Front panel switches - what did they do?

william degnan billdegnan at
Tue May 24 10:44:46 CDT 2016

On Tue, May 24, 2016 at 11:38 AM, Swift Griggs <swiftgriggs at>

> Since I'm an igmo about most machines before the mid-eighties (and still
> fuzzy even on most of those), I'm curious about all these older machines
> with front panel buttons and switches. What all did they do? You could
> actually program them using the front panel right? Some of them
> bootstrapped this way, too? What kind of "language" was used for that
> (ie.. what were the basic mechanics)? Did the buttons ever change color?
> Were you considered a badass if you had switch flipping all memorized down
> to an art? Were they mainly multi-position toggle switches or on/off
> buttons?
> They just seem to be a lot more important on older mainframes and minis.
> Also, what was the main reason for the blinkenlights? Was it to show
> system load or specific system states?
> Just curious. I'm learning a ton from reading these threads on older
> machines, but there is so much I don't know.
> -Swift
Here's a power point pres I did at VCF-E4, this will get you started.
Using Altair 680b front panel in basic terms is covered a few slides in.

@ BillDeg:
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