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W > WICAT  > 150   


Wicat stands for World Institute for Computer Aided Training. The Wicat is one of the first (perhaps even the first) computer to use a 16-bit Motorola MC68000 processor.

It is a card-based computer. The mainboard just houses the processor, the boot PROMs, a very fast cache memory and the glue electronics.

A lot of cards were developed for this computer. Each card has its own CPU: The I/O board called ICI board uses its own 68008 (68000 with 8 bit data bus), the FD & HD controller, as the streamer controller uses also their own processor. Apparently there were two versions, the 150-WS and the 150-WD, maybe for single drive and double drive...

A number of these units were also sold in Australia and Singapore.

More information from Mark Sullivan:
I know all about the Wicat. We still have one in production!
There were many models. The 150 was the smallest and was soon obsoleted by the 1250 (12.5 MHz 68000). The 1250, 1260 and 1255 were also Multibus-based but were towers and did not have an integrated terminal. You used serial lines for the terminals. There was a larger line that were based on a faster, proprietary bus but I never did use one of those.
Peripheral options included a DEI cartridge tape drive, a QIC SCSI tape, and a Cipher open-reel 1/2" tape drive.
The machine was originally designed for computer-based training and, besides the monochrome console graphics, there was a color graphics system with a video-disc overlay. There was an audio subsystem, called the Hydra because it had lots of cables, that was what we would call a "sound card" today. A number (16?) of students had their own audio channels and this was part of the CBT system.
The proprietary OS was fantastic. It was Unix-like but better integrated. All the utilities shared a common set of options for file selection, etc. The OS text editor was fully-featured, perhaps comparable to something like JOE today. The editor had it's own virtual-memory scheme so you could edit files much larger than available system VM.
Add TCP/IP networking and you'd have a pretty modern feature set. Wicat had their own Ethernet network. You could access disk files and even execute remote procedure calls over the network.
We ran a 3 user CAD system on the 1255 with a 12.5 MHz processor and 256K (that's right, I don't mean M) of RAM.

About the Hydra audio system, Gary Dyer adds:
The audio subsystem called the Hydra allowed for 30 independent audio channels, for 30 independent student CBT sessions. The Hydra keyboards, monitors, and audio channels had an unusual wiring system. It was based on either 7 or 8 units that were daisy chained together to a master card in the Main CPU unit. Multiple cards allowed for up to 30 students. [Don't ask me why there is not a multiple of 8. I believe there was an artifical limition placed by the software group that was being corrected when I left the company.] If a cable was not terminated correctly all 7 (or 8) units could fail. In practice this didn't happen very often. Sabatoge by students was unusual.

Brad Smith reports:

A company owned by Lionel Singer (one-time 'shaker & mover' in the Australian IT Industry) ported the Pick operating system to Wicat in the early-mid 1980's.

I sold some of these to a Hospital in New Zealand around 1983 - for them to develop a ward-based patient tracking and costing system.

I recall showing one of the small tower units at an Argricultural Trade Show - where the display hall was actually a large marquee. We left it in there overnight, and when we came back the next morning it wouldn't boot - there was condensation from the frosty morning all over the boards. I clearly remember removing each of the boards from the backplane, and drying them with a harirdryer!! It then started up as normal!!

Ahh - the good old days...

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Started with WICAT in 1986 and left in 1995. As I was departing I was the Service Manager for the NorthEast US with the exception of NYC (Thank God).

I knew Steve Jeffus and would make my yearly pilgrimage to Orem, Utah to give/take training.

Just to correct two things. One the Operating Systems was called WICAT Multiuser Control System (WMCS) and it had context-sensitive help long before anybody else. The OS looked like it was stolen directly from VMS but I never heard of a law suit.

Next, the 150 was able to display monchrome graphics at 300x200 which was a lot for those days.

There is still a WICAT 1250 with 16 serial ports on it and an 86 MB SCSI hard disk runing here in western NY.

I made it throught Jostens Learning takeover and worked schools. When the merge happened, I was thrown into learning MACs because Jostens Learning (which was originally Prescription Learning) only ran on MACs. So the existing Josten techs only knew MACs/AppleShare and we WICAT folks were all PC/Novell. I learned MACs faster than my mentor learned Novell so I became a manager.

All that went on until 1995 when I joined Xerox because they were going to double my salary. Still here in 2010.

WICAT got out of the hardware business which is sad because they made great hardware.

One war story: I waiting in Pittsburgh for a Fed-Ex plane that was supposed to bring my server (2.3 frig-sized WICAT system). Long story short they $ped it out of the plane onto the runway (it was in a box but it still looks like a parallel-o-gram). I ran it to the school and disassembled the device out of the bent case, reconected and inspected everything and it came up! Very good hardware. 474MB SMD drive.

Last item. Parts of the original Star Wars movies were mocked up on WICAT hardware. George Lucas bought some of it so he could use the WISE emulator software package. I also installed systems for US Air, Air Canada, and Metro North (NYC subway).

Monday 8th November 2010
Ralph H. Stoos Jr. (New York USA)

I was with Wicat as a field tech when Lionel Singer brought the first units ( S150s $ S200s)) to Australia in 1985 and continued with the company through it''s many guises to its sale to Fujitsu where I''m still wielding a screwdriver today ! I worked on the WITs, the halfWITS, al.l of the multibus platforms and many if not all of the proprietary systems that were present in Aus. I have an ICI-8 mounted on the wall in my office at Fujitsu to remind me of what "real computing" was all about !!

Friday 24th September 2010
Leslie Applebee (Melbourne, Australia)

Steve, I'm not sure if you remember me or not, but I was with WICAT Systems from 1984 - 1991 (when I was recruited by Jostens Learning.) One year later Jostens merged with WICAT and we were all back together again. I was with the combined company until 1995. I am now working with a non-profit organization that is developing a Virtual Museum of all the documentation & software we can lay our hands on from educational technology companies from the 1970s - 1990s. We would love to talk to you about what is in your head . . . I'll even buy the beer and hot dogs!

Friday 20th July 2007
Rachel Conine (Tiburon, CA)


NAME  150
TYPE  Professional Computer
YEAR  1981
KEYBOARD  Full-stroke keyboard with separated numeric keypad
CPU  Motorola MC 68000 L8
RAM  256 KB, up to 1,5 MB
VRAM  Unknown
ROM  16 KB / 32 KB / 64 KB EPROMs
TEXT MODES  80 x 25
GRAPHIC MODES  300 x 200
COLORS  monochrome built-in display
SOUND  Unknown
SIZE / WEIGHT  16'' x 19'' x 16.5'' / 50 lbs
I/O PORTS  Unknown
BUILT IN MEDIA  One 5.25'' disk-drive (960 Kb) and one 5''1/4 Winchester hard-drive (10 or 15Mb)
OS  WICAT Multiuser Control System (WMCS), Unix, PICK, CP/M emulator
PERIPHERALS  10Mb hard disk, 960 Kb 5.25'' floppy disk drive, RS232C serial interface, 16bit parallel interface, real-time clock, Network card, Graphic card, Videodisc controller
PRICE  Single user 150-1 (256 KB) $9,450
Three users 150-3 $10,850
Six users 150-6 (512 KB) $12,850

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