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Digibarn Systems:
The LINC - Laboratory INstrument Computer

The World's First Personal Computer

Wes Clark and the LINC, Lincoln Laboratory, MIT, 1962

The LINC is one of the most significant machines in the history of computing. It was on the LINC that for the first time a whole computer (not just a time-slot, or batch job) was dedicated to a single person. And the LINC was a graphical, responsive computer, with an all-points-addressible display, keyboard and other interfaces dedicated to respond to the user alone. In addition, the LINC was portable (in a van or good solid station wagon), designed to be set up on a desk (or in the case of its biomedical research focus, a bench) and turned off at night. Next, the LINC had, for the first time, reliable, high speed, removable and compact removable storage media (the LINCTape that was to evolve into DECTape). And lastly, the LINC could be assembled from a kit by its users who then took them home to their home institutions or even private homes, wrote programs that they then shared with the community of LINC users.

While only about fifty were built, and they were used strictly by research institutions, the experience of using the LINC was by the mid 1960s, a portent of what people were to find in the microcomputing and personal computing revolution ten year in the future. The LINC community also functioned like the home brew computer clubs of the 1970s in that there was a "you build it, you share the software" ethos.

Was the LINC "the First Personal Computer (or Workstation)"?

Some have claimed that the LINC was the world's first personal computer. Gordon Bell thinks so too, see his quotation below.

Gordon Bell's quotation in A History of Personal Workstations, A. Goldberg, ed: ACM 1998, pp 9-10. Quotation reads: "The microprocessor, memory, and mass-storage technology appearing in 1975 [led] directly to the personal compuer industry. ...Nevertheless, the first personal computer, the LINC, as built in 1962, long before its predicted technological time."

In a January 2008 correspondanced with Allan Kay, he wrote about the LINC:

I've always considered the LINC to be the first real personal computer. There were single user small machines before, but none of them had the combinations of I/O (display, keyboard, etc.) and low cost of the LINC. The feel of the LINC was the feel of personal computing… The LINC could actually be built by its owner (that's how the first few were made) and cost about $20K. So, in today's terms, it would be a "workstation". Wes [ Clark]'s paper for the ACM History of Workstations conference had the modest title "The LINC Was Early And Small" (Goldberg 1988).

This quotation and a recounting of the project by Severo Ornstein and Bruce Damer is in this article for the IEEE Annals of the History of Computing.

Please feel free to take a look at our numerous LINC resources including the Story of the LINC and its restoration, the LINC Event we held on November 3-5th, 2007 and this page on the LINC now in the Digibarn collection.

The LINC at the Digibarn

The LINC on display at the Vintage Computer Festival (Nov 3-4, 2007)

Software on the LINC

Running LINC software, as recorded by Maury Pepper

The LINC running in St. Louis

Report from the field, Tuesday September 25, 2007 somewhere in darkest Missouri. Yesterday I fired up my old tape containing many games and demos. We ran the following programs:

Lap6 startup

Linc with tapes running

[No Image]
Awari. Bob Abbott's version of an African board game. Fortunately, Tom remembered the rules of the game.

SQUEEZE. A clunky demo Wes had me write as an initiation ritual when I started at CSL. It allows typing in text and controlling with several knobs the character pitch, vertical and horizontal positioning and margins.

BURST, random circles with random radii drawn on the screen. This was one of many demos written to test a random number generator and/or a square root routine. Definitely needs the longer persistence screen.

STARS, twinkling on the screen. Another random number test.

ETCH, probably not as good as the original Etch-a-sketch.

Draw program in process of creating a martini glass

DRAW, four knobs control the endpoints of a line; hit EOL to make it stick; repeat until flicker makes you nauseous.

I have a set of tapes with Gerald's music program, but they are set up for a version of LAP6 that only runs on the microLINC and has other "special" requirements that make it especially challenging. Gerald, for now, is up to the challenge, and with help from Tom, we may get an interface so we can dump out manuscripts and data for perusal on a more friendly computing contrivance. Without a Model 33 Teletype, it really is difficult to work with long manuscripts under current conditions.

Curator: thanks Maury! And here are some more views of the LINC in operation, if you have LINC Tapes and would like to run them, please contact us!

Some views of Lap6 in operation

A bouncing ball program
written by Maury Pepper at the Nov 3-4th event

See Also:

The Digibarn's historical documentation on the LINC

Our assembled Commentary from the LINC user community

Full Coverage of the LINC Event from November 2007

Video coverage of the LINC Event
on Digibarn TV!

See the Story of the Restoration of the LINC

See the media coverage of the LINC Event

View the LINC Panel presentation and audio/video
(Held on Nov 4, 2007)

A full recounting of the project by Severo Ornstein and Bruce Damer is in this article for the IEEE Annals of the History of Computing.

Wikipedia's entry on the LINC

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