Go To: The Story of the Math Majors, Bridge Players, Engineers, Chess Wizards, Maverick Scientists, and Iconoclasts, the Programmers Who Created the Software Revolution

By Steve Lohr | Go to book overview

7
A Computer of My Own:
The Beginning of the PC Industry
and the Story of Word

THE RUSSIAN-MADE URAL II WAS A HULKING BEAST OF A MACHINE. It consumed an entire room and was programmed largely by hand-setting switches on a mechanical console that resembled a turn-of-the-century cash register. A sea of tiny orange lights blinked behind the machine's glass doors and cabinets, each light denoting a circuit. Its electronic life pulsed for its human attendants to see, a pointillist symphony of bits. When, at 15, Charles Simonyi was allowed to set up and run a simple test program, "I almost fainted with delight," he recalled.

One Saturday, he got his chance to write his own program for the Ural II at the Central Statistical Office in Budapest. He tried to program a "magic square" — a math puzzle in which the rows and columns in a grid of numbers are all supposed to add up to the same number. Simonyi recalls setting the programming puzzle up as a 50 × 50 grid - an ambitious undertaking, given the circumstances. It proved a daunting task - a program with thousands of instructions and infested with bugs. He eventually got the program to run, filling in the correct numbers, and he came to view computing as a fascinating, compelling puzzle. He loved the feeling of control that came from mastering the machine.

To the teenage computer whiz in communist Hungary, the Ural II offered an intimate computing experience. In 1964, to be sure, it was a primitive

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