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View From the Terminal Room
A History of Interactive Timesharing at UH
by Jodi-Ann Ito

The Keller Hall Terminal Room (a.k.a. Terminal Room). For those of us that have been around UH Manoa awhile, we have fond (or maybe not so fond) memories of that room. The Terminal Room, much like the UH Statistical and Computing Center, has undergone many changes over the years - it was made bigger, smaller, walls came down and went back up. Systems were installed and retired just as quickly. Our remembrances begin when David Lassner first joined the UH Computing Center in 1977 as a young PLATO consultant from Illinois...

In 1977, when you walked into the Terminal Room, you had to know which system you wanted to use. The terminals were labeled with "HP2000", "TSO", or "APL" to indicate which system it was connected to. Each terminal had its own reservation sheet taped to the wall where you could sign up a week in advance to guarantee that you had time to work on your computer programming assignments. When assignments were due, it was common to see all terminals of one type being used with people waiting in line while terminals that were connected to the other systems sitting idle. Not exactly the best use of resources.

So when the Gandalf Private Automatic Computer eXchange(PACX) arrived in 1978, it was quite a breakthrough. Any terminal could now connect to any system by merely typing "TSO", "HP2000", "APL", etc. at the "enter class" prompt. Definitely more efficient use of resources - but there were still signup sheets and lines of people waiting to use the terminals when programming assignments were due. Some things didn't change.

Like PLATO - a system designed for Computer-Based Education (CBE) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) - to the end user, it remained relatively stable and consistent throughout the years. UH's first introduction to PLATO was in 1977 when we acquired access to four ports on the UIUC's PLATO system, which increased to eight ports by the end of the year. Since then, specialized PLATO terminals were always around somewhere, tucked away in a corner of the Terminal Room, used by students whose professors subscribed to the concept of CBE and integrated it into their classes. In 1979, we acquired access to 16 ports and in 1980, PLATO debuted as an official instructional program of UH thus justifying David Lassner's employment at UHCC and launching his UH IT career.J

In 1980, Hewlett-Packard donated the HP3000 to UHCC and we acquired the Harris S135. One notable feature about the Harris - it used the VULCAN operating system and you had to "vulcanize" your programs before you could run them. Quite appealing to the "trekkie" fans… On a side note, Lynn Odo (Kotsubo back then) was a student system manager working with the HP and Harris.

1982 signaled UHCC's first involvement with Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) computers - we acquired our DECSYSTEM 20 (DEC-20). Renovations began on Keller 203 to convert it from a classroom into a machine room complete with raised flooring, temperature-monitored air conditioning, and a halon fire-suppressant system. The DEC-20, with its nice, user-friendly interface, was slated to be the "interactive system" that UHCC would standardized on and support for many years to come. However, DEC had other ideas. Within a few years after its purchase, DEC halted development for the DEC-20 and UHCC was back looking for another interactive system to standardize on.

In the meantime, in 1983, the HP2000 and Harris 135 were retired with users migrating to a recently upgraded HP3000 system. In 1984, e-mail gained popularity on the DEC-20 and we acquired our own PLATO system. During the same timeframe, UNIX was identified as being a viable platform for academic and scientific research and in 1986, we installed UHCCUX, a VAX 8650 running Ultrix-32 (DEC's version of UNIX).

Also in 1986, the popularity of microcomputers started to grow. UHCC opened the Mac Lab in Keller 212 with 10 Mac Pluses and one LaserWriter donated by Apple. The PC Lab had 20 PC/XT systems plus printers, including an Okidata dot matrix printer.

1987 signaled our first foray into TCP/IP and the Internet as UHCCUX, DEC-20, and other systems were connected to the original Campus Research Network (CRN). Torben Nielsen, then an assistant professor with the ICS department, spearheaded the project and garnered the support of many other individuals who actually dug trenches and laid cable on weekends (carefully avoiding campus security) across campus to create the cable infrastructure for the CRN.

Slowly and steadily, support for the DEC-20 continued to dwindle. Third-party software applications were no longer being maintained by the vendors. Even support from DEC started to diminish. And UNIX was determined to be too hostile an environment to appeal to our DEC-20 users. The DEC-20 was the most user-friendly operating system ever created. So, in 1988, we acquired UHCCVX, a VAX 8550 running VMS, slated to replace the DEC-20. It wasn't as user-friendly as the DEC-20, but for the average user, it was easier to use than UNIX. So the DEC-20 and HP3000 users were migrated to UHCCVX and both systems were retired in 1989. Another milestone event that year was David Lassner leaving UHCC and being named Director of the Office of Information Technology.

Jumping around in time a bit, the Computerized Learning and Information Center (CLIC) opened in Sinclair Library in 1988. And somewhere along the line, we learned how to connect microcomputers to the network and eliminated the need for ASCII terminals. That's when the Terminal Room ceased to exist and the Mac Lab moved into Keller 202.

1990 marks the beginning of UHCC's extensive involvement with Sun systems. The Workstation Lab with Sun workstations opened in Keller 204. A new Sun 4/490 (UHUNIX) running SunOS was installed. Little did we know that this event would be the initial building block that would eventually develop into the complex Sun environment of today, sustaining over 50,000 users.

Back to 1991 - all UHCCUX users were migrated to UHUNIX and the VAX 8650 was retired. Things slowly continued to evolve and the Internet became more popular - Gopher was developed at the University of Minnesota and we developed our UH Gopher system - soon to be replaced by the World Wide Web in 1993.

In 1994, a major reorganization of four technology units occurred. The Management Systems Office (MSO), Telecommunications department, Office of Information Technology (OIT), and the UH Computing Center were merged to create the new organization called Information Technology Services (ITS). If that wasn't traumatic enough, we also allowed ALL UH faculty, staff, and students to have UHUNIX accounts with access to e-mail and Internet services at their request. In one year, between July 1994 and July 1995, the number of UHUNIX accounts increased by over 23,000 accounts.

Throughout this whole time, from 1984 through 1995, quietly and reliably, the UH PLATO system was used by faculty to enhance their classes and supported hundreds of students throughout the years. But like many other systems before it, vendor support became more difficult to acquire until 1995, when it too, was retired.

Since 1995, things have pretty much settled down for interactive systems - no new major system acquisitions or system retirements. Microcomputers have become mainstream, everyday equipment, e-mail has become an accepted and expected method of communications, and the Internet has evolved into a way of life for many of us.

Our latest challenges involve the growth of the Internet and embracing it as a facilitation tool to help make our daily operations more efficient. In 1998, UH joined the Internet2 project, a consortium of higher education institutions, research organizations, and corporations dedicated to the research and development of very high-speed network applications. These efforts will help develop the next generation of Internet applications to be used by the commodity Internet.

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