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News Archive - Olivetti Programma 101 Introduction

Olivetti Programma 101 Announcement
Electronics, November 1, 1965

This is an early introduction article in Electronics magazine for the Olivetti Programma 101. The article's title of "Desk-top computer" is interesting, and may well have come straight from Olivetti. Pier Giorgio Perotto, the chief architect and project leader for the machine, stated early on that the Programma 101 was the first "desk top" computer, and later, called it the first "personal computer". While the Programma 101 was a truly amazing machine for its day, it was not technically a computer, as the article does point out.

The article is also technically incorrect in stating that the Programma 101 is the first calculator that has characteristics of a computer. The Mathatronics Mathatron calculator pre-dated market availability of the Programma 101, and offered computer-like learn-mode programming capability, using non-volatile magnetic core memory to store the programs while the power was off, but lacked the magnetic card reader/writer of the Programma 101 for easy loading of programs into the memory of the calculator as needed.

The early nature of the article is clear from the limited information available about the construction of the Programma 101, with speculation that a delay line is used for working storage, which proved to be correct. It's quite interesting that the article compares the Programma 101 to the history-making Victor 3900, which, while not comparable in terms of programmability, was a much more advanced calculator in terms of the technology used to implement it. The Programma 101 used established discrete transistorized electronics while the Victor 3900 used bleeding-edge Metal Oxide Semiconductor Large-Scale Integrated circuit for all of its logic.

The creation of the Victor 3900 was monumental at the time, and though the 3900 was not a terribly successful product (due mainly to reliability issues with the integrated circuits), the machine's technolgy was a major predictor of the future of the electronic calculator industry, relegating technology like discrete transistor circuitry, magnetostrictive delay lines, and magnetic core memory into the dusty corridors of history.