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60 years ago, Olivetti presented Elea 9003, a revolution in the world of Computer Technology

60 years ago, Olivetti presented Elea 9003, a revolution in the world of Computer Technology
By Kaleyra . 16 May 2019 . image 10 min read

2019 is an important year for the Italian computer technology; 60 years ago, one of the first totally transistor-based commercial computers in the world was presented at the Fiera di Milano by Olivetti: Elea 9003 (stands for Elaboratore Elettronico Aritmetico in Italian, and Arithmetical Electronic Computer in English). The brilliant minds who contributed to this event were: Adriano Olivetti and Mario Tchou (Engineer, pioneer of computer science and developer at Olivetti).

Elea 9003, represented one of the most important revolution in the world of computer technology that changed our lives forever. Technically speaking, the machine was equipped with multitasking capabilities, being able to manage three programs simultaneously. After the Elea 9003 presentation, computer technology has started his revolution.

60th Elea 9003 anniversary celebration

For the 60th anniversary of the presentation of Elea 9003, at the Fiera di Milano, in April, there was an event to remember this important goal of the Italian computing history.

A graphic novel, an animation and a meeting with some of the main personalities of that great technological adventure were presented during the event.

The participants were: Ciaj Rocchi and Matteo Demonte, Professor Franco Filippazzi – to whom we owe the first patent of the Olivetti laboratory and honorary member of Aica (Italian Association for Computer Science and Automatic Computation), Professor Renato Betti, Professor of Geometry at the Politecnico di Milano, other extraordinary guests like the Engineer Giuseppe Calogero (Dario Calogero’s father, CEO at Kaleyra), the Engineer Simone Fubini (Board member at Kaleyra), the Engineer Capocaccia and Domenico Maletti, President of the company Honeywell and the Italian-Chinese actor Shi Yang Shi. The meeting was moderated by Antonio Dini, journalist, expert in the field of technology.

What happened after ELEA 9003?

The Perrottina by Olivetti

The «Programma 101», by Olivetti, also known as «Perottina» (from the name of the engineer Pier Giorgio Perotto, head of the design team), is the first “personal computer” or how a desktop computer was defined at the time by newspapers and magazines as it had the main features of the excellent computers of that time.

This processor anticipated the times for various features: monolithic physical structure, built-in processing unit, internal dynamic memory (the RAM did not exist back then, and it was a delay line with nonrestrictive memory – at that time generally used on punched card readers), inputs and outputs incorporated in the same box, alphanumeric keyboard, printer and peripheral device for managing double-band magnetic cards, borrowed from a reader/ writer of Olivetti magnetic cards that were used in place of a punched card reader / puncher (from the basic idea floppy disk drives and hard disks were produced).

The first desktop computer

After the first try to create a programmable processor by the DEC company (Digital Equipment Corporation), the PDP-1 (Programmed Data Processor-1), that was technically well done but it was too early to be appreciated, in 1964, the DEC has aimed at creating a computer that could be used by small groups or by individuals. It took advantage of the rapid evolution of electronic and storage components and launched the first PDP-8 on the market in April 1965.

Incredibly small and light at the time, it began to make its appearance in dozens of workshops and even in schools. It was the forefather of the family of so-called “minicomputers”.

The PDP-8 unleashed the ever smaller and more powerful computer race so that in the mid-seventies DEC and its competitors began to penetrate the hitherto unchallenged domain of IBM: Mainframes.

… in the meantime, in Europe

Europe did not stand by: from the mid-sixties the public company Selenia of the STET group designed and produced the Selenia GP-16, one of the first (if not the first) European third-generation microcomputers. Designed primarily for industrial uses, it found applications in airport control towers and in the new Italian electromechanical telephone exchange.

The Italian personal computer

During 1975 in Turin, was realized the first microcomputer with all the normal functions of personal computers (put on the market two years later). The name was MD 800 and was created by two young engineers of CSELT who founded the company in 1977 DMD to produce these personal computers.

The Olivetti innovation

After the Olivetti “Programma 101”, also in the seventies, in the Olivetti Research & Development laboratories in Ivrea, young engineers and graduates were working on innovation: in April 1975 at the Hannover fair, the P6060 was presented. This is the first personal computer in the world sold as a functioning pre-assembled system (for example, with a built-in floppy disk reader, for the first time in the world).

The birth of Microsoft

Later, MITS (Micro Instrumental and Telemetry Systems) developed an official programming language inspired by DEC’s BASIC for the PDP-11 (the evolution of PDP-8). Two young men from Boston created the Altair Basic. One of them, Paul Allen, was a programmer, while one of his classmates, Bill Gates, was a student at Harvard. Once the product was finished, Allen quit his job, and together with Gates founded a small company, Microsoft, to market BASIC.

Apple: the new era of Personal Computer

In 1977 was born the Apple II, a revolutionary model of home computer and at the same time ancestor for which the expression “personal computer” was used and the first successful model of this category produced on an industrial scale.

In 1976, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak had already built the Apple I in their garage, a computer that could only be appealing to an audience of electronics enthusiasts.

Jobs wanted to make information technology accessible to everyone so, reworking the Apple I project, they put all the electronics in a plastic box complete with a keyboard, giving shape to the personal computer we still use today.

The rest of the history is our present.

Where is the ELEA 9003 today?

ELEA 9003 was given to Monte dei Paschi di Siena in ’70s, and in a few time, Mario Babbini, who is still in charge of the machine, brought it to their new office.

Today, it is guarded and maintained by Istituto Tecnico “Enrico Fermi” and MIB – Museo Informatico Bibbienese where Mario, can depict it, to people passionate about computer technology.

Here you can find the gallery of the event:

If you would like to live the emotional moments we had during the 60th-anniversary celebration, watch the entire event here [Italian language]:

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