Columbia University Computing History   

The Xerox 9700

Xerox 9700
A 300dpi duplex Xerographic printer, 2 pages per second, with typesetting and forms capabilities, 1977. For more than two decades, this was Columbia's premier high volume page printer. It was also "the spark that ignited the laser printing industry"[1]. The machine was quite large, and ours was even larger than the one shown since it also had a refrigerator-size 9-track tape drive. It was housed on the first floor of Watson Lab, 612 West 115th Street, in the room behind the elevator.

The X9700 could print on regular 8½×11 paper in traditional monospace "ASCII typewriter font" (like a line printer, or like its predecessor, the Xerox 1200) but also in proportionally spaced Helvetica with effects like boldface, italics, and font-size changes, box-drawing, etc, and so (for example) it could print a manual like THIS ONE that was prepared using the Scribe document preparation system[5]. The X9700 and Scribe ushered in the era of "rich text" and do-it-yourself typesetting at Columbia.

Users of the DECSYSTEM-20 and IBM mainframes would queue their jobs for printing, which were written to magnetic tapes throughout the day. In the evening, machine-room operators would bring the tapes to Watson, run the jobs on the 9700, and then carry the output (and tapes) back to campus for distribution the next day. After about ten years the 9700 was moved to the main machine room on campus where it served for probably another ten years, and even after that Columbia continued to offer X9700 printing through an external service.

The control terminal is a Lear Siegler ADM ADM-3A[4].

  1. The Story of the Xerox 9700 Electronic Printing System, computer museum.
  2. Xerox 9700 - Groundbreaking High-Speed Industrial Laser Printing System,
  3. Xerox 9700, Wikipedia, accessed 30 March 2021.
  4. ADM-3A, Wikipedia, accessed 30 March 2021.
  5. Brian K. Reid, Scribe: A Document Specification Language and its Compiler, October 1980. Scribe was primary means of preparing complex documents at Columbia for 20 or 30 years starting in 1980. It's powerful enough to produce a book with chapters, table of contents, index, footnotes, and all the rest. Since Scribe faded away, its power has never been equaled, and in fact I myself have published several typographically complex books that I "typeset" myself using only Scribe, for example Using C-Kermit.
Columbia University Computing History Frank da Cruz / This page created: February 2002 Revised: 30 March 2021