Rebuilding an illustrious ancestor to modern computing

Friday, November 16, 2012 | 8:45 PM

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As any traveller knows, photos are no match for the vividness of a physical encounter. The same is true for historians of computing. It’s only once you’ve seen something in reality -- be it the great computing Colossus, or the Great Pyramid -- that you fully appreciate the mastery of its creators. Unfortunately, few relics remain from the early days of computing, which is why we are so happy to support those striving to bring them back to operational life.

One such worthy project is the EDSAC rebuild, currently being championed by the Computer Conservation Society. Earlier this year Google provided funding to support the reconstruction work. Since then much progress has been made, which you can learn about on the project’s new website.



EDSAC holds an important place in computing history. While not the world’s first stored program computer (beaten by the prototype Manchester Baby), EDSAC heralded a cultural shift in computing. From the moment it became operational in May 1949, EDSAC was put to work by Cambridge University researchers, helping solve problems in many scientific fields -- far beyond the military and code-breaking tasks to which computing had previously been dedicated.

EDSAC was the world’s first computer to use subroutines (originally charmingly called “Wheeler jumps” after their creator), which remain a key part of modern programming. EDSAC also served as the prototype for LEO, the world’s first business computer, and was the foundation for the world’s first computer science diploma course at Cambridge University.

EDSAC is remembered fondly by those who worked with it. We look forward to its reincarnation providing fresh insight into a remarkable period of British computing history.

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