Lecture 13. Computing in Canada Part 2:
the age of the microprocessor
Informal and unedited notes, not for distribution. (c) Z. Stachniak, 2011-2012.
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As discussed in the previous lectures, until the mid-1970s, computing was
expensive and dominated by large mainframes and smaller, but still expen-
sive, minicomputers. The high cost of computing had a direct impact on the
number and processing power of computer equipment installed in Canada in
Individual and interactive use of computers was only possible on time-sharing
systems, a popular technique that allowed multiple-users (almost) simulta-
neous access to the systems resources.
In Fall of 1971, Intel Corporation of Santa Clara, Ca, announced a new era in
integrated electronics to be brought about by the microprocessor the com-
panys novel semiconductor device that realized a computers central process-
ing unit on a single integrated circuit. The microprocessor allowed the design
and manufacture of inexpensive computer hardware. Early microprocessor-
based computers, or microcomputers, presented a cost-eective and low-
maintenance alternative to high-performance minicomputers that dominated
the computer scene of the 1970s.
Already by the end of the rst decade of its development, the microcom-
puter industry was engineering a major shift toward microprocessor-based
computing and information technologies. The industry was manufacturing
all kinds of practical computers by the millions. By the end of the 1980s,
microprocessor-based computing became a major force in redening the mod-
ern society and engineering its digital future.
1 Canadian companies were among the rst electronic rms to fully recog-
nize and take advantage of the emerging microprocessor technology. They
participated actively in the formation of the microcomputer and personal
computer industries by creating unique products and technologies and mak-
ing them available world wide.
Some of the Canadian companies achieved international recognition and the
status of industry leaders in specic computer and information sectors. Dur-
ing the rst two decades of micro- and personal computing, Canadian rms
introduced scores of hardware and software products, publishers oered a
variety of computer magazines, computer enthusiasts organized computer
clubs, shows, exhibits, and educational events all over the country.
This lecture covers the rst years of microcomputing in Canada. It is a
brief journey through the rst two decades of micro- and personal comput-
ing in Canada. It is a rushed journey as the history of computing in this
country is a vast subject even when restricted to personal computing. Most
of the information provided in this lecture has been derived from  and .
2 The rst Canadian microcomputers
In lecture 8, we looked at the development and manufacturing of possibly the
worlds rst computer designed explicitly for personal usethe MCM/70by a
Canadian rm Micro Computer Machines. Other Canadian computers pow-
ered by the microprocessor were designed concurrently with the MCM/70
making the early years of microcomputing in Canada one of the most dy-
namic periods in the history of the Canadian electronics industry.
To tell the story of the Canadian PC industry adequately, we have to begin
with the state of the electronics industry in the second half of the 1960s.
In 1966, the Canadian Department of Industry estimated that Canadas trade
imbalance in the computer industry reached $60 million that year alone, and
projected the imbalance to increase steadily in future years.
The Department also concluded that the lack of computer manufacturing,
research, and development in Canada damaged the Canadian economy in
a number of ways: lost employment, under-utilization of skilled human re-
sources, and unnecessary support of foreign R&D activities estimated at $10
million in 1966.
Canadian high-technology industry could not properly develop and stay com-
petitive on the worlds market without investing in electronics. Electronics,
especially micro-electronics, was viewed as the most important sector of econ-
omy and inability to develop it would put Canada in a position of techno-
logical inferiority and overdependence on foreign economies.
Between 1966 and 1968, the Department of Industry conducted an intensive
search for a possible partnership to establish Canadian facilities to design and
manufacture computer equipment. In the end, the Government teamed up
with the Northern Electric Company to research, develop, and manufacture a
variety of electronic devices such as transistors, diodes, and some integrated
3 In October of 1968, with $48 million package from the Canadian Treasury
Board, Northern Electric transformed its Advanced Devices Center into a
new company called Microsystems International Ltd. (MIL). Five months
later, MIL opened its doors with its headquarters in Montreal and the man-
ufacturing facility in Ottawa.
Fig. 1. MIL headquarters in Montreal. Source: MIL MF8008 Central Processor, MIL
Applications Manual, Bulletin 80007, 1974.
The companys focus was on new semiconductor technologies and products.
In a short period of time, MIL acquired state of the art integrated circuit
technologies and the second source rights to a number of products such as
Intels memory chips and some microprocessors.
MIL was rapidly gaining an expertise in the design of new electronic devices.
The companys products placed the rm among the semiconductor leaders
on the international market. To strengthen its manufacturing capabilities
and international presence, MIL opened an assembly plant in Malaysia, sub-
sidiaries in Germany, Malaysia, and the U.S., and international marketing
oces in the U.S., U.K., Belgium, and Germany.