Colombo University Computer Museum unveiled on the 21st January 2021 in commemoration of 100 years of the establishment of the faculties of science and arts of the UoC. The Computing History Museum at UCSC showcases many facets including the proud history of over 50 years of computing at the University of Colombo, decades of technology evolution and the computing machinery initially used for higher education in the country. The collection will continue in the years to come for future generations to inspire, educate, and as a showcase of its legacy.
Here’s how the history was made. In the virtual museum, you can see the IBM 29 card punching machine and the IBM 59 card verifier which was announced in 1964 to coincide with the introduction of the IBM 360. The Acorn Electron was a budget version of the BBC Microcomputer made by Acorn Computers Ltd. ‘The Electron’ was able to save and load programs onto an audio cassette. The Friden EC132 was the successor to the Friden EC130. It is historically considered as the first commercially-available solid-state desktop electronic calculator. Under the Colombo – Reading link, the University was gifted with its very first computer, a Hewlett-Packard 9825 Mini computer. This enabled in-house computing at the University of Colombo, following which a small scale Computer Centre was established at the Department of Mathematics in 1977. The equipment at the centre included the Data General NOVA/4 minicomputer (1981), Data General Eclipse multi-user S/140 Mini computer, an IBM-PC, a WANG-PC, a Kaypro 2 and two RadioShack TRS80-16 computers. The centre served science undergraduates, researchers and provided consultancy work. Subsequently the island’s first ever locally networked BBC computer labs were set up to serve students. BBC microcomputers was used for many purposes including processing and releasing the results of the 1982 Presidential Election.
In 1988, NEC 430 mainframe was donated by Japan with 60 terminals for interactive Computing. In 1989, UNISYS minicomputer was set up for student programming in Fortran, Pascal and Prolog with the assistance of UNDP (United Nations Development Programme). The IBM PC XT (eXtended Technology) was the follow-on to the wildly successful IBM PC. The advancements then took giant strides to development and utilization of Mini computers, Micro and Mainframe machines. As the largest mainframe computer system in the country at that time and staff training was provided under Project Type Technical Co-operation of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
The accompanying storage technology of the computers has taken a massive leap from punch cards and floppy disks to high capacity disks. In the 1950s magnetic core memory, also known as a ferrite-core memory, was used as the main memory. It used small magnetic rings made of ceramic to store information encoded based on the polarity of the magnetic field it contains. In 1956 Hard Disks were available with rotating platters, in 1963 Music Tapes were available and in 1979, Sony's Walkman helped the transformation of the use of audio cassette tape. In 1966, Robert Dennard invented the solid state Dynamic Random Access Memory technology (DRAM) cells. Minicomputers at Colombo University also utilised 1968 Twistor Memory developed in 1968 and Bubble memory (1970). IBM started its development of an inexpensive system, geared towards loading microcode into the System/370 mainframes. As a result, the 8-inch magnetic floppy disk emerged in 1971. The CD-ROM (1984), used the same physical format as the audio compact disks to store digital data. These are then followed by the exhibits in the museum such as 1992 mini disks (5.25” to 3.5”),1993 digital linear tape, 1995 DVD, and 1997 multimedia card.
With the arrival of Internet in the Island in 1994, the progression of computing and communication together was rapid. Powerful servers could be accessed by diskless clients, resources could be hired on demand and high performance clusters and hosting of content was made possible. This is recent history.
Computing education at the University of Colombo started with late Vidya Jyothi Prof V K Samaranayake teaching Fortran programming to students of the Faculty of Science in 1967. Subsequently, the Department of Statistics and Computer Science of the Faculty of Science offered undergraduate degrees in computing to its students. A major step in computing education was taken in 2002, with the establishment of the first faculty of computing in Sri Lanka in 2002, by the merging of the department of Computer Science and the Institute of Computer Technology (ICT), creating the University of Colombo School of Computing (aka the UCSC), which has become the pioneer and the leader in providing computing higher education, research and development in Sri Lanka. It is the best equipped, best staffed higher educational institute in computing in the island with the state-of-the-art computing facilities. During the last two decades, the UCSC has taken giant strides in expanding its undergraduate, postgraduate and external programmes in computer education. The University of Colombo Computer Museum attempts to showcase the proud history of the development of computing discipline at the University.
Under the leadership of Vidya Jyothi Professor V. K. Samaranayake, UoC has contributed to many national endeavours over the past decades. Among them are community radio programmes to educate the nation in computing since the 1970s and Community outreach programmes such as mobile computing Bus for school children and community, National elections such as General and Presidential elections since the 1980s, and the scoreboard for Cricket telecasts by Rupavahini Corporation in the 1990s. In September 1996, Institute of Computer Technology, University of Colombo developed the Tri-lingual National Website for the Sri Lanka government. The linkages made with other entities such as JICA, Reading University, UK, have been the supporting pillars of strength for the continuous development of the field of computing in the university.
[sayit]Looking ahead, in just 10 or 20 years from now, UCSC will see even more rapid change and growth. The decisions made together today will have a great impact, and will also shape the future for decades to come. The UCSC shall work to advance computing knowledge, fostering global strategic alliances whilst promoting cutting-edge research to produce socially responsible professionals who can contribute to position the country as a knowledge hub in the region. Today, the Computer Museum of University of Colombo provides an opportunity to current and future generations of the nation to witness the remarkable legacy in computing created by its forefathers that has created the foundation for the future developments in Computing at UoC.