PDP-8 Digital Software News (partially found early computer newsletter; 1970s-1980s)

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PDP-8.jpg

An early example of the DEC PDP-8 minicomputer on display at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

Status: Partially Found

PDP-8 Digital Software News was a subscription newsletter service offered to operators of the DEC PDP-8 series of computers. The PDP-8 computer itself was a microcomputer first produced in 1965. The PDP stands for Programmable Data Processor. The original PDP-1 series was produced in 1960, with subsequent series incrementing the number until the PDP-16 in 1972. The PDP-8 series was notable as being one of the least expensive and best-selling computers of its era, though the $18,500 price tag on its 1965 release was still a considerable amount of money. [1] The newsletter was published by the Digital Equipment Corporation, the same company that produced and sold the PDP machines. According to DEC, the purpose of this document was to "publish new and revised software product descriptions, programming notes, software problems and solutions, and documentation corrections" [2] As part of the subscription, PDP-8 operators would submit the "Software Performance Report (SPR)" form to DEC detailing a problem that they were having with the software. While DEC would respond to the Operator, they would, with permission from said operator, print the question and solution in the PDP-8 Digital Software News newsletter.

The documents were typically released with a front cover sheet and back cover sheet made out of thick card. The front cover has a rectangular hole that showed through to the title page, where the month(s) of release and the unique identifier were shown. The two cover sheets would surround plain white paper with black text. The documents were distributed stapled together through the front and back cover sheets. However, as these were working documents for computer operators, the staples were often removed, with the pages placed in a ring binder or taken out entirely to use. The latter practice has led to issues resurfacing with sheets out of order or entirely missing. Additionally, the even-numbered pages do not always have content on them. Sometimes, only one side of a given sheet, the odd-numbered page, would be used. This would leave the backside of this sheet blank, without even a page number, while the front side of the next sheet would use the next odd number. This can lead to confusion as to whether a given page is missing or just unused. The newsletter appears to have started out monthly, as an issue marked for "November 1975" only has surfaced. A March 1976 issue has also surfaced, so it is believed that the December 1975, January 1976, and February 1976 issues also followed the single-month scheme. However, at some point the newsletter shifted to a once-every-two-months structure, as an issue marked for "April 1978 - May 1978" has surfaced. It is not known when this new structure began, but it carried on at least to "August-September 1980". The newsletter also did not have a uniform length. For example, the "August - September 1980" edition apparently only had about 30 pages. [3] Meanwhile, the "August 1978 - September 1978" edition apparently had about 110 pages. [4]

The earliest-known volume of the newsletter is from November 1975, and it is one of the few newsletters to have surfaced to use a single month value. It is cataloged differently from later newsletters, as the unique identifier for the document began with "DEC-08". Because the 1975 newsletter was scanned in black-and-white, it is unclear what the original color was, and whether there were any graphical designs on the front sheet.[5] The newsletter was re-designed, and the later once-every-two-months issues contain a different cover page. The earliest issue with the new once-every-two-month structure was the "April 1978 - May 1978" issue. These cover pages are mostly a light blue, with black lines that form a symbol with uncertain meaning. These issues seem to always be marked with unique identifiers that begin with "AA" and end with "BA"[2] The last-known volume of the newsletter is from "August-September 1980". For unknown reasons, a newsletter marked as January 1979 exists. It is unclear whether there was a corresponding December 1978 release exists, or if there was no issue for December 1978. Both the "October 1978 - November 1978" and "February 1979 - March 1979" issues followed the once-every-two-months format.

Lost Media Status

As stated before, it is unknown when the first and last issues of this newsletter were released. Also, due to uncertainty as to when the newsletter changed from a once-a-month structure to a one-every-two-month structure, it is difficult to quantify how many issues are missing. There is currently a gap between the "March 1976" issue and the "April - May 1978" issue. Finally, some issues can be concluded to exist, due to the existence of issues immediately before and after them. However, their unique identifiers are unknown due to them not having surfaced.

Unique Identifier Release Period Status
DEC-08-XSPSC-E-D November 1975 Found
Unknown December 1975 Lost
Unknown January 1976 Lost
Unknown February 1976 Lost
DEC-08-XSMAD-A-D March 1976 Found
AA-D604A-BA April 1978 - May 1978 Found
AA-D770A-BA June 1978 - July 1978 Lost
AA-D977A-BA August 1978 - September 1978 Lost
AA-H199A-BA October 1978 - November 1978 Found
Unknown December 1978 Existence Unconfirmed
AA-H554A-BA January 1979 Found
AA-H674A-BA February 1979 - March 1979 Lost
AA-H820A-BA April 1979 - May 1979 Found
AA-H941A-BA June 1979 - July 1979 Found
AA-J115A-BA August 1979 - September 1979 Found
AA-J235A-BA October 1979 - November 1979 Lost
AA-J442A-BA December 1979 - January 1980 Found
AA-J639A-BA February 1980 - March 1980 Found
AA-J871A-BA April 1980 - May 1980 Found
AA-K033A-BA June 1980 - July 1980 Found
AA-K357A-BA August 1980 - September 1980 Found

Gallery

References

  1. University of Iowa page on the DEC PDP computers Retrieved 09 May '21
  2. 2.0 2.1 The April/May 1978 Release of "PDP-8 Digital Software News" Retrieved 09 May '21
  3. The August/September 1980 edition of "PDP-8 Digital Software News" Retrieved 26 May '21
  4. The August/September 1978 edition of "PDP-8 Digital Software News" [Not Online]
  5. The November 1975 release of "PDP-8 Digital Software News" Retrieved 09 May '21