Its emergence as the prominent model of computing in the 1970s represented a major technological shift in the history of computing. By allowing many users to interact concurrently with a single computer, time-sharing dramatically lowered the cost of providing computing capability, made it possible for individuals and organizations to use a computer without owning one, and promoted the interactive use of computers and the development of new interactive applications.
The earliest computers were extremely expensive devices, and very slow in comparison to later models. Machines were typically dedicated to a particular set of tasks and operated by control panels, the operator manually entering small programs via switches in order to load and run a series of programs. These programs might take hours, or even weeks, to run. As computers grew in speed, run times dropped, and soon the time taken to start up the next program became a concern. Batch processing methodologies evolved to decrease these "dead periods" by queuing up programs so that as soon as one program completed, the next would start.
To support a batch processing operation, a number of comparatively inexpensive card punch or paper tape writers were used by programmers to write their programs "offline". When typing (or punching) was complete, the programs were submitted to the operations team, which scheduled them to be run. Important programs were started quickly; how long before less important programs were started was unpredictable. When the program run was finally completed, the output (generally printed) was returned to the programmer. The complete process might take days, during which time the programmer might never see the computer.
The alternative of allowing the user to operate the computer directly was generally far too expensive to consider. This was because users might have long periods of entering code while the computer remained idle. This situation limited interactive development to those organizations that could afford to waste computing cycles: large universities for the most part. Programmers at the universities decried the behaviors that batch processing imposed, to the point that Stanford students made a short film humorously critiquing it. They experimented with new ways to interact directly with the computer, a field today known as human–computer interaction.
Time-sharing was developed out of the realization that while any single user would make inefficient use of a computer, a large group of users together would not. This was due to the pattern of interaction: Typically an individual user entered bursts of information followed by long pauses but a group of users working at the same time would mean that the pauses of one user would be filled by the activity of the others. Given an optimal group size, the overall process could be very efficient. Similarly, small slices of time spent waiting for disk, tape, or network input could be granted to other users.
The concept is claimed to have been first described by John Backus in the 1954 summer session at MIT, and later by Bob Bemer in his 1957 article "How to consider a computer" in Automatic Control Magazine. In a paper published in December 1958 by W. F. Bauer, he wrote that "The computers would handle a number of problems concurrently. Organizations would have input-output equipment installed on their own premises and would buy time on the computer much the same way that the average household buys power and water from utility companies." Christopher Strachey, who became Oxford University's first professor of computation, filed a patent application for time-sharing in February 1959. He passed the concept on to J. C. R. Licklider at the first UNESCO Information Processing Conference in Paris in June that year where he gave a paper "Time Sharing in Large Fast Computers".
Implementing a system able to take advantage of this was initially difficult. Batch processing was effectively a methodological development on top of the earliest systems. Since computers still ran single programs for single users at any time, the primary change with batch processing was the time delay between one program and the next. Developing a system that supported multiple users at the same time was a completely different concept. The "state" of each user and their programs would have to be kept in the machine, and then switched between quickly. This would take up computer cycles, and on the slow machines of the era this was a concern. However, as computers rapidly improved in speed, and especially in size of core memory in which users' states were retained, the overhead of time-sharing continually decreased, relatively speaking.
The first project to implement time-sharing of user programs was initiated by John McCarthy at MIT in 1959, initially planned on a modified IBM 704, and later on an additionally modified IBM 709 (one of the first computers powerful enough for time-sharing). One of the deliverables of the project, known as the Compatible Time-Sharing System or CTSS, was demonstrated in November 1961. CTSS has a good claim to be the first time-sharing system and remained in use until 1973. Another contender for the first demonstrated time-sharing system was PLATO II, created by Donald Bitzer at a public demonstration at Robert Allerton Park near the University of Illinois in early 1961. But this was a special-purpose system. Bitzer has long said that the PLATO project would have gotten the patent on time-sharing if only the University of Illinois had not lost the patent for two years. JOSS began time-sharing service in January 1964.
Throughout the late 1960s and the 1970s, computer terminals were multiplexed onto large institutional mainframe computers (centralized computing systems), which in many implementations sequentially polled the terminals to see whether any additional data was available or action was requested by the computer user. Later technology in interconnections were interrupt driven, and some of these used parallel data transfer technologies such as the IEEE 488 standard. Generally, computer terminals were utilized on college properties in much the same places as desktop computers or personal computers are found today. In the earliest days of personal computers, many were in fact used as particularly smart terminals for time-sharing systems.
The Dartmouth Time Sharing System's creators wrote in 1968 that "any response time which averages more than 10 seconds destroys the illusion of having one's own computer". Conversely, timesharing users thought that their terminal was the computer.
With the rise of microcomputing in the early 1980s, time-sharing became less significant, because individual microprocessors were sufficiently inexpensive that a single person could have all the CPU time dedicated solely to their needs, even when idle.
However, the Internet brought the general concept of time-sharing back into popularity. Expensive corporate server farms costing millions can host thousands of customers all sharing the same common resources. As with the early serial terminals, web sites operate primarily in bursts of activity followed by periods of idle time. This bursting nature permits the service to be used by many customers at once, usually with no perceptible communication delays, unless the servers start to get very busy.
In the 1960s, several companies started providing time-sharing services as service bureaus. Early systems used Teletype Model 33 KSR or ASR or Teletype Model 35 KSR or ASR machines in ASCII environments, and IBM Selectric typewriter-based terminals (especially the IBM 2741) with two different seven-bit codes. They would connect to the central computer by dial-up Bell 103A modem or acoustically coupled modems operating at 10–15 characters per second. Later terminals and modems supported 30–120 characters per second. The time-sharing system would provide a complete operating environment, including a variety of programming language processors, various software packages, file storage, bulk printing, and off-line storage. Users were charged rent for the terminal, a charge for hours of connect time, a charge for seconds of CPU time, and a charge for kilobyte-months of disk storage.
Common systems used for time-sharing included the SDS 940, the PDP-10, and the IBM 360. Companies providing this service included GE's GEISCO, IBM subsidiary The Service Bureau Corporation, Tymshare (founded in 1966), National CSS (founded in 1967 and bought by Dun & Bradstreet in 1979), Dial Data (bought by Tymshare in 1968), Bolt, Beranek, and Newman (BBN) and Time Sharing Ltd. in the UK. By 1968, there were 32 such service bureaus serving the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) alone. The Auerbach Guide to Timesharing (1973) lists 125 different timesharing services using equipment from Burroughs, CDC, DEC, HP, Honeywell, IBM, RCA, Univac, and XDS.
Rise and fall
In 1975, it was said about one of the major super-mini computer manufacturers that "The biggest end-user market currently is time-sharing." For DEC, for a while the second largest computer company (after IBM), this was also true: Their PDP-10 and IBM's 360/67 were widely used by commercial timesharing services such as CompuServe, On-Line Systems (OLS), Rapidata and Time Sharing Ltd.
The advent of the personal computer marked the beginning of the decline of time-sharing. The economics were such that computer time went from being an expensive resource that had to be shared to being so cheap that computers could be left to sit idle for long periods in order to be available as needed.
Rapidata as an example
Although many time-sharing services simply closed, Rapidata held on, and became part of National Data Corporation. It was still of sufficient interest in 1982 to be the focus of "A User's Guide to Statistics Programs: The Rapidata Timesharing System". Even as revenue fell by 66% and National Data subsequently developed its own problems, attempts were made to keep this timesharing business going.
- Time Sharing Limited (TSL, 1969-1974) - launched using DEC systems. PERT was one of its popular offerings. TSL was acquired by ADP in 1974.
- OLS Computer Services (UK) Limited (1975-1980) - using HP & DEC systems.
The computer utility
Beginning in 1964, the Multics operating system was designed as a computing utility, modeled on the electrical or telephone utilities. In the 1970s, Ted Nelson's original "Xanadu" hypertext repository was envisioned as such a service. It seemed as the computer industry grew that no such consolidation of computing resources would occur as timesharing systems. In the 1990s the concept was, however, revived in somewhat modified form under the banner of cloud computing.
Time-sharing was the first time that multiple processes, owned by different users, were running on a single machine, and these processes could interfere with one another. For example, one process might alter shared resources which another process relied on, such as a variable stored in memory. When only one user was using the system, this would result in possibly wrong output - but with multiple users, this might mean that other users got to see information they were not meant to see.
To prevent this from happening, an operating system needed to enforce a set of policies that determined which privileges each process had. For example, the operating system might deny access to a certain variable by a certain process.
The first international conference on computer security in London in 1971 was primarily driven by the time-sharing industry and its customers.
Notable time-sharing systems
Significant early timesharing systems:
- Allen-Babcock RUSH (Remote Users of Shared Hardware) Time-sharing System on IBM S/360 hardware (1966) → Tymshare
- AT&T Bell Labs Unix (1971) → UC Berkeley BSD Unix (1977)
- BBN PDP-1 Time-sharing System → Massachusetts General Hospital PDP-1D → MUMPS
- BBN TENEX → DEC TOPS-20, Foonly FOONEX, MAXC OS at PARC, Stanford Low Overhead TimeSharing (LOTS), which ran TOPS-20
- Berkeley Timesharing System at UC Berkeley Project Genie → Scientific Data Systems SDS 940 (Tymshare, BBN, SRI, Community Memory) → BCC 500 → MAXC at PARC
- Burroughs Time-sharing MCP → HP 3000 MPE
- Cambridge Multiple Access System was developed for the Titan, the prototype Atlas 2 computer built by Ferranti for the University of Cambridge. This was the first time-sharing system developed outside the United States, and which influenced the later development of UNIX.
- Compower Ltd., a wholly owned subsidiary of the National Coal Board (later British Coal Corporation) in the UK. Originally National Coal Board (NCB) Computer Services, it became Compower in 1973 providing computing and time-share services to internal NCB users and as a commercial service to external users. Sold to Philips C&P (Communications and Processing) in August 1994.
- CompuServe, also branded as Compu-Serv, CIS.
- Compu-Time, Inc., on Honeywell 400/4000, started in 1968 in Ft Lauderdale, Florida, moved to Daytona Beach in 1970.
- CDC MACE, APEX → Kronos → NOS → NOS/VE
- Dartmouth Time Sharing System (DTSS) → GE Time-sharing → GEnie
- DEC PDP-6 Time-sharing Monitor → TOPS-10 → BBN TENEX → DEC TOPS-20
- DEC TSS-8 → RSTS-11, RSX-11 → VAX/VMS
- English Electric KDF9 COTAN (Culham Online Task Activation Network)
- HP 2000 Time-Shared BASIC
- HP 3000 series
- IBM CALL/360, CALL/OS - using IBM System/360 Model 50
- IBM CP-40 → CP-67 → CP-370 → CP/CMS → VM/CMS
- IBM TSO for OS/MVT → for OS/VS2 → for MVS → for z/OS
- IBM TSS/360 → TSS/370
- ICT 1900 series GEORGE 3 MOP (Multiple Online Programming)
- International Timesharing Corporation on dual CDC 3300 systems.
- MIT CTSS → MULTICS (MIT / GE / Bell Labs) → Unix
- MIT Time-sharing System for the DEC PDP-1 → ITS
- McGill University MUSIC → IBM MUSIC/SP
- Michigan Terminal System, on the IBM S/360-67, S/370, and successors.
- Michigan State University CDC SCOPE/HUSTLER System
- National CSS VP/CSS, on IBM 360 series; originally based on IBM's CP/CMS.
- Oregon State University OS-3, on CDC 3000 series.
- Prime Computer PRIMOS
- RAND JOSS → JOSS-2 → JOSS-3
- RCA TSOS → Univac / Unisys VMOS → VS/9
- Service in Informatics and Analysis (SIA), on CDC 6600 Kronos.
- System Development Corporation Time-sharing System, on the AN/FSQ-32.
- Stanford ORVYL and WYLBUR, on IBM S/360-67.
- Stanford PDP-1 Time-sharing System → SAIL → WAITS
- Time Sharing Ltd. (TSL) on DEC PDP-10 systems → Automatic Data Processing (ADP), first commercial time-sharing system in Europe and first dual (fault tolerant) time-sharing system.
- Tone (TSO-like, for VS1), a non-IBM Time-sharing product, marketed by Tone Software Co; TSO required VS2.
- Tymshare SDS-940 → Tymcom X → Tymcom XX
- Unisys/UNIVAC 1108 EXEC 8 → OS 1100 → OS 2200
- UC Berkeley CAL-TSS, on CDC 6400.
- XDS UTS → CP-V → Honeywell CP-6
- Cloud computing
- The Heralds of Resource Sharing, a 1972 film.
- History of CP/CMS, IBM's virtual machine operating system (CP) that supported time-sharing (CMS).
- IBM M44/44X, an experimental computer system based on an IBM 7044 used to simulate multiple virtual machines.
- IBM System/360 Model 67, the only IBM S/360 series mainframe to support virtual memory.
- Multiseat configuration, multiple users on a single personal computer.
- Project MAC, a DARPA funded project at MIT famous for groundbreaking research in operating systems, artificial intelligence, and the theory of computation.
- TELCOMP, an interactive, conversational programming language based on JOSS, developed by BBN in 1964.
- Timeline of operating systems
- VAX (Virtual Address eXtension), a computer architecture and family of computers developed by DEC.
- Utility computing
- Virtual memory
- Time-sharing system evolution
- DEC TIMESHARING (1965), by Peter Clark, The DEC Professional, VOLUME 1, Number 1
- IBM advertised, early 1960s, with a headline: "This man is sharing a $2 million computer"
- Eisenson, Arthur; and Yager, Heather (1967). Ellis D. Kropotchev Silent Film. Stanford University, 1967. This student-produced film from Stanford University is a humorous spoof of the trials and tribulations of a college hacker condemned to use batch processing. Originally created by Arthur Eisenson and Gary Feldman, the film gives the viewer a feel for the process of computer programming in the 1960s. Original music by Heather Yager. Computer History Museum, Object ID 102695643. Retrieved on 2013-11-29 from http://www.computerhistory.org/revolution/punched-cards/2/211/2253.
- Backus, John, Computer Advanced Coding Techniques, MIT 1954, page 16-2. The first known description of computer time-sharing.
- Bemer, Bob (March 1957). "Origins of Timesharing". bobbemer.com. Archived from the original on 2017-07-02. Retrieved June 24, 2016.
- Middleburg, C.A. (2010). "Searching Publications on Operating Systems". arXiv:1003.5525 [cs.OS].
- Bauer, W. F., Computer design from the programmer's viewpoint (Eastern Joint Computer Conference, December 1958) One of the first descriptions of computer time-sharing.
- "Computer Pioneers - Christopher Strachey". history.computer.org. Retrieved 2020-01-23.
- "Computer - Time-sharing and minicomputers". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2020-01-23.
- Gillies, James M.; Gillies, James; Gillies, James and Cailliau Robert; Cailliau, R. (2000). How the Web was Born: The Story of the World Wide Web. Oxford University Press. pp. 13. ISBN 978-0-19-286207-5.
- "Reminiscences on the Theory of Time-Sharing". jmc.stanford.edu. Retrieved 2020-01-23.
- F. J. Corbató, et al., The Compatible Time-Sharing System A Programmer's Guide (MIT Press, 1963) ISBN 978-0-262-03008-3. "paper on time-shared computers by C. Strachey at the June 1959 UNESCO Information Processing conference".
- "There were no command files supported." - the commands to compile and then 'link' a program had to be typed in each time. As the article adds: "No CCL (Concise Command Language)" referring to the DEC world's equivalent of Clist and Rexx.
- McCarthy, John. "REMINISCENCES ON THE HISTORY OF TIME SHARING". stanford.edu. stanford.edu. Archived from the original on 20 October 2007. Retrieved 12 March 2017.
- Brian Dear, Chapter 4 -- The Diagram, The Friendly Orange Glow, Pantheon Books, New York, 2017; pages 71-72 discuss the development of time-sharing and the University of Illinois loss of the patent.
- J. C. Shaw (1964). "JOSS: a designer's view of an experimental on-line computing system". Proceeding AFIPS '64 (Fall, part I) Proceedings of the October 27-29, 1964, fall joint computer conference, part I. pp. 455–464.
- Kemeny, John G.; Kurtz, Thomas E. (11 October 1968). "Dartmouth Time-Sharing". Science. 162 (3850): 223–228. doi:10.1126/science.162.3850.223. PMID 5675464.
- "TRANSCRIPTS OF 1974 National Computer Conference Pioneer Day Session". Dartmouth Time Sharing System. Dartmouth College. 1974.
- IBM 2741 Communication Terminal (PDF). IBM. p. 12.
- "Information Technology Corporate Histories Collection". Computer History Museum. Retrieved on 2013-11-29 from http://www.computerhistory.org/corphist/view.php?s=stories&id=136.
- Auerbach Guide to Time Sharing (PDF). Auerbach Publishers, Inc. 1973. Retrieved 2013-11-29.
- Computerworld, June 11, 1975, p. 35
- One Two-page IBM print ad was headlined "100 or more people can use IBM's new time-sharing computer at the same time." Originals were/are? on e-Bay
- p.1425, Encyclopedia of Computer Science, Litton Educational Publishing, Inc.
- https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/alt.folklore.computers/aE4TwORruB8 - "I worked for RapiData Timesharing for about a year circa 1969..."
- someone else: "I worked there for almost 2 years 1977 to 1979." alt.folklore.computers/aE4TwORruB8/EdpKfFAlBncJ
- NDC started in 1967, and paralleled Rapidata; see Bloomberg's https://www.bloomberg.com/research/stocks/private/snapshot.asp?privcapId=290092
- Bruce Bosworth, ISBN 978-089529-1-677
- ComputerWorld, Oct. 6, 1986, p.179, "Rapidata revenue was $11 million ... in 1986, down from ... ($31 million in 1982)."
- Computerworld, Aug.25,1986, p.5, "National Data Corp. said it is close to reaching an agreement with a buyer of its Rapidata timesharing division. In May, National Data said it would close down ..."
- National Data Corp became NDC-Health Corp in 2001 (bizjournals.com/atlanta/stories/2001/10/29/daily25.html)
- As for a place in history, Rapidata is listed in 'The AUERBACH Guide to Time Sharing (1973)' http://bitsavers.informatik.uni-stuttgart.de/pdf/auerbach/GuideToTimesharing_Jan73.pdf
- Silberschatz, Abraham; Galvin, Peter; Gagne, Greg (2010). Operating system concepts (8th ed.). Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley & Sons. p. 591. ISBN 978-0-470-23399-3.
- "A Brief Description of Privacy Measures in the RUSH Time-Sharing System", J.D. Babcock, AFIPS Conference Proceedings, Spring Joint Computer Conference, Vol. 30, 1967, pp. 301-302.
- Hartley, D. F. (1968), The Cambridge multiple-access system: user's reference manual, Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, ISBN 978-0901224002
- "Time Sharing", James Miller. Retrieved 30 November 2013.
- Nelson, Theodor (1974). Computer Lib: You Can and Must Understand Computers Now; Dream Machines: "New Freedoms Through Computer Screens— A Minority Report". Self-published. ISBN 0-89347-002-3. pp. 56–57.
- Fredkin, Edward (Nov 1963). 196311.pdf. "THE TIME SHARING OF COMPUTERS". Computers and Automation. XII (11): 12–13, 16–20. Years 1954-1963: "The author relates a short history of time-sharing, the initial time-sharing experiments, the modifications of existing computers and those designed specifically for time-sharing, project MAC, significant features of the system, services, languages, programs, scope displays and light pens, and intercommunication."
- "Time Sharing Supervisor Programs", notes comparing the supervisor programs of CP-67, TSS/360, the Michigan Terminal System (MTS), and Multics by Michael T. Alexander, Advanced Topics in Systems Programming (1970, revised 1971), University of Michigan Engineering Summer Conference.
- "The Computer Utility As A Marketplace For Computer Services", Robert Frankston's MIT Master's Thesis, 1973.
- Reminiscences on the Theory of Time-Sharing by John McCarthy, 1983.
- Origins of timesharing by Bob Bemer.
- "40 years of Multics, 1969-2009", an interview with Professor Fernando J. Corbató on the history of Multics and origins of time-sharing, 2009.
- "Mainframe Computers: The Virtues of Sharing", Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing, Computer History Museum Exhibition, January 2011.
- "Mainframe Computers: Timesharing as a Business", Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing, Computer History Museum Exhibition, January 2011.
|> IBM M44/44X|
|>> CP-40/CMS → CP[-67]/CMS||→ VM/370 → VM/SE versions → VM/SP versions → VM/XA versions → VM/ESA → z/VM|
|> TSO for MVT → for OS/VS2 → for MVS → ... → for z/OS|
|>> MULTICS and most other time-sharing platforms|
- Allen, Ruth; (U.S.), National Library of Medicine (1969). An Annotated Bibliography of Biomedical Computer Applications. 70: National Library of Medicine.CS1 maint: location (link)