Ferry, Georgina. A Computer Called LEO. London: Fourth Estate, 2003. ISBN 1-84115-185-8.
I'm somewhat of a computer history buff (see my Babbage and UNIVAC pages), but I knew absolutely nothing about the world's first office computer before reading this delightful book. On November 29, 1951 the first commercial computer application went into production on the LEO computer, a vacuum tube machine with mercury delay line memory custom designed and built by—(UNIVAC? IBM?)—nope: J. Lyons & Co. Ltd. of London, a catering company which operated the Lyons Teashops all over Britain. LEO was based on the design of the Cambridge EDSAC, but with additional memory and modifications for commercial work. Many present-day disasters in computerisation projects could be averted from the lessons of Lyons, who not only designed, built, and programmed the first commercial computer from scratch but understood from the outset that the computer must fit the needs and operations of the business, not the other way around, and managed thereby to succeed on the very first try. LEO remained on the job for Lyons until January 1965. (How many present-day computers will still be running 14 years after they're installed?) A total of 72 LEO II and III computers, derived from the original design, were built, and some remained in service as late as 1981. The LEO Computers Society maintains an excellent Web site with many photographs and historical details.

February 2004 Permalink