Thursday, 18 January 2018
The Prime Computer story
The company was started in 1972 by seven founders and started off with the Prime 200 which was compatible with the Honeywell 316/516 (which had been discontinued). Prime continued to develop minicomputers throughout the decade culminating with the 750 which was known as a "VAX killer" (running at 1.0 MIPS) and this set off Prime into the big league.
By the mid-1980s it was the sixth largest minicomputer manufacturer with many customers in US banking and academia. Primes also had a major use as CAD systems.
In the early 1980s Prime was big enough to be rumoured to be interested in buying Apple (computing today could certainly be different if that had happened!) They also employed the then-Dr Who Tom Baker and Romana (Lalla Ward) for a series of TV adverts!
However like all the large computer manufacturer they hit turbulance in the late 1980s as customers began to turn away from mainframes and minicomputers and instead went for PCs, workstations and Unix based servers instead. Hardware was becoming a cheap commodity, the real money was in software. Prime bought a CAD software company called Computervision in 1989.
Prime stumbled into the 1990s, surviving hostile takeover attempts but declining revenues were resulting in a number of new system projects being curtailed. Although once Primes had been cutting edge, by the late 1980s they had fallen behind competing systems in terms of processing power. They also failed to join the PC revolution of the 1980s. A Prime PC was developed (or rather bought from another company) but was delayed and by the time it was finally released it was already obsolete.
In the late 1980s Prime tried to break into the lucrative workstation market but the debt mountain finally caused Prime to run out of time in the Summer of 1992. The company was restructured under the Computervision name with hardware projects and manufacturing ceased and most staff were laid off.
Although hardware sales had ended Computervision continued to develop the Prime operating system PRIMOS for a number of years. The last major version (Rev 24) was released in 1994 and the last known update was Rev 24.0.0.R51 released in March 1996. Computervision itself was bought by PTC in 1998.
Nowadays it is unlikely there are any Prime systems still in operation however a number did survive well after the demise of Prime (and indeed Computervision).