Personal Computing and FEL-TV
Another project by the Research Group 10 (RG10) was to stimulate the use of Personal Computers (PCs) by the Laboratory. To support the interconnection of PCs to the CYBER using asynchronous lines, CDC had released a public domain package called “Remote Micro Facility” (RMF). RMF supported terminal emulation as well as file transfer services between a PC and a CYBER mainframe. At the CYBER side, a package partly in Fortran and partly in Compass (assembler) handled the communication application services.
At the end of 1983, a decision was taken that TNO Defence Research would make use of PCs (IBM XTs) and of Microsoft’s WORD version 3.0 under MS/DOS. In order to support automatic version management of documents, the documents were centrally saved on the CYBER system. RG10, which was responsible for the project, made binary patches in the WORD version using a binary editor. Formatting options and other functions were too dangerous in the hands of computer ‘illiterate’ users as secretaries and the report processing department. Therefore, F-key functions were patched and removed from the option lists. Of course, certain short-cut function keys, CTRL-commands and so on were overlooked. This caused users to find themselves locked in sub-screens. Leaving such a screen was impossible as the relevant screen commands were blocked. There was NO escape from these back alleys of WORD. This caused the loss of many hours of work done earlier. During the loading and also during the saving of a document, the file was loaded from/moved to a temporary file. A batch procedure moved the temporary file from/or to the CYBER. Even tiny disruptions of this process caused the loss of the user’s texts. The combination of WORD and Remote Micro Facility (RMF) was named FEL-TV, a “product name” that previewed the new name of the merged Physics Laboratory and LEOK.
People that worked later than 18.00 hours could be surprised as their document save on the CYBER failed because the interactive access to the CYBER ended at that time on 18.00 hours. FEL-TV had then a user-friendly option. It decided to delete the temporary file, causing all work done to be lost. Also, the instability of the WORD software caused many PC hang-ups, only an RBR could solve that situation. RBR is the abbreviation of “Red Button Reset”, the POWER ON/OFF-switch…
FEL-TV promised “What-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG)“, but many times you did not get what you actually had seen on the screen before …
Despite all those initial problems, a much faster stream of documents was initiated. Reports were printed on Daisy-wheel printers. Those printers, however, were designed for printing a letter once in a while. Printing ten hours a day of very thick TNO (draft) reports was something else. Soon, it was necessary to acquire a heavy-duty C.Itoh 300 printer. A special printer driver had to be written to support the Dutch special character “ij”, some Greek characters (beta and mu), as well as some other special characters.
Confi or secret
The Computer Group received many complaints from the FEL-TV users. Users could not get their printed output without setting a signature for receiving a confidential or even secret document after creating an unclassified FEL-TV document. This issue was even discussed in the Laboratory’s management team. The many scripts around FEL-TV checked the output for the occurrence of strings like “secret”, “confi” and “geheim”. Words like “confiture” (in the restaurant tariff list), “secretary” and “configuration” triggered the special confidential and secret printing procedures and output streams.