Pick Operating System

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The PICK operating environment is one of the longest running, ongoing developments in the history of the computer industry. It is also the catalyst for one of the most variable, volatile and colorful stories to tell—involving everything from technical triumphs to personalities and politics.

PICK is a virtual memory, multiuser operating environment providing the means to store, process and retrieve information while automatically taking care of the day-to-day programming burdens. It is widely accepted as being the first data base management system available on the commercial market, and one of the best still available today.

The Evolution of the Pick Operating System

The origins of the PICK Operating System stem from a real life application of computer technology undertaken in the mid-1960's: the design of a data management stores system, initially for the tracking of parts for rocket engines within the huge military contractor TRW Systems Inc., and later adopted and funded by the US Army to track the maintenance and repair of Cheyenne helicopters.

The challenge of the project was that the system was to have an English-like retrieval language which could be used on a computer which had not yet been specified.

The system was being developed by Don Nelson and was initially titled Parts Acquisition Data System (PADS). Richard (Dick) Pick, for whom the operating system was named, was hired in 1965 specifically to work with Nelson on the project. In the course of its somewhat complex evolution, the first spec was called Generalized Information Retrieval Language and System (GIRLS). Later yet, the project was re-named General Information Management (GIM). It was then dubbed by the Army, which took over the funding of the project to develop a system to support the Cheyenne helicopter, Integrated Technical Data System or ITDS. The software was delivered to the Army in 1969 and implemented on an IBM mainframe. In that year the Army said in a published report that GIM (or ITDS) was "by far the finest generalized information management system in the country."

No real commercial use was made of GIM which enabled Dick Pick to continue to research his own work, deemed to be public domain because it had been developed under the auspices of the US Department of Defense, once the project was completed. Dick Pick's development continued while he was working for General Analytics corporation where he was ensconced for a short period beginning in May 1969. The previously named GIM or ITDS became known as Reactive Information System, RIS. It was while Dick Pick was with General Analytics Corporation that RIS was first ported to a minicomputer, the Microdata 800 CPU.

General Analytics filed for bankruptcy in 1970 and Dick Pick continued to independently work on the molding of RIS to the Microdata 800. He now called the system ACCESS.

In June 1972, Dick Pick founded Richard Pick and Associates and continued his efforts, switching from the Microdata 800 to the Microdata 1600 and naming the overall system—comprising ACCESS software, firmware and the Microdata—"DM 512".

It is important to note here, that its origins as a database operating system designed specifically to run application software and designed for computer users, as opposed to computer technicians and programmers, is intrinsic to the nature and future success of PICK. Because it meets a need for simplicity of use, provides good online response and report writing features, users find PICK a truly useful system, particularly in multiuser database applications; because its rapid systems development facilities enable the easy tailoring of online, real-time software packages, manufacturers and software houses find PICK affords them a distinct advantage when pursuing vertical markets.

Commercial Growth

The first commercial step in the growth of PICK was the implementation on Microdata (now McDonnell Douglas Computer Systems Company; the name change occurred in late 1984 when McDonnell Douglas acquired Microdata) minicomputers. This occurred when Dick Pick entered into an agreement with Microdata to implement his software concepts on its computers and in 1974, when Microdata was given marketing rights, DM 512 was once again re-named, this time by Microdata. The system was called REALITY and the retrieval language, English. From 1970 to 1978 PICK was virtually the exclusive property of Microdata. During this period Microdata marketed its new product by appointing dealers throughout the world, achieving a moderate amount of success.

Contrary to popular opinion‹and according to an interview (Datastream magazine, October 1981) with Ken Simms who worked with Dick Pick on pioneering the PICK Operating System—in 1975 Pick became an unsalaried employed of Microdata. Simms said: "Nobody at Pick and Associates was ever a real employee of Microdata. At one time, some of us were employees for $1.00 a year, which was to get certain company benefits. Dick Pick became head of REALITY development and the Microdata programmers who worked on REALITY actually worked at Pick and Associates offices on Skypark Circle."

Then, in the late 70's, following a dispute with management, Dick Pick split with Microdata and intended to market the system to a broader reaching base on his own. A lawsuit over the rights to the system followed and can be cited as one of the reasons the PICK Operating System remained, and has been frequently touted "the best kept secret in the computer world". The lawsuit was finally settled out of court in 1981.

Microdata retained the exclusive rights to REALITY and its development on Microdata hardware and Pick and Associates had the rights to develop PICK and to port it onto other computer systems. Thus, this small company, Pick and Associates, was the only willing source of supply to enable the operating system to be implemented on other manufacturers' machines.

Adding further to the relative inconspicuousness—at the time—of PICK as a powerful operating environment was the tendency of those few vendors who did license PICK to call it by a proprietary name‹for example: Zebra from General Automation, Mentor from Applied Digital Data Systems and Ultimate from The Ultimate Corp.