Columbia University Computing History   


The original IBM PC Date: 1981. Intel 4.77MHz 8088 processor (16 bit segmented addressing, 8-bit data paths). Two 5.25" 160K floppy diskette drives. Basic in ROM. Boots DOS 1.0 from diskette. 16-64K RAM. Cassette recorder interface. Green 12"-diameter screen capable of monochrome graphics. No hard drive (adding hard drives to the PC would be a cottage industry until the IBM PC/XT was announced). This extremely modest machine and its successors – such as the IBM PC/AT and the IBM PS/2 – would dominate the desktop market until about 2000, when IBM withdrew from the desktop market.

The Columbia University Computer Center ordered 20 original IBM PCs sight-unseen on the day it was announced and presented them to high-ranking professors and administrators. Initially there was no way for the PC to communicate with our central mainframes (including, ironically, our big IBM machines), and this was a major impetus to Columbia's Kermit ProjectMS-DOS Kermit, which was initially written at Columbia in 1981-82 so the aforementioned professors and administrators could communicate with our central IBM and DEC mainframes, and therefore with each other (by email and file sharing); for example, three of them who were collaborating on a multi-discipline textbook. MS-DOS Kermit was developed continuously until 1999, and was the subject of a series of best-selling computer books.


MS-DOS Kermit ran on the original PC as well as many of its early competitors such as the DEC Rainbow, the HP-150, the Heath-Zenith 100, the Victor 9000, the NEC APC, and many other of the DOS machines of mid-1980s that were not code- or disk-compatible with each other, and then of course also on the "standard" PC that evolved from all of these (e.g. Dell, HP). Of course Columbia also created a Windows version of Kermit too, called Kermit 95.

MS-DOS Kermit was used all over world – and beyond – and was an integral testbed for our (pre-Unicode) project of enabling transfer of text files in different languages and writing systems (e.g. Cyrillic, Arabic) between platforms that used different character encodings, culminating in the First International Kermit Conference in Moscow, USSR, 1989.

Columbia University Computing History Frank da Cruz / This page created: January 2001 Last update: 14 April 2021