British computer conservationists have restored a 50-year old mainframe to working condition. In now needs a new home to complete a project to recover its software.
The ICT1301 computer, known as Flossie, is one of just four of its type left in the world and is the only second-generation British mainframe currently in working order.
Flossie cost the University of London £250,000 (the equivalent of £4.2m ($6.7 today) in 1962. It spent the first phase of its working life collating the results of the GCE examinations, printing out pass-slips on the first proper commercial printer, and between times it provided a general accounting and administration facility for the university.
When the University had no further use for it in the early 1970s it was bought by a group of students for £200 who used it for several years in a commercial venture to provide computing services.
Its next owner was Roger Holmes who bought it for £150 and moved it to a farm outbuilding in Kent. However, having been reassembled, it was paid no further attention for nearly 25 years.
It was only when Rod Brown, who had been an engineer with ICT (later ICL) contacted Roger Holmes that the project to restore Flossie got underway. It had two aims - to recover software locked up in 100,000 punch cards and 27 reels of ten-track magnetic tape to be re-recorded on modern media. and to be able to display a 1960's machine to the public. The project had held an annual Open Day since 2004 and this video shows it in operation in 2009.
Flossie also made appearances on TV in numerous episodes of the BBC's Doctor Who and Blake’s 7. It also featured as a prop in the 1974 James Bond film The Man With The Golden Gun.
Over 2,500 man hours have been expended by Rod Brown and Roger Holmes on this software recovery project to date and they estimate it needs a further six months to complete. But to do this a new home needs to be found for Flossie.
Roger Holmes, who is a member of the Computer Preservation Society, told the Daily Mail:
The technologies in this machine need to be recorded for archaeological reasons. The foundation of the early British computer industry is enshrined in this machine. It is important they are available to future generations. It would be nice if it could end up at the Science Museum or Bletchley Park.
This is an interesting idea: take a core programming language and allow the users to teach the system how they want to express their intentions. Instead of trying to use natural language as a computer [ ... ]