1963 Timesharing: A Solution to Computer Bottlenecks

[Recorded: May 9, 1963]This vintage film features MIT Science Reporter John Fitch at the MIT Computation Center in an extended interview with MIT professor of computer science Fernando J. Corbato. The film was co-produced by WGBH (Boston) and MIT. The prime focus of the film is timesharing, one of the most important developments in computing, and one which has come in and out of favor several times over the last several decades as the dichotomy between remote and centrally-managed computing resources played out; the latest incarnation for centrally-managed computing resources is known as cloud computing. Timesharing as shown in this film, was a novel concept in the early 1960s. Driven by a desire to more efficiently use expensive computer resources while increasing the interactivity between user and computer (man and machine), timesharing was eventually taken up by industry in the form of special timesharing hardware for mainframe and minicomputer computer systems as well as in sophisticated operating systems to manage multiple users and resources.Corbato describes how after the mid-1950s, when computers began to become reliable, the next big challenge to improve productivity and efficiency was the development of computer languages, FORTRAN being an example. One of the next bottlenecks in computing, according to Corabto, was the traditional batch processing method of combining many peoples computer jobs into one large single job for the computer to process at one time. He compares batch processing to a group of people catching a bus, all being moved at once.Timesharing, on the other hand, involves attaching a large number of consoles to the central computer, each of which is given a time-slice of the computers time. While the computer is rapidly switching among user applications and problems, it appears to the user that s/he has complete access to the central computer.Corbato then describes in technical detail a complex description of timesharing before showing some examples of timesharing from a terminal using a simple program to calculate a simple geometric problem (Pythagorean theorem).In the long run, Corbato says, timesharing will help address the increasing need for computer time and ease-of-use

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