Re: History of RTE

Colin Eby

Hi folks, 

I think I’ve found about the earliest reference I’m likely to find in the public domain:

“Lord, what’s software?”, Measure, January 1969 , pp. 6-9

In this article, the head of software, Roy Clay, talks about the team and process behind RTE. You can find this periodical scanned on the HP Archive website.

In it _Measure_ says the original RTE was created by Lee Johnson (Project engineer), Ron Matsumoto and Russell Martin. It took approximately 3 man years — I guess one elapsed year.

Don’t suppose anyone on this list is in contact with any of those folks?

The article identifies the objective as:

“ permit more efficient use of computers by providing users with the capability of scheduling “simultaneous” execution of programs in a single computer in real time, while doing non-real-time programming, such as compiling and debugging, in the ‘background,’ that is, during time unused by the real-time programs.”

So basically - write a multiprocessing system for the 2116B.

Kind regards,


On Wed, 19 Aug 2020 at 18:29, Lee A. White via <> wrote:



I guess we sort of diverted this thread, but.........

all this is probably going to be lost if we don't put it down somewhere now. So,

all you museum types out there - feel free to cut and past anything I ever put

down in actual words.


HP probably benefitted from Infotek in

that Infotek never made an entire competing machine and the individual

Infotek memory board set made the 9830 more competitive in the market place

performance wise. Infotek saw a need and filled it. As such, they may have

actually extended the 9830's life a bit. In pushing its own enhancement

products Infotek may actually have increased HP's unit sales of basic machines.

I don't really know since I never studied the sales and marketing data.


I do know that Infotex pushed 9830's into business

accounting applications with their memory extensions and software packs and that

was a market HP did not seem to have any interest in re the 9830. Possibly they

saw it as a competitor to the 2100 business market. I personally think HP

management was not aware that there were lots of useful things that accounting

types could do with a machine that was less than a mainframe or a minicomputer

and one that was available on their desk top for their own personal use.

They saw that benefit in the case of the engineer and scientist, but probably

not in the case of the accountant and manager. Those types were just bean

counters - right - who wants them to be able to do more. They will just get in

our way more.


For me personally, Infotek was a bit of an embarrassment

and an ego thing. Infotek boards were a better product primarily because they

were based on chips that did not exist when the 9830 was designed. Even so, It

was very hard to watch someone else do something better than what we were doing

at that moment. For me, it was sort of an insult. How dare they even try to do

something better than us! Some of us just wanted to go kick some butt and show

them who's who. The whole idea of not being the best at everything just did not

sit well.


And for me too, HP was the pinnacle - the absolute best

in so many ways. Even tough I rose to high level positions elsewhere, nothing

really compares. I never felt better than I did being a part of that group and

that golden time. So, why did so many of us leave? How did a history major end

up running the show? What killed HP as an industry leader? Now that would be an

interesting thread!


Lee W





Sent: Wednesday, August 19, 2020 7:31 AM

Subject: Re: [VintHPcom] History of RTE


Thanks for sharing your memories on the IBM 5100 and HP 9845 development. IBM

swung and missed on the 5100, but the IBM 5150 (aka the IBM PC) seems to have

gained some market traction. All it took was a 1-digit fix, apparently.

As I recall when I joined HP Loveland in 1975, the 9845 teams seemed to

consume half the lab. The rest was parceled out to the 9815, 9825, and

peripherals groups. The 9815 group was really tiny. It was a pretty simple

machine, but a nice one. The 9825 project, which I was somewhat involved with,

got about a quarter of the lab, and the peripherals and I/O group (where I was

assigned) got the rest. I remember standing next to lab stock in the center of

the lab one night at midnight, thinking that I could not believe they actually

paid me to do this job. I'd have done it for free. Haven't felt that way again

in four decades.

I love your phrase "RTV brackets" because the practice is still in full use.

Nearly all switching power supplies use that "technology" for stabilizing

electrolytic capacitors on the board. Big globs of bracketing.

As for Infotek, I've got a long story about the company on based

on interviews with the principals:

HP didn't just tolerate Infotek, it spurred them on. As you say, HP's focus

at that point was the next-generation machines, not extending the existing


The HP 9830 was the machine that directly led me to Loveland. My university,

Case Western in Cleveland, installed an HP 9830 and an HP 9866 in a spare room

in the dorm commons building and you could sign up for hour-long sessions where

it was just you and the machine in a room, alone. Compared to the Univac 1108

and the hulking line-printer/card-reader interfaces we used for other computer

classes at Case, the HP 9830 was a bolt of lightning for myriad reasons. It was

the first time I'd ever seen a real personal computer. And... IT PLAYED STAR

TREK! This was in 1974.

A few months later, HP was one of the companies that came recruiting on

campus. I got an interview and I told the interviewer that I did not care which

division of HP was responsible for the HP 9830, and I didn't care where that

division was, but my goal was to go there and work there because they were

starting a revolution with that machine.

The interviewer was from HP Loveland. His name was Chuck Near. He'd designed

the HP 9830 processor board, based on the HP 2116 ISA. His reply was "I think

that can be arranged." I went straight into his Peripherals and I/O group in the

HP Loveland lab.


On 8/19/2020 12:40 AM, Lee A. White via




Yeah, there were lots of obviously non-production

parts in it, including a bunch of what I called RTV brackets!

Stuff was just crudely glued down some where imbedded

in huge globs of RTV - no real engineering planning to it at all -


Boards with multiple jumpers on the solder side, some

dips with legs pulled up out of the through hole and wires soldered on, and

some parts hand added where no parts were supposed to be.

Scuttle butt was that a customer of IBM had it for

early evaluation, did not like it much, and an HP salesman saw it and somehow

talked them into loaning it to us.

That explanation sounded reasonable but it was not

official and I have no idea if there was any truth in it.

I tore it apart, photographed it all, inventoried

components for costing, and put it all back together - so you could not


No docs came with it - or at least I never saw


A software guy played with it for a bit before

I disassembled it, and a EE looked the boards over while it was in pieces

on my lab bench.

It sat out for a while for others to take a look see


We were deep into the 9845 "qwert" project at the time

and that was goig to be a really fantastic machine.

Absolutely no one was impressed with that 5100

- except in a very bad way.

As you say, compared to the 9845 - it was a


No one saw a threat in it either.

Then it disappeared.

One of those interesting little



Another comment:

I have heard a number of people talk glowingly about

the Infotek boards and upgrades to the 9830 - and they worked and they were

surprisingly good too - and then question why HP let them alone to do what

they did and to make the money they did doing it. Surely, the

thought goes - hp could have done it better, outclassed them, and blown them

away. The question was why didn't HP follow up and upgrade the 9830/9866

and protect that market? The answer is simple - Bill and Dave thought the 9830

was just too darned slow and so all the lab resources were going into the 9845

especially, and to a lesser extent the lower cost 9815, and 9825. The 9830 was

really wonderful in its own way and I loved that machine (still have one

today), but it was so slow. The 9845 was revolutionary in its own way and

it was going to be so fast and so powerful and still easy to use too

- and it was going kill the 9830 and everything else in the market

too. Slowing the 9845 development project just to protect the 9830 market

and fight Infotek would have been a very bad decision. Besides, we

continued to sell 9830s and 9866s even if people bought them, then pulled

boards and replaced them with Infotek ones.


If anything, that IBM 5100 showed just how far ahead

we were gong to be with the 9845.



Sent: Tuesday, August 18, 2020 11:33 PM

Subject: Re: [VintHPcom] History of RTE


I remember that IBM 5100 in the lab in Loveland. Heavy, clunky thing with

that enormous and slow DC300 tape. It also had a big, red switch on the front

for selecting the operating language: Basic or APL. That too was hilarious. I

didn't realize it had been hand built.


On 8/18/2020 7:02 PM, Lee A. White via


I was sort of an advisor to other divisions on wave

soldering and PCB assembly problems, and I got quite a few calls from other

divisions.??While I was working as a design engineer on the 9845 project I

was told not to take any more calls from outside the division??unless I

really knew the person -??and recognized their voice. I was to get their

name and number and division, and then hang up and call the division

operator and ask for the person and verify they had called me. That way

outsiders could not fake it and get inside info. Supposedly they had

instances of someone unknown doing exactly that. I did wonder how they knew

about my calls.


There was another time some one was observed across

the street looking at the building with big binoculars for what was more

than??a short time. A lab manager went around looking at white boards and

was a bit surprised what was there in plain sight. Rumor was that a few

people were talked to about what was on their white boards and we got some

new window treatments too. That was not so bad??because those were big tall

south facing windows.


When I was given what was obviously a hand built

prototype of IBM's 5100 desk top entry to study and report on - this was

before it was introduced to the market - I had to wonder just how HP got

ahold of it! I never got an answer - just a smile.



Lee W

Sent: Tuesday, August 18, 2020 8:10 PM

Subject: Re: [VintHPcom] History of RTE

Oh yeah, we got some of the same. ??When it came to spectrum

they were pretty closed mouth to non-division folks. ??I was there for 400

level commercial training and while I had my Southern Sales badge I had

Computer Systems badges too all that and a green anytime, anywhere ID we

could wander at will. ??But you???re right you never talked with sales guys

they were almost the enemy.??





Datagate Systems,


On Aug 18, 2020, at 17:25, Lee A. White via <thermoman@...>



I think it was pretty common knowledge around

Loveland CPD that they were??called calculators for marketing reasons. I

know I was told that. Back then pretty much any government or??academic

and many business computer purchasing decisions had to be run through and

approved by??a committee, and that meant they had to be economically

justified and competitively bid out, and all that was a big hurdle and a

problem for the sales guys. Calculators could be??requested and approved

by just about anyone??with a budget and signature authority. It made a lot

of sense to me. Let IBM and all the other??"computer" guys??deal with the

committees. It was just smart to help??the science and tech guys buy their

expensive toys without much over sight or supervision and little if any

justification required. That is not to say an HP calculator could not be

justified - it is just to say that doing so??was not required.


Another note on my times at CPD: I never got to actually speak openly to a sales person.

I started as a manufacturing support (production process) engineer and had

to deal with plant tours at Loveland. Prior to many of them I was reminded

not to say anything about new product projects - PERIOD. Also, salesmen

were not supposed to be allowed into the lab (so I could not take them to

my desk space) or be allowed to talk to design engineers. Why? It was

explained to me that when a salesman learns of a new product in

development and then has difficulty completing a sale, he usually tries to

prevent the competitor from making a sale by talking about how great what

is coming soon is going to be and then convincing the customer to wait a

bit. That kills this sale and what is coming can get out to competition



Lee W

Sent: Tuesday, August 18, 2020 6:05 PM

Subject: Re: [VintHPcom] History of RTE


It???s nice to hear someone else with that story, lends credence to

what I???d heard. ??If the Government wanted a computer it took a

feasibility study, they could buy calculators out of petty cash.





Datagate Systems,


On Aug 18, 2020, at 15:50, Steve Leibson <stevenleibson@...>



And HP CPD was the Calculator Products

Division so that government procurement agents would not be buying

desktop computers, they'd be buying calculators. There was no limit on

how many calculators you could order.


On Tuesday, August 18, 2020, 2:50:14 PM PDT, Jack Rubin <j@...> wrote:


of course, DEC famously introduced the PDP???s as ???programmable data

processors??? because they weren???t in the computer market




Steve Leibson

Phone (Cell): 408-910-5992

Phone (Home): 408-292-4930

Please feel free to link to me on LinkedIn

History site:



Steve Leibson

Phone (Cell): 408-910-5992

Phone (Home): 408-292-4930

Please feel free to link to me on LinkedIn

History site:


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