Bletchley museum treasures vintage tech

Bletchley museum treasures vintage tech

Summary: ZDNet UK took advantage of a recent visit to Bletchley Park to uncover some of the thousands of items of IT heritage that the National Museum of Computing has in store

TOPICS: After Hours

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  • Post Office modem

    Post Office modem
    Something of a mystery object, this is probably one of the first data modems used in the UK. With separate data modulation and demodulation units, together with a control unit and a power supply, this modem is as one would expect an FSK (Frequency Shift Keying) design, with two oscillators supporting two channels, one for data zero and one for data one.

    If this unit was designed to work over ordinary telephone lines, it will be no faster than 300bps. That seems plausible, as it seems to have an auto answer mode, which wouldn't have been needed on a leased line.

    However, any further information will be gratefully received. Data Modulator No. 9A has secrets yet to plumb.

    Photo credit: Rupert Goodwins

  • Psion Protea Prototype

    Psion Protea Prototype
    There's a huge story to tell about Psion, one of the UK's most innovative consumer electronics companies and one of the few that could outdesign anyone on the planet. Protea was the codename for the Series 5 PDA, which remains one of the benchmarks for elegance, functionality and plain fit-for-useness.

    Running an ARM chip from two AA batteries that lasted up to 20 hours, it had a half-VGA resolution backlit greyscale LCD and an utterly charming slide-out keyboard that, in the opinion of many, has yet to be bettered in anything this size. The operating system, EPOC32, became Symbian, and came with built-in spreadsheet, word processing, database, diary and contact management.

    It was never actually produced in yellow. Shame.

    Photo credit: Rupert Goodwins

  • Psion Series 5

    Psion Series 5
    Another variant of the Series 5 which was never commercially available — this time with a translucent case that brought your correspondent close to actual aggravated theft.

    The Series 5 was developed in under two years, including new silicon, software and casework. Psion was especially proud of its software: the word processor could embed graphics and spreadsheet, had a spell checking, outliner, multiple format options and was near instant in operation — and it took 20KB of memory, less than an empty Microsoft Word document. There's an excellent article on this and more by Andrew Orlowski of The Register.

    Photo credit: Rupert Goodwins

Topic: After Hours

Rupert Goodwins

About Rupert Goodwins

Rupert started off as a nerdy lad expecting to be an electronics engineer, but having tried it for a while discovered that journalism was more fun. He ended up on PC Magazine in the early '90s, before that evolved into ZDNet UK - and Rupert evolved with them into an online journalist.

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  • Always pleased to see news about Bletchley. I was going to visit (again) this holiday period but the weather was too good!