Saturday, 20 April 2019

CODIL & the Leo Computer Society Archives at Cambridge

A couple of weeks ago the LEO Computer Society had a reunion in London where the members celebrated the 70th anniversary of the start of work on the LEO I computer The LEO I construction followed the design of Cambridge University's EDSAC computer and it is recognized to be the first computer ever built for purely commercial use. The pioneering engineer who led the project was John Pinkerton, and what has been described as the first corporate systems analyst was David Caminer.

It is appropriate that the archives of the Society are to go to the Centre for Computer History at Cambridge. The archives relate to the history of the various Leo Computers as recorded in artifacts, documents, and reminiscences, and record the legacy of the work done by these pioneers of the early days of commercial computing.

This is where I come in. My first computer job was working on the LEO III computers run by Shell Mex and BP. I did an in-depth study of the company's sales contract system and this led, in 1968, to Pinkerton and Caminer asking me to led a small team to explore whether it might be possible to design a computer with a user-friendly symbolic assembly language. This was aimed at complex commercial applications where a good user-computer interface was important. This was the start of the CODIL (COntext Dependent Information Language).

Extensive archives exist relating to the development of CODIL and it has been agreed that these should be considered part of the LEO archives. Preparing the relevant sections of the surviving material for the archive will take time and the progress will be reported in later posts on this blog.

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