Memories of Turbo Pascal version 1.0 - Wayne Williams, United States

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From: Wayne Williams -
Sent: Friday, November 07, 2008 3:22 AM
Subject: 25th anniversary of Turbo Pascal version 1 released November 20, 1983.....

[ David I. note: Wayne Williams is the CEO of Embarcadero Technologies. ]

I started programming in 1976. I was 10 years old and my father was running a resort in Florida that was one of the first to offer timeshares. The computer systems they used to run the business had applications (COBOL) and "databases" that were developed entirely in house. They had to drastically change all the systems to accommodate a new business model. The problem was they were always late and the system was always buggy.

My father grew more and more uncomfortable. He had no idea what the problem was since he had no idea how computers worked. The whole thing was a black box. He decided he needed to have a computer at home and learn how they work and what programming was all about.

So my dad bought a Radio Shack TRS-80 color computer and brought it home. That first night I snuck into his office, turned it on, and opened the manual. The next thing I knew it was light outside and I had written my first programs, all in assembly language. The very first of these was "Hello Word” of course, and it was in color and jumped around the character screen. My love affair with software started then and continued for the rest of my life. I love programming and still write code today, although only recreational now. I do enjoy learning new languages and try to learn at least one new language a year. My current interest lies in Genetic Programming.

My first sizeable commercial success was when I was 18 and working under contract with the largest photography retailer in Canada, Blacks Photography. Blacks had a centralized IT department with a system 38 where they processed all the data. Everything from their network of hundreds of retail stores ran through this central system in Markham, Ontario Canada. They used off the shelf cash registers and would physically ship disks with the sales data. They wanted a custom POS system, and they wanted as close to real-time link with HQ as possible. So my project was to build this system and roll it out in North America.

Given the number of stores and the budget I knew I couldn’t put a system 38 in every store. I also knew cash registers wouldn’t provide the flexibility they required for their large number of SKU’s and their need to track the rolls of film that were dropped off for development. So it was clear this was going to be custom software on PC hardware. At this time relational databases were not practical on PC hardware. DOS was the only practical option given the price/performance ratio of the PC’s. I chose IBM PS/2 Model 25 for the workstations. Each store had multiple stations/cash registers so we needed multiple workstations in this new design. Each workstation had a cash drawer that was controlled through a serial port. The workstations were connected over a token ring LAN to a "server".

This server was not capable of running an RDBMS and the options at that point for real databases were few and far between. So it became clear we were going to have to create our own database and came up with a client server architecture before client server had emerged in mainstream development. The server was a Clipper application with a custom protocol.

The client application was written in Turbo Pascal 1.0 and was mainly GUI point of sale code along with controlling the cash drawer and receipt printers and photo processing printer. While I liked Pascal as a language, the choice was made mainly for the productivity of the Turbo Pascal IDE.

The entire system was a huge success and was rolled out into all the stores. It was written up by IBM in various journals. The system was the standard for Blacks for 15 years and is still in use in some stores today.

[ David I. note - if you have Turbo Pascal version 1.0 stories to share, send them to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and I will post some of them during this 25th anniversary month. Native code compiler Turbo Pascal lives on in Delphi 2009 - if you haven't tried it yet, get the trial download at ]

Gold User, Rank: 1, Points: 2466
David Intersimone (known to many as David I.) is a passionate and innovative software industry veteran-often referred to as a developer icon-who extols and educates the world on Embarcadero developer tools. He shares his visions as an active member of the industry speaking circuit and is tapped as an expert source by the media. He is a long-standing champion of architects, developers and database professionals and works to ensure that their needs are folded into Embarcadero's strategic product plans. David holds a bachelor's degree in computer science from California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo, California.


  • Guest
    kevin Monday, 10 November 2008

    What qualifications did you have when you did that big project for Blacks Photography? At 18 years of age I couldn't imagine any.

  • Guest
    Gerry Wednesday, 1 July 2009

    There's a Blacks Photography here in Nova Scotia. They're running IBM terminals. The software looked pretty plain compared to what can be produced with today's tools. Wayne, you wouldn't happen to have a link to a screen shot of the POS software you created, would you?

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