Harris H800 Computer

Kevin Anderson kevin_anderson_dbq at yahoo.com
Fri Apr 22 07:44:53 CDT 2016

I did not use the H800, but I cut my computing teeth on smaller Harris models in college (where my work study job was in the computer center, and I was also a computer science major) and then part-time employment afterwards with the Army Corps of Engineers, which was big on Harris computers at the time.  This was in the late 1970s to mid-1980s.  I used first a model H150 and then the H550 after they upgraded.  I even worked for a contractor part-time who had a Harris H120 (I think that was the model number) in his basement for engineering computing.  I don't remember what models the Army COE used at the time - H500s of one variant or another I believe.

I thought these Harris computers were all a great system, the bees knees as far as I was concerned, far better than any full-blown PDP-11 system at the time (and no doubt cost more as well at the time).  There are documents on these systems on Bitsavers.  Everything was blue in color, and the console was a CRT that ran in block transmission mode, grabbing either one full line or the entire page off the screen at a time, feeding into the DMCP board.  The H150 we had in college had two 80 Mbyte CDC drives, and later we added a 300 Mbyte CDC drive when we upgraded to the H550 model.  The tape drive was a non-vacuum 1600 bpi drive, and I spent many hours backing up the system onto tape, and then swapping drive packs and downloading everything again.  I vaguely recall that we did that drive swapping once a week in the wee hours of the morning.

The Vulcan Operation System (VOS), which later was called VMS, I thought was a cool system, but then I didn't have anything to compare it against.  We had Fortran, Basic, Cobal, RPGII, and assembler, plus a version of Runoff so students could write papers that got printed on a Diablo.  I spent many hours on that system after hours (I had a key to the college computer center), and even started writing my own tape operating system for fun.  We had terminals strung all over campus feeding into the system, connected by long runs of serial cables in the heating tunnels; I spent many hours in those heating tunnels as well, as we had to fix things every time lightning from storms would take out the RS232 chips at either the terminals or on the DMCP board in the computer.  I got to know the area Harris field engineer pretty well - he was a chain-smoker that constantly had a cigarette in his mouth, even while working on the computer.  I watched him do many a system upgrade to boards, which were all discrete TTL chips and parts that were wire-wrapped at that time.

I'd love to know if any Harris computers still exist today.  The ones I knew were all scrapped out years ago. I know if I tried to use one today, I'd get really frustrated with the OS, being as used to Linux/Unix as I am today.  Harris did come out with a Unix OS for their computers in the mid-1980s, but I never used it.

Fond memories.

Kevin Anderson

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