The Xerox 6085 was the successor of the revolutionary Xerox Star, first commercial computer to use a graphical user interface (GUI) with the familiar desktop, icons and a mouse.
The 6085 series was offered in models for network, remote (linked by Ethernet) and stand alone operation. The main unit was founded upon Xerox's Mesa 8 MHz processor which had 256 auxiliary registers and executed 48-bit-wide instructions. It also used an 80186 as an auxiliary processor.
The basic system came with 1.1 MB of memory, expandable up to 3.7 MB, a 10 to 80 MB hard disk drive, two serial ports and a 15-inch high-resolution monochrome display. An optional card allowed the 6085 to run MS-DOS software.
The operating system and GUI interface was called ViewPoint. It also came from the Star. It was written in a language developed at Xerox PARC in the 1970's and also called Mesa. This strongly-typed and structured high-level language, would have a large influence on future well known languages like Pascal or C.
Two improved versions were launched afterwards, the 6085-II with an almost twice as fast processor, and the XPIW (Xerox Publishing Illustrator's Workstation), basically a 6085 workstation with a scanner.
Sadly, like the Alto, the 6085 didn't meet a large success in spite of numerous vanguard concepts, mainly because the Xerox marketing policy was, at the time, above all directed towards copiers rather than computers.
David Lowy was part of the field technical and marketing support team:
There were four peripherals available for the 6085. A Tape Drive for backup (using a cartridge). A Xerox 4045 Laser Printer/Copier (When sold together, it was called a Documenter). A Xerox 7650 flatbed scanner. And lastly a PC Option card that added a 386 class processor along with MS DOS to enable running MS-DOS applications.
About the sound capabilities, Edward T. Weeden specifies:
I was part of the original team working on the release of the Xerox 6085 PCS (Professional Computer System). I was scanning your description of it and noted that you do not know if it was sound-capable. It was. As a matter of fact, I programmed many tunes and sounds for it in the Xerox proprietary programming language called CUSP. This thing would play sound in sequence. For example, if you were doing something which took up buffer/time, you could click on the bell icon on your desktop and the bell sound (whatever tune you had in the icon properties) would sound in sequence, after the other stuff was done!...
Wow, this brings back memories. My father was a program manager on the 6085 (I still have one of the posters, a mug, and a t-shirt as momentos).
The system was incredibly sophisticated and, frankly, is not matched even today in some of its capabilities. It was a very focused, tightly integrated system designed for doing documents (including drawings). I lived through the design and manufacturing and release, and every now and then still think to myself "why can''t my PC just do it THIS way?" (The properties button being my biggest item.)
What I recall most was the speed with which you could create documents and do typesetting work at a very professional level.
The PC emulation was an actual card with its own chip, wasn''t it? So you really were running two computers vs using the main CPU for the emulation, as I recall. And the emulation worked pretty well.
Thanks for this. It brings back some great technology memories but also personal memories of my father and Xerox (and all my buddies in the El Segundo 820/CP/M users group).
I loved Viewpoint/6085! I used it for a couple of years at Ryder System as a technical writer documenting their new AS/400-based Ryder Truck Rental System, which was deployed internationally.
We had six 6085 workstations, three 4045 laser printers, one scanner, a file server and a print server$all connected via Ethernet (a decade before the Internet). What a wonderfully productive network we had in 1986!
It even had a terminal emulator application, which I used to grab screen shots from the IBM AS/400 over Ethernet to develop user friendly documentation, 100$ electronically.
As a technical writer and user of the Xerox Star and 6085 workstations, I waited for years to find anything comparable. In some ways, I''m still waiting.
I think few people understood how advanced Viewpoint and the 6085 really were. The applications were tightly integrated and highly intuitive, and they included professional level word processing, drawing and charting, as well as work-flow, library and project management tools. The mouse was optical (laser) and had zero mechanical failures. It used a mouse pad with a fine mesh for precise control over screen coordinates.
The keyboard had a Properties key, which when pressed would pop-up a context-sensitive dialog box that let you control all properties of the currently $ed desktop object. It was way ahead of its time! Only now, in the new millennium, are things getting as intuitive, productive and downright fun to use as the Xerox 6085.
My work for Ryder System was submitted to the Xerox Electronic Publishing contest in 1987. I was awarded the 1988 Xerox Electronic Publishing Award for the work I developed using the 6085.
Saturday 22nd October 2011
David W. Green (South Florida, USA)
Fantastic machines with 128bit High Level Instruction Set CPU (and a 386 for the PC emulator and cold loader).
These machines ware known as "Doves", AFAIR, and you can see this with the CPU microcode file called "moonrise.dove". The XNS fileserver was a "Raven" and had a belt driven hard-disc!
If you've got one, there's a profile document that you can export to a PC disc and text edit. Set "Developer" to "True" and you can activate all the optional software.
Mesa was very similar to Modula-2 and was compiled to "Binary Configuration Descriptions" (.bcd). The BCD modules were late-linked, tied together via an interpreter of "Atomic Profiles", rather like COM/CORBA interface descriptions (IDLs). The modules would register to send and receive event messages. The 6085 could run Viewpoint, Xerox Development Environment and InterLISP as different worlds, and it's presumably from LISP that the Atomic system is descended.
I've seen these machines languishing in a few auction houses and clearance sales with no-one understanding what they were. Shame I didn't have the space to buy them.
Tuesday 24th July 2007
Roland Cleaver (Swansea, UK)
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