Archive: Computer Collector Newsletter / Technology Rewind, Jan. 2004 - March 2006

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SHARE - The first user group?

by Evan Koblentz

In 1955, engineers from 17 large companies and government agencies gathered at Rand Corp.'s Los Angeles facility to form what could be the very first computer user group, Share. What they had in common was use of the IBM 701 vacuum tube computer. The following year, the IBM 704 commercialized core memory and floating-point math, along with Fortran and Lisp. Also in 1956, Thomas Watson Sr. died at age 82. (See for details on the IBM 701.)

Share, however, didn't just succeed, it exploded. In addition to Rand, the founding parties included Boeing, California Research, Curtiss-Wright, General Electric, General Motors, Hughes Aircraft, IBM Computing Bureau, IBM Scientific Computing Center, Lockheed Aircraft (and missile systems and Georgia divisions), Los Alamos Laboratory, North American Aviation, the National Security Agency, Radiation Laboratory, United Aircraft Corporation, and unofficially, Douglas Aircraft. Share's membership in 2005 includes 80 percent of the Fortune 500, president Robert Rosen said.

The group began celebrating its 50th anniversay at a recent meeting in Anaheim, Calif., just up the highway from Los Angeles. Next month (Aug. 21-26) in Boston is the major event, and there are several history sessions planned to celebrate the anniversary.

"We're trying to get some of the old-timers to come back to reminisce about how things were and how things changed over the years," Rosen said. He doesn't think any of the founding members are alive, but there may be members who were involved in the late 1950s, he said.

There will also be an exhibit of vintage circuit boards, manuals, and original Share attendee's meeting notes, all on a much larger scale than at the Anaheim meeting. There will also be sessions devoted to historic Big Blue songs and buttons. (Check out the Computerworld article at and, better yet, visit to listen to the 1975 "MVS is breaking my heart - Boney fingers" song and see a button collection.)

Besides helping the users, Share influenced Big Blue itself on several occassions, Rosen said. "People don't realize it, but Share invented the open-source model. People would write code and contribute it to the Share Program Library Agency. People would contribute programs, modify it, and Share would distribute all of this free of charge. So Share was way ahead of its time," he noted. A review board would pick the best code if there were duplicate functions.

White papers were also a major part in which Share influenced IBM decisions. Rosen himself in the mid-1980s wrote a paper that became the basis for the RS6000 computer, he said. Later, Share was influential in making Unicode a standard, he added.

Looking at how user groups/vendor relationship changed over time, "What you see now is, we say here's the fix we need, and here's the business case for it," Rosen said.

These days, companies still running mainframes have a need for systems programmers, as most qualified people are retired. It's also become clear that the distributed systems community is still learning from mainframe concepts, such as server virtualization and storage management. "While we have a great respect for the past and we're obviously celebrating our 50th anniversary, we're also looking forward to the future. What's amazing is the number of people who were around Share for a long time, so you can get that perspective," Rosen said. "I can look at all these computer journals and everything and say I did this and see how wonderful it was. You never see the ones saying look what a disaster it was. You can find what people did that didn't work so you don't make the same mistake."

So, 50 years later and hopefully in 2055 as well, "The sharing of knowledge is probably the key element that Share brings to the table. The sharing of knowledge, it's probably worth its weight in gold."