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Pick / MultiValue Turns 50 Years Old

50 years ago in 1965, the origins of the PICK Operating System stemmed from a real-life application of computer technology: 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, realtime software packages, manufacturers and software houses find PICK affords them a distinct advantage when pursuing vertical markets.

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 (ADDS/NCR) and Ultimate from The Ultimate Corp.

Pick and Associates' early licensing policy was also a deterrent to rapid and full-scale porting of PICK by manufacturers, a factor which changed in 1984. Prior to this, a license reputedly cost $1 million or more, and each license agreement was structured differently in its terms and fees. The new policy established in 1984 set a consistent one-time fee of $50,000 per licensee and a royalty of $50 per user.

Following Dick Pick's departure from Microdata, Pick and Associates began to import the 8-bit minicomputer, Multi-6, from Intertechnique (now called IN2), the French company which had previously been contracted (in Dick Pick's Microdata days) to manufacture and supply a firmware board which was integral to the REALITY Operating System. The Multi-6 was based upon the Microdata 1600 CPU.

The PICK Operating System was implemented on Intertechnique hardware by Dick Pick and marketed in the US as the Evolution system. In Europe, the system was marketed by Intertechnique until 1984. Microdata, in the meantime, introduced Release 3 of the REALITY Operating System on new firmware, with improved memory capacity and additional firmware coded routines.

During Pick and Associates' period of involvement with Evolution, PICK was ported to Honeywell (now Bull HN Worldwide Information Systems) Level 6 minicomputers for The Ultimate Corp. This was the first port of PICK to a non-Microdata machine—the Intertechnique machine was, at the time, an exact hardware copy of the Microdata machine, running the same firmware and same software. So, the first PICK port is considered to be the Honeywell Ultimate system.

The Honeywell system marked a turning point for PICK—for the first time PICK was running on a well-known computer; it could run more terminals and handle larger applications than previously and thus proved to be a highly successful venture. It was a move which proved instrumental in encouraging other hardware manufacturers to offer PICK on their own systems. The Honeywell Ultimate port was closely followed by the second porting, to the ADDS Mentor machine.

Success of the PICK Operating System, although only moderate, was sufficient to engender PICK look-alikes to emerge around 1977-78. Seattle-based Devcom formed by Rod Burns and John Drumheller with the aim of producing a compatible replacement for the Microdata systems and financed by a number of disillusioned Microdata customers, produced what would eventually become INFORMATION running on the Prime 50 series of computers.

Devcom, lacking the expertise to successfully market its implementation, and recognizing its fallibility in this area, invited Jim Whelan to join the operation as principal of the company. He convinced Prime to buy the product. The marketing rights to INFORMATION were sold to Prime in 1979 and Devcom was completely bought out in 1982.

In 1981 the first implementation on IBM equipment began on the Series 1. Shortly after, Pick and Associates adopted the name by which it is known today—Pick Systems. From here on, implementations began in earnest and 1982 saw the beginning of new ports on equipment from Altos, Systems Management Inc. (SMI) on the IBM 4300, Datamedia, General Automation and the Pertec Computer Corporation.

In the meantime, the next chapter in the story of the PICK Operating System was unfolding. Dick Pick, deciding to concentrate his efforts on the operating system development rather than hardware marketing, sold his holding in Pick and Associates, and with that, the rights to the Evolution computer (he continued however, to retain a majority interest in Pick and Associates; the sale of his holding in the operation related only to the Evolution system). Evolution Computer Corporation was founded in February 1980 to continue marketing the Evolution system.

Dick Pick was quoted in an interview in the now defunct Datastream magazine outlining his reasons for selling Evolution: "I sold Evolution because it doesn't seem to make much sense for us to be directly in the hardware business, since we license so many people on the software for them to sell the hardware. It is incongruous for us to be competing with licensees so we made a decision to get completely out of the hardware and be the developers of the basic system."

In the March 1980 REALITY Users News newsletter, the event was reported thus under the headline "PICK GETS OUT OF MANUFACTURING": "Pick and Associates has entered into an agreement under which it has sold its manufacturing, timesharing and service operations. This will allow founder and developer of the PICK Operating System, Richard Pick, to devote his time to the development of enhancements to his system and to the development of other systems.

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