Contents page

Index (83KB)


Mars: n. A legendary tragic failure, the archetypal Hacker Dream
   Gone Wrong.  Mars was the code name for a family of PDP-10
   compatible computers built by Systems Concepts (now, The SC Group):
   the multi-processor SC-30M, the small uniprocessor SC-25M, and the
   never-built superprocessor SC-40M.  These machines were marvels of
   engineering design; although not much slower than the unique
   Foonly F-1, they were physically smaller and consumed less
   power than the much slower DEC KS10 or Foonly F-2, F-3, or F-4
   machines.  They were also completely compatible with the DEC KL10,
   and ran all KL10 binaries (including the operating system) with no
   modifications at about 2--3 times faster than a KL10.
   When DEC cancelled the Jupiter project in 1983, Systems Concepts
   should have made a bundle selling their machine into shops with a
   lot of software investment in PDP-10s, and in fact their spring
   1984 announcement generated a great deal of excitement in the
   PDP-10 world.  TOPS-10 was running on the Mars by the summer of
   1984, and TOPS-20 by early fall.  Unfortunately, the hackers
   running Systems Concepts were much better at designing machines
   than at mass producing or selling them; the company allowed itself
   to be sidetracked by a bout of perfectionism into continually
   improving the design, and lost credibility as delivery dates
   continued to slip.  They also overpriced the product ridiculously;
   they believed they were competing with the KL10 and VAX 8600 and
   failed to reckon with the likes of Sun Microsystems and other
   hungry startups building workstations with power comparable to the
   KL10 at a fraction of the price.  By the time SC shipped the first
   SC-30M to Stanford in late 1985, most customers had already made
   the traumatic decision to abandon the PDP-10, usually for VMS or
   UNIX boxes.  Most of the Mars computers built ended up being
   purchased by CompuServe.

This tale and the related saga of Foonly hold a lesson for hackers: if you want to play in the Real World, you need to learn Real World moves.