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Re: [ontac-forum] Ontology and Interoperability

To: mitioke@xxxxxxxxxxxx, ONTAC-WG General Discussion <ontac-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Sat, 10 Dec 2005 00:08:39 -0500
Message-id: <439A62D7.7040108@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Ken,    (01)

I do remember that point painfully well:    (02)

 > Since (I believe) John Sowa was with IBM at that
 > time maybe he can recall some of the arguments,
 > rational and forces that picked ASCII over EBCDIC
 > and why it was necessary at all. The underlying
 > issues and potential consequences seem to be similar
 > to the works being discussed here.    (03)

One of the chief proponents of ASCII was an IBM employee,
Bob Bemer, and the IBM System/360 family, which was introduced
in 1964, had a bit that could be set to ASCII mode or EBCDIC
mode.  At that time, I was been hired at IBM not long before,
and I wasn't privy to the arguments pro and con.    (04)

But in 1965, I attended an IFIP Congress in New York City,
where quite a few pioneers in computer science made some
interesting presentations.  Among them was Fred Brooks,
one of the three chief architects of the System/360.    (05)

After Brooks discussed the design decisions that led to
System/360, somebody in the audience asked the question
why IBM chose EBCDIC instead of ASCII as the primary code
format.  The answer was so incredible that it can only
be true:  it would take more circuitry in the card reader
to convert the punch-card hole patterns to the ASCII bit
patterns than to the EBCDIC patterns.    (06)

You must realize that System/360 had a built-in TR instruction
that would translate any code to any other.  It's totally
irrelevant what bit pattern is generated by the card reader,
since it could be converted to any other pattern by a single
instruction.  The argument against using that instruction,
however, is that it would require a 256-byte table.  On the
smallest possible System/360 computer, which had 16K bytes,
that table would take nearly 2% of core storage.  Of course,
nobody bought that size storage -- almost all the smallest
360s (the Model 30) were sold with 64K.  But the IBM Endicott
Lab vetoed the use of ASCII because they built both the
printers and the smallest computers.    (07)

That decision cost the entire computer industry no end
of headaches and billions of dollars of complexity.
No company suffered more from that stupidity than IBM.    (08)

John Sowa    (09)

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