As with any typical start-up company, KSI needed capital, technology, and competent employees willing to work in an underfunded young company. What was out of the ordinary, however, was that the company’s new employees were given the tasks of writing software for non-existent hardware and of building hardware out of Intel’s novel semiconductor devices, whose claimed utility to the electronics industry was yet to be validated. One such device was the microprocessor. As Ramer explained, “In designing the MCM/70, we totally bet on the emerging microprocessor...

  8. 4 Unveiling the Future
    (pp. 65-79)

    The computer industry at large was mostly unaware of the developments at MCM. The company kept most of its secrets well guarded, only occasionally releasing information to the press. Although some vague press reports talked about Kutt’s plans to set up a new computer company,¹ it was not until March 1973 that a short note inCanadian Datasystemsinformed readers about the coming of a “small computer” from a new Canadian firm:

    After keeping a low profile for 18 months, Kutt has acquired space in suburban Toronto and formed Micro Computer Machines Ltd … The company, he [Kutt] says, is...

  9. 5 It’s All About Power
    (pp. 80-113)

    1973 was a successful year for MCM, one in which the company made excellent progress in both product development and marketing. By the end of the year, the company had engaged most of its resources in the process of converting the prototype into the production model, and it seemed for a while that the mass manufacture of the computer would commence with the dawning of 1974. The production targets were estimated at an astonishing level of 500 to 1,000 machines a month, which would generate enough cash not only to satisfy the most profithungry investors but also to develop the...

  10. 6 Changing Fortunes
    (pp. 114-136)

    In the end, the 16 July corporate shuffle at MCM had resolved none of the controversial issues and failed to steer the company out of its self-destructive mode of operations. Kutt remained the company’s president and a majority shareholder, but his managerial powers had been pared to the bone. The outside investors were in full control of MCM’s operations, from the board of directors’ functions down to day-to-day managerial decisionmaking. But their long term ambitions remained constrained by their minority shareholding position.

    The new managerial regime under Wallace met on 21 July; present were Day, Edwards, Victor Waese, Wallace, and...

  11. 7 The Day After
    (pp. 137-163)

    For MCM , the ramifications of Kutt’s departure were difficult to predict. On the one hand, the power struggle was over and the first MCM/70 computers equipped with ordinary power supplies had begun to leave the manufacturing plant in Kingston en route to distributors in Canada and the United States. Furthermore, the development of the MCM/700 – a cleaned-up version of the model /70 – was under way. On the other hand, the company’s financial situation was desperate, its workforce wounded by the events of 1974 and reduced by resignations and layoffs. And, most devastating of all, with the departure of Kutt...

  12. CONCLUSIONS
    (pp. 164-188)

    Since the 1950s, every decade or so, a new computing paradigm is introduced that profoundly changes the way we utilize computers: batch mode utilization of huge mainframe computers in the 1950s and 1960s, time-shared computing services and minicomputers in the 1960s and 70s, microcomputing in the 1970s, home and personal computing in the 1980s, and now, in the last decade, diverse forms of computer use involving laptops, netbooks, tablet and slate computers, smart phones, and the emergence of cloud computing. What is the significance of the MCM efforts in the creation of our present-day digital reality? What is the MCM/70’s...

  13. MCM TIMELINE
    (pp. 189-196)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 197-202)
  15. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 203-208)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 209-214)