Columbia University Computing History   

Digital Equipment Corporation DECmate


The DECmate was Digital Equipment Corporation's word processor. It was strictly text-based (no GUI or graphics), menu driven, and simple for office workers to learn and use. The original DECmate (the DECmate I) was packaged in a VT100 terminal cabinet. The DECmate II were packaged like the DEC Rainbow 100 microcomputer; the III and III+ had the same keyboard and monitor as the Rainbow (and VT220) but a larger system unit. All were based internally on the 12-bit DEC PDP-8 (implemented by Intersil and/or Harris as the 6120 single-chip microprocessor), but later models also had Z80 or 8088 coprocessors, allowing them to also run CP/M or DOS. The underlying PDP-8 operating system was OS/278, but users could see only the WPS (Word Processing System) application. DECmates were found in administrative offices all over Columbia University from 1980 until the mid-1990s. Kermit programs developed here and elsewhere allowed them to log in to the central IBM and DEC mainframes and the departmental VAX/VMS systems through their serial ports via modem, PACX, or Rolm dataphone and have interactive sessions and upload and download files.

Model Year Description
VT78 1978 VT52 case, 8-inch RX01 floppies
DECmate I 1980 a.k.a. VT258; VT100 case, 8-inch RX02 floppies
DECmate II 1982 Rainbow 100 case, 5.25-inch RX50 floppies, many options
DECmate III 1984 Larger case, color monitor, few options
DECmate III+ 1985 DECmate III with hard disk standard

The DECmate II was introduced in 1982 together with the Pro/350 (PDP-11 desktop) and the Rainbow (IBM PC competitor). That was the year that DEC hoped to take the corporate world by storm with its 3-pronged desktop strategy. The DECmate and Rainbow did quite well, but were overwhelmed by the IBM PC within a few years. The Pro/350 (and later Pro/380) was a disaster, but at Columbia (where we received a truckload of 380s, as well as Rainbows, in a big equipment grant), we ported 2.9BSD to them for our first public networked Unix workstation lab.

Columbia University Computing History Frank da Cruz / This page created: January 2001 Last update: 30 March 2021