LINC and Astrotype

This page Last updated JUne 10 2015. COpyright 2015 Herb Johnson To email me or to order, see see my ordering Web page for my email addresses.


[LINCtape drive]A few years ago, I picked up this DECtape-like drive. In Aug 2009 I realized it's a LINCtape drive, probably produced in 1966 for a LINC computer of the period. Another Web page describes the LINCtape drive and work I've done on it. This page describes DECtapes I obtained in Aug 2011 branded "Astrotype". These were sold for use on a typesetting system of that brand, acquired some years ago by Doug Jones who sent me the tapes. On this Web page, he also reviewed some history of the Astrotype product and company. For more photos of these and other tapes, and dimensions and fit, see this additional Web page. Thanks to University of Iowa professor and PDP-8 collector Doug Jones for these tapes and related assistance. - Herb Johnson

Astrotype, system and tapes

[Astrotype tape reel]On the left is a photo of one Astrotype tape as received. It's in a blue-tinted plastic container. Beneath is apparently the content directory of the tape, written in the mid-1970's. For more photos of the tapes and dimensions, see this additional Web page on these and other LINCtapes and DECtapes.

Notes about Astrotype systems by Doug Jones

"I have a BE01 DECtape controller, and 2 TU55 DECtape drives. This material from Chicago was originally an Astrotype typesetting system. The BE01 DecTape controller is an OEM version of the TC01, and the TU55 drives were OEM versions, with Astrotype labels instead of the usual DEC paint job. I have the original Astrotype rack; it is in fair condition, but missing its side skins... I don't have any documentation about the Astrotype system or the source of the branded tapes. A very few of the tapes I got with it are 3M brand."

"[But] the system was a PDP-8/L, stored in the basement of Ryerson Hall on the U of Chicago campus-- really in the steam tunnels below the basement. Someone had pushed it there and abandoned it. A single rack, with CPU, extended memory (for a total of 8K) and a pair of "crippled" TU55 DECtape drives, all mounted in a single rack. The crippling? No unit select switches and no ability to format tapes." - Doug Jones.

See Doug Jones's PDP-8 collection including the above, as part of the U of Iowa PDP-8 collection he curates.

In 2015, Doug offered more information about Astrotype, by updating the Wikipedia entry on Information Control Systems. Here's a photo of the 8/L with Astrotype drive. "Note that, aside from the simplified control panel and hard-wired unit number on the drive, it's obviously a rebranded TU55. Note also that it's got one "starfish" hub and one solid hub.

I also made a photo of some of the tapes that came with this system: (Here's a photo of more Astrotype tapes.) "Several of the plastic canisters in the photo have ICS labels, while others have straight DECtape labels. The one in the upper left is most interesting because the ICS label is obviously stuck on over the DECtape label."

"The [Wikipedia] article on Information Control Systems and Astrotype still needs cleanup, but at least it has some photos now."- Doug Jones

More about Astrotype products and company

A bit of Googling by Doug Jones in Aug 2011 found these journal references:

From Administrative Management, Vol. 32, 1971:
Devices include the Astrotype from Information Control Systems and the Copy composer from Computer Retrieval Systems. Prices for this equipment depend on the number of stations required.

From Datamation, Vol. 14, 1968:
The Astrotype system operates with an imbedded PDP 8/L computer. Like the MTST IBM system, Astrotype uses small mag tapes for storing text. Its developers claim, however, that the DEC tapes employed actually store up to six times as much data as the IBM reels do (up to 500K words) at about $7 per reel. Astrotype's producers also claim that the small (4 to 8K) controller is capable of providing its users most of the editing features normally found in only large computer editing programs such as IBM's Datatext, at the greatly reduced [cost?]

From Office Equipment & Methods, Vol. 18, 1972:
The Astrotype system from Information Control Systems Inc.. in Ann Arbor. Mich., consists of a minicomputer, one to four magnetic tape decks and from one to four electric typewriters, all of which are located right in the user's office. This is, in effect, an in-house time-sharing system capable of performing [document preparation]....

"I found the CV of one of the people who developed the Astrotype. Robert Loren Stout's Vita says "Member of team that developed the first minicomputer-based word-processing system, Astrotype/Astrocomp, produced by Information Control Systems, Inc. of Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1969." He's currently Director, Decision Sciences Institute of Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation.

"Also, there's a NASA report that makes it clear that the Astrotype system was definitely a pioneering word processor. From A USER ORIENTED AUTOMATED TYPING SYSTEM by Paul F. Sullivan, April 1970, NASA Electronics Research Center:

   The commercial market presents many different systems for
   automated correction and production of typewritten copy.

   At one end of the spectrum of such systems are the paper
   tape based linear access machines ...

   At the other end of the spectrum are the systems designed
   primarily for the publishing industry. ...

   Between these two extremes there seems to be only one median
   system, "Astrotype," developed by Information Control Systems,
   Inc. This system gives the operator random access to the manu-
   script, and he need type only the corrections or updates in any
   order.  The machine will prepare the final copy without operator
   intervention. This system, however, requires lines to be
   accessed by line number (an operation familiar to computer
   programmers but foreign to clerical staff). Access within a
   line is determined by matching an input and a manuscript
   character string, a process which can easily result in incorrect
   locations if the same character string appears more than once
   in a given line of text. The system prints out the correction as
   it understands it so that errors of this type can be avoided,
   but this procedure wastes valuable time.  Furthermore, insertions
   which are longer than one typewritten line have to be made by
   full lines, a requirement which necessitates the retyping of one
   or more lines.

"An article from ACM Computing Surveys, 1971..."On-line Text Editing: A Survey" by Andries Van Dam and David E Rice, in Computing Surveys, VoI. 3, No. 3, September 1971 p. 93-114 describes the Astrotype in its market and technological context, but at a very high level." - Doug Jones

The article references the following document: "ASTROTYPE." Form No. 30, Automatic Office Division, Information Control Systems, Inc., Ann Arbor, Mich.

Other references

From Web searching in Aug 2011: A trademark reference site claims "ASTROCOMP" and "ASTROTYPE" are expired trademarks of Information Control System which were filed in 1969. Other references suggest that ICS produced PDP-8 software products, and had employees who participated in DECUS. A building in Ann Arbor in the period was referred to as the "Information Control System building" in a local 1971 document.

Herb Johnson
New Jersey, USA
follow this link to email @ me

Copyright © 2015 Herb Johnson