Computer Systems at UCC

Update : March 4, 2020

  • Introduction
  • ICL Computer Systems
  • ICL Software
  • ICL Museum
  • PDP
  • Calcomp
  • Cromemco
  • IBM Computer Systems


The UCC Project was funded by UNDP and executed by UNESCO.

ICL submitted the winning bid for the UCC Project.

The ICL 1902S System became the first mainframe computer in Burma.

Calcomp Flat bed Graph Plotter was used off-line.

PDP11/70 System was later acquired.

Cromemco System3 and the PCs were the latest additions to UCC.

ICL Computer System

ICT (International Calculators and Tabulators) evolved into ICL (International Computers Limited). The British Government was partly responsible for the merger of several British Companies such as ICT and LEO.

ICL Burma

  • ICL has a presence in Burma with U Kyaw Tha as Manager.
  • ICL leased Unit Record Machines.
  • ICL was among the four computer companies that submitted tender for the UCC Project. funded by UNDP and executed by UNESCO. It submitted a model of S/360. IBM did not win the bid.
  • ICL (International Computers Limited) won the tender for the UCC project.
  • In the early 60s, Burma Railways requested a budget to lease ICL Computers, but it did not materialize due to the Coup D’etat and subsequent policies by the Revolutionary Council and Government.

1900 Series

The ICL 1900 series consist of

  • ICL 1901
  • ICL 1902
  • ICL 1903
  • ICL 1904
  • ICL 1905
  • ICL 1906
  • ICL 1907

The “basic” machines have “A” in the name, e.g. ICL 1901A

The “enhanced” machines have “S” in the name, e.g. ICL 1902S (the one used at UCC).

System Configuration at UCC

The following configuration was used at UCC. Some upgrades were made using the budget for “Population Census Data Processing” Project.

  • ICL 1902S computer with 2.5 D (dimensional) core memory and a console typewriter
  • Two ICL 2101 Card Readers
  • ICL 1933 Line Printer
  • Two ICL 2802 EDS (Exchangeable Disk Store)
  • Each controller controls two EDS 8 disks
  • Four ICL 2506 Magnetic Tape 9 track NRZI (Non Return to Zero Inverted)

The computer has piano-like keys for “bootstrapping” and for “testing”.


Some ICL computers use a 5-track Paper Tape Reader. There are pros and cons for using “punched cards” versus “punched paper tape”.

Punched cards were used in the early looms and in the Hollerith Machines used for processing US Population Census Data. Hollerith founded a company, which evolved into IBM.

Punched paper tape were used in the early transmission systems.

For frequently used program and data, magnetic tapes and disks are used.

Training and Support

Three UCC engineers — U Tun Aung Gyaw, U Hla Min and U Soe Win — attended training at the ICLETC (ICL Engineering Training Center) in Letchworth, UK.

The trouble shooting requires the use of diagnostic tests and associated guides.

ICL provided a resident engineer to maintain the computer system.

ICL also provided a resident programmer/analyst to guide the system programmers and selected application programmers.

KMZ wrote :

I believe I still have a key chain from Ko Soe Myint Gyi. He had a “ဆြမ္းအုပ္” drawn on Calcomp and laminated it to create the key chain. He gave it to me when I met him and KZ at Wynn Myint Aung’s house. They were on some tour visiting Washington DC area in the mid-80s.

ICL Software

Computer systems require

  • Systems Software
  • Applications Software

Systems Software

Operating System is the main Systems Software.

  • The ICL 1900 series machines use GEORGE (General Organization Environment) Operating System.
  • ICL1902S uses GEORGE-2.
  • Some other models use GEORGE-3.

ICL1902S comes with several systems and application software packages.

Saya Zaw (U Aung Zaw) and team install the software and the patches during the period reserved for them.

ICL1902S used the following Programming Languages

  • PLAN (Programming Language for Nineteen hundred series) is the Assembly Language.
  • FORTRAN (Formula Translator) is the programming language used for Scientific Computing.
  • COBOL (Common Business Oriented Language) is the programming languages used for Business Applications.

The language compilers detect syntax and semantic errors of the submitted program. For programs that are free of “serious” errors, the compilers output a form that can be read by a “consolidator” or “linking loader”.

Application Software

ICL provided several application software packages.

Examples include :

FILAN (File Analysis) is used for the processing of Population Census data.

CSL (Control and Simulation Language) is available for discrete event simulation.

ICL Museum

Saya U Soe Paing e-mailed me with photos of the “historic” ICL computer system.

Saya mentioned that U Thein Oo is willing to support the “ICL Museum” project.

At an ACM (Association of Computing Machinery) meeting, I met Gwen Bell (spouse of Gordon Bell, VAX architect). Gordon brought back artifacts that he had collected while co-authoring the book “Computer Structures” with Alan Newell during his sabbatical at CMU (Carnegie Mellon University). She introduced me to Karen, VP (Vice President of CHM). I volunteered to be a Docent.

Gwen developed an exhibit at the DEC office in Boston, Massachusetts. It became known as BCM (Boston Computer Museum).

When Microsoft bought the division of DEC (where Gordon & his team worked), Gwen had to think fast.

Only a limited number of artifacts were accepted for display at the Science Museum.

The rest of the artifacts were air-freighted to Moffet Field with the hope that the “Computer Museum” will be revived. For several years, the artifacts were displayed at the Make-shift Museum in Moffet Field. A group of enthusiasts bought a building owned by SGI (Silicon Graphics Incorporated) and moved some there. The rest was placed in a storage house.

As a Docent, I had to show the visitors and explain [if requested] about the artifacts displayed in “Visible Storage”. In those days, only ten percent (or so) could be displayed for a period before rolling them out.

Thanks in part to the “Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation”, CHM could now exhibit 20 sections (from pre-computer era to the Internet age). In addition, there are special exhibits (e.g. autonomous vehicles, computer chess, …)

Having “ICL Museum” will be a significant step towards recording and preserving the History of IT (Information Technology).


Ken Olson and several other MIT alumni founded DEC (Digital Equipment Corporate).

Grape vine says that there was a “protocol” in government departments to “purchase computer”. In order to circumvent that, DEC named their mini-computers as PDP (Programmable Digital Processors).

CHM (Computer History Museum) has a PDP-1 on display. Retired DEC engineers “restored” a PDP-1. The exhibit has demos : one for play a “primitive” Space War game, another for “playing” music …

PDP-8 is a 12-bit mini-computer used in many universities of that period.

PDP-11 is a 16-bit mini-computer (that was acquired by UCC).

VT-101 (or similar) terminals became the “new” mode of entering and running programs.

DEC later introduced VAX (Virtual Address eXtended) series.

Gordon Bell was the VAX architect and co-author of the book using CMS (Computer Memory System) and “formal” methods to describe and evaluate computer systems. The artifacts that he collected for the book project were displayed in DEC as BCM (Boston Computer Museum) with Gwen Bell as the Curator. It later became CHM (Computer History Museum) in Mountain View, California.

I volunteered as a Docent for CHM for a couple of years. I had to give guided tours (for 45 minutes to an hour). One child asked his father how fast the 10 Million Dollar computer (Cray 1) was. The reply, “It’s slower than your PC and your smart phone”.

KMZ wrote :

It was a shame that DEC/VAX/VMS did not take off well as some people hoped. Fortunately, Bill Gates hired VAX/VMS main architect Dave Cutler in 1988, who brought many of his team from DEC, 20+ as reported, as part of the hiring agreement of Dave Cutler.

Dave Cutler and his team developed Windows NT, New Technology – a 64bit OS, and the rest is history. He has his hands on RedDot, which be came Microsoft Azure.

Dr. Mark Russinovich, received his doctorate in 1989 from Carnegie Mellon, developed a very popular Windows utility suite called ‘SysInternals’ with his partner. This was a godsend for all Windows Systems Engineers, a Swiss Army Knife, if you will. He also had a short stint at IBM, he also wrote a series of articles comparing Windows NT with VMS?? in Windows Internals magazine. Microsoft eventually acquired the SysInternals, Mark included. Mark is now CTO of Microsoft Azure.


A flat bed CalComp Graph Plotter was added.

Calcomp sent Robert Boyle to provide on-site training for the graph plotter. Trouble shooting for Calcomp is based on Venn Diagrams.

At the dinner, Saya U Ko Ko Lay asked Robert if he wanted to try Nga Yoke Thee. Saya explained that there is “Moe Hmaw (Look for the sky)” and “Ka La Aw (Indian Scream)”.


Cromemco System 3 was a micro-computer.

UCC staff members burned PROM (Programmable Read Only Memory) to support Burmese characters.

IBM Computer Systems

IBM Burma

  • IBM has a presence in Burma with U Aung Khin as Manager.
  • IBM leased Unit Record Machines.
  • IBM was among the four computer companies that submitted tender for the UCC Project. funded by UNDP and executed by UNESCO. It submitted a model of S/360. IBM did not win the bid.
  • ICL (International Computers Limited) won the tender for the UCC project.
  • IBM later won the bid for the CSO project.

IBM 360

Hollerith Machines which processed the US Population Census in 1890 with its Unit Record Machines evolved into IBM (International Business Machines).

  • IBM designed and implemented System360.
  • 360 supposedly refers to the number of degrees in a circle.
  • It uses the same architecture with a common instruction set (IS).
  • The high end models implement the IS using the best available hardware.
  • The low end models implement the IS using firmware.

Blauuw and Brooks explain the then new concepts in their reference guides. They include

  • Architecture
  • Implementation
  • Realization
  • Brooks led the development of both the computer systems and the operating system OS/360.
  • He wrote a book, “The Mythical Man Month” (which became a classic).

I attended a lecture at CHM (Computer History Museum) and asked some members of the S/360 development team to autograph the S/360 reference card.

IBM 370

  • IBM later introduced the System 370.
  • Amdahl left IBM to form his company and produced Amdahl 470, which is compatible with S/370 and supposedly much better than the IBM S/370.

Categories: Notes

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