Moving Targets

Simon Lavington

Published by

Springer Verlag

ISBN

9781848829329

RRP

£41.99

Reviewed by

Dr Patrick Hill CEng MBCS CITP

Score

9 out of 10

Moving TargetsMoving Targets is the story of Elliott-Automation and its contribution to the emerging British computing industry, from the founding of its Borehamwood research laboratories in 1946 until being subsumed into the group of companies that would ultimately become ICL in 1968.

The author paints a detailed picture of key projects at Elliotts and considers these in terms of the various political, inter-personal, commercial and technological drivers that led to their initiation and shaped their progress and outcomes.

During the course of the text we meet up with some of most influential individuals in British computing, such as Christopher Strachey, Maurice Wilkes and Tony Hoare.

Many of the projects considered relate to defence requirements and it is interesting to discover how these developments, diverse as they were, contributed in many ways to the development of analogue and digital computing devices, peripherals and software, ultimately leading to general purpose digital computers.

The book provides fascinating accounts of how these early machines worked, the kinds of problems that arose and the ingenuity that overcame them. From a modern viewpoint it is interesting that Elliott’s directorship expressed so little interest in business computing applications, concentrating rather on computing as a component of  process automation applications of various kinds.

The comprehensive history contained in this substantial volume consists of detailed research using a variety of sources including personal accounts and reminiscences that bring the technical detail to life. Each chapter is fully referenced and almost a third of the book is devoted to detailed appendices.

One slight criticism is that given the broad range of topics that the book covers, I found that some of the terminology was unfamiliar and not explained in the text. Nonetheless, the book is highly readable and gives a vivid insight into the early adoption of information technology in the UK and the engineers and businessmen who helped make it happen.

Further Information: Springer Verlag

September 2011