Technology

Flossie, the 50-year-old computer, to be resurrected

ICT 1301
Image caption More than 150 ICT 1301 computers were built and sold

Efforts to reboot one of the oldest surviving mass-produced computers are under way in Milton Keynes.

The National Museum of Computing has taken delivery of what it believes is the last ICT 1301 computer to ever have a chance of working again.

The machine - known as Flossie - had originally been used to produce exam results for students at the University of London.

The museum hopes to put it on display by 2016.

One of its trustees said Flossie was one of the first computers specifically designed for use by UK businesses rather than scientific institutions.

"Before this time, computers were absolutely huge with valves and thousands of vacuum tubes and would get incredibly hot, making them difficult to house in a normal business," Kevin Murrell, a trustee of the museum, told the BBC.

Image caption The museum acknowledges that the machine is likely to have been damaged in transit

"But this machine used transistors, which used very little power. That meant you could have more of them in the same space, you didn't need the complex cooling equipment and you wouldn't require the high power that earlier computers needed."

ICT 1301s had a footprint of about 6m by 7m (20ft by 23ft) and weighed some five tonnes. They came with a punch card reader and printer built in to their body, which were used to enter and save data by means of creating a series of holes in a piece of stiff paper.

"For medium-sized companies that wanted to computerise their invoicing, their accounting or their payroll, this gave them the help to do that," added Mr Murrell.

Movie star

The University of London bought its machine in the 1960s and used it for accounting and administration tasks in addition to generating GCE examination results for students in England and Wales.

It was later sold at scrap metal value to a group of students before eventually ending up at a farm in Kent, whose owner donated the machine to the museum.

Other editions of the machine were later used as props thanks to their arresting design. Doctor Who, the Pink Panther and the James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun all featured ICT 1301s.

Image caption The National Museum of Computing aims to have Flossie running software before the end of 2016

Over the years more than 150 computers were created, but the charity said it was only aware of three others being left in existence, all of which are beyond repair.

"One of the problems with computers as museum artefacts is that when they are switched off they are fairly boring - it's fairly difficult to learn anything from them," explained Mr Murrell.

"So ideally we want it switched on, and once we've restored it we will be able to run the original software.

"We will have caused some damage in the move, so we need to deal with that, but I think in about three years' time we will have a properly demonstrable machine."

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