【NEC】NEC’s First Office Computer Software

NEC announced the NEAC System 100 in August 1973 and began shipping the system in October of that year. In an era when operating systems did not yet exist, this system made use of a program loader, which read programs into its main memory from the primary external storage unit, usually using magnetic cassette tape media. The system ran BEST (Beginner's Efficient & Simple Translator) as its application development program. BEST had been newly developed for office computers and was a basic programming language similar to COBOL that could be learned quickly. BEST could be used to create various office programs, such as billing programs, inquiries (i.e., updates), and online form processes (i.e., adding functions at a later time).
The first NEC software for office computers included compilers for developing application programs and various utilities for manipulating programs and data.

The primary office computer software included:

  • Compiler for BEST (a basic programming language)
  • Source update (for source programs): equivalent to a modern text editor
  • Object update: utility for managing executable programs
  • Sort utility
  • File utility (for copying, printing, etc.)

With the rising need for COBOL, a programming language for business and office applications, to create sophisticated business processing programs, NEC shipped NEAC System 100 COBOL in February 1974. The use of this COBOL version really took off starting with the high-end NEAC System 100G and 100H office computers, which succeeded System 100 and began shipping in August 1975, because they were equipped with file storage units sufficient for COBOL programming.

Figure 1: An NEAC System 100 COBOL translation list

Figure 1: An NEAC System 100 COBOL translation list

Prior to the implementation of operating systems capable of multiple processes, there were multi-billing systems where two special billing keyboards, two serial printers, and two paper tape reader/puncher units would surround one computer to perform two billing processes. These systems came with BEST2M (with M standing for multi-billing), which was a basic programming language that extended BEST with special multi-billing features. BEST2M enabled programming of two billing operations that could be processed on one computer.
On the hardware side, the first NEAC System 100 machines were equipped with a 12-kilobyte main memory unit, two external storage units using magnetic cassette tape, a keyboard, a serial printer, and a paper tape reader/punch unit. The microprogram that controlled the units occupied 4 kilobytes of the main memory. Thus, software had to operate in an address space of 8 kilobytes. The serial printer, because it was designed for bill printing and could not display errors, came with an eight-digit read-out (capable of displaying numbers 0 to 9, letters A to F, hyphens, and periods) to indicate errors and instructions to the operator. This read-out had a button to switch between front and back displays. This switching function made it possible to show up to 18 characters of information.