1963 Timesharing: A Solution to Computer Bottlenecks

1963 Timesharing: A Solution to Computer Bottlenecks

[Recorded: May 9, 1963]
This vintage film features MIT Science Reporter John Fitch at the MIT Computation Center in an extended interview with MIT professor of computer science Fernando J. Corbato. The film was co-produced by WGBH (Boston) and MIT.

The prime focus of the film is timesharing, one of the most important developments in computing, and one which has come in and out of favor several times over the last several decades as the dichotomy between remote and centrally-managed computing resources played out; the latest incarnation for centrally-managed computing resources is known as cloud computing.

Timesharing as shown in this film, was a novel concept in the early 1960s. Driven by a desire to more efficiently use expensive computer resources while increasing the interactivity between user and computer (man and machine), timesharing was eventually taken up by industry in the form of special timesharing hardware for mainframe and minicomputer computer systems as well as in sophisticated operating systems to manage multiple users and resources.

Corbato describes how after the mid-1950s, when computers began to become reliable, the next big challenge to improve productivity and efficiency was the development of computer languages, FORTRAN being an example. One of the next bottlenecks in computing, according to Corabto, was the traditional batch processing method of combining many peoples computer jobs into one large single job for the computer to process at one time. He compares batch processing to a group of people catching a bus, all being moved at once.

Timesharing, on the other hand, involves attaching a large number of consoles to the central computer, each of which is given a time-slice of the computers time. While the computer is rapidly switching among user applications and problems, it appears to the user that s/he has complete access to the central computer.

Corbato then describes in technical detail a complex description of timesharing before showing some examples of timesharing from a terminal using a simple program to calculate a simple geometric problem (Pythagorean theorem).

In the long run, Corbato says, timesharing will help address the increasing need for computer time and ease-of-use.


  1. moopet on March 15, 2020 at 1:52 pm

    OMG the Twilight Zoney music at the end is creepy as hell.

  2. The Carter Hour on March 15, 2020 at 1:55 pm

    Its when a "MAN" Types in a command!!

  3. Frankie Sanchez on March 15, 2020 at 1:55 pm

    Are the only one so fsr

  4. dj osearth on March 15, 2020 at 1:55 pm

    5:40 See the pee-wee human penguin-suit interviewee gettin’ all giddy about the *UPGRADE* when trying to explain why they need a better computer like a grade 7 trying to convince his parents why the current machine can’t quite play fortnite/doom (whatever of the era) as good as s/he would likek it to hence requiring an *UPGRADE. ;]*

  5. SnoopyDoo on March 15, 2020 at 1:56 pm

    This should be re-enacted and then while he’s describing how it works, the other guy gets a ring and pulls out an iPhone from his pocket and says, "Excuse for a sec…."

  6. tommy lopez on March 15, 2020 at 1:56 pm

    So nice to see someone writing in cursive.

  7. Albert John Nguyễn on March 15, 2020 at 1:58 pm

    Attaching a bunch of consoles to a computer? Is that like attaching a bunch of chromebooks to a cloud?

  8. auronoxe on March 15, 2020 at 1:58 pm

    Great interaction between the reporter and the professor. Just a board, no fancy animations needed to explain it so well.

  9. Frankie Sanchez on March 15, 2020 at 2:00 pm


  10. B Laquisha on March 15, 2020 at 2:00 pm

    I remember playing the original text based Star Trek game on a paper based terminal at college in the mid 70’s. Miles of paper, but at least you could go back and look at the previous long and short range scans. How things have changed.

  11. Robson Kramer on March 15, 2020 at 2:03 pm

    Please, is there anyone who know which OS they are using on these computers ? Should be CTSS ?

  12. rdvqc on March 15, 2020 at 2:03 pm

    My first experience with timesharing was on the McGiill Rax system in the late 1960’s. At the time it was running on an IBM 360/50. Most access was via TTY33 and TTY35 dial up terminals. Those with more budget could use an IBM 2741 terminal which was built around a Selectric typewriter. It was about 50% faster.

  13. Flamer Gamer on March 15, 2020 at 2:07 pm

    my left ear liked this

  14. theloniousMac on March 15, 2020 at 2:09 pm

    And now my laptop that is incomprehensibly more powerful, is twiddling its thumbs while I scratch my balls.

  15. powergirl901 on March 15, 2020 at 2:10 pm

    Since digital computers have a limited future—they’re inefficient at the silicon atom scale—analog computers will need to be restarted.

  16. GH1618 on March 15, 2020 at 2:11 pm

    Corbato is talking about MULTICS, known to every serious student of operating systems as the foundation of time-sharing.

  17. Frankie Sanchez on March 15, 2020 at 2:11 pm


  18. jordan secrist on March 15, 2020 at 2:18 pm

    damn,why does this video have to have sound coming out on my bad speaker only? lol

  19. Cole Park on March 15, 2020 at 2:19 pm

    The computer scientist being interviewed is Fernando Corbato, and he’s still alive! He’s 93 now and has gotten to see how far computers have come. crazy shit haha

  20. mykalimba on March 15, 2020 at 2:19 pm

    How could anyone even begin to think that the hypotenuse of a triangle with sides of length 1 and 12 is 13?

  21. Oriol Vidal on March 15, 2020 at 2:19 pm

    Incredible historical video, thanks!

  22. Frankie Sanchez on March 15, 2020 at 2:20 pm


  23. Daniel Bergqvist on March 15, 2020 at 2:21 pm

    At the end the reporter says he is going to do a story on USS Thresher (it was lost one month earlier). Interesting to note that when the spearhead of computerscience was at this level , we (humanity) already had nuclear submarines !

  24. nobody nowhere on March 15, 2020 at 2:22 pm

    Astonishing. The more things change, the more they remain the same. Travel well. Safe return. ❤🐯

  25. dave on March 15, 2020 at 2:23 pm

    So this is the Original SYSOP….. Im not so scared of them anymore.

  26. Michael Richmond on March 15, 2020 at 2:24 pm

  27. Peter Scheen on March 15, 2020 at 2:24 pm

    18 seconds to do two square roots and one hypotenuse. We have come a long way. I liked it when he said they are experimenting with visual output.

  28. awuma on March 15, 2020 at 2:25 pm

    Excellent video, still fully relevant, very advanced for its time. Captures the nature of computing in those times. Little changed overall until the mid-70’s, when smaller multi-user systems with many CRT display terminals became widespread. I recall how in 1977, the campus IBM mainframe at Caltech was still a cards-over-the-counter, printout-in-mailboxes operation, the only two user CRT terminals being reserved for JPL Accounting, since the standard operating system software was so inefficient in handling terminals that the overall performance would suffer unacceptably. Fortunately, pretty soon the DEC VAX-11/780 came on the market and was eagerly purchased by departments and research groups. Despite being equivalent to a later Intel 80386/387 of less than 20 MHz clock speed, the VAX could handle a dozen users with a respectable 0.5 Megabyte memory and 70 Mbytes of disk space. Of course, all of this is far, far less than low-end cellphones of today. In physics and astronomy, the VAX reigned supreme until about 1985, when Sun (and more expensive manufacturers) brought out UNIX and microprocessor based workstations and servers, and then in the ’90’s, Linux and Mac became ubiquitous as PC’s became cheaper and more powerful.

    The best central campus mainframe setup I encountered was at UBC in Vancouver, which used IBM or Amdahl hardware with the Michigan Terminal System. In the years 1971-1977, I found it very powerful, easy to use, with video and card terminals, and printers, in several locations on campus. I found it even more convenient than the later, excellent DEC VAX. Of course, UNIX surpassed them all, though it has a steeper learning curve.

    The Intel i7-4790K on which I write this is less than 2cm x 1cm of silicon, yet has incomparably more power than the Cray supercomputer I used 30 years ago … I suspect even my cellphone is more powerful that Cray.

  29. Cote Azur on March 15, 2020 at 2:25 pm

    Now we use our computers to download pizza… 🍕

  30. LilZebra on March 15, 2020 at 2:25 pm

    The IBM 7090 was one of the first solid-state computers of its time.

  31. Marigold Futura on March 15, 2020 at 2:26 pm


  32. StraberrYKiler6789 on March 15, 2020 at 2:27 pm

    Crysis at 400 FPS

  33. rediculousman on March 15, 2020 at 2:27 pm

    Need to make the sound mono.
    It’s currently stereo with the sound track assigned to the LH speaker

  34. Don Moore on March 15, 2020 at 2:28 pm

    I believe timesharing and BASIC were developed at the same time. An easy to use language was needed for the masses now able to easily access computers.

  35. Hopi Ng on March 15, 2020 at 2:32 pm


  36. Potato Salad! on March 15, 2020 at 2:33 pm

  37. steve b on March 15, 2020 at 2:34 pm

    It is the worst channel with biased documents from a stupid nasty museum.

  38. mykalimba on March 15, 2020 at 2:36 pm

    Stupid old computer didn’t put an apostrophe in "TODAYS PROGRAM".

  39. amrX on March 15, 2020 at 2:36 pm

    This Professor is the responsible and the creator of "Password"

  40. AlainHubert on March 15, 2020 at 2:38 pm

    Curious how 2010 technology couldn’t get the sound to show on both left AND right audio channels on this ? This isn’t rocket science !

  41. Volker King on March 15, 2020 at 2:41 pm

    1963 unbelievable long ago. If i think at now 2018 and i use my N4400 Intel Pentium 6WTPmax. and watch this Video in Youtube so i use maybe more Calcpower then this Computer from 1963 for the Video. This is WoW nobody can understand this technology step from this days till today it is unbelievable!
    Not bad first => "start" "wait," /*but for what is the wait?*/

  42. Chuck Cornelius on March 15, 2020 at 2:43 pm

    isn’t that Lewis Skolnick, from Adams College?

  43. Joojoo jeejee on March 15, 2020 at 2:48 pm

    Corbato died on July 12, 2019, rest in piece. I’m glad he got to see computing evolve so much from the early 1960s and he played of course an essential part in it.

  44. Malebitsa Timbuktu on March 15, 2020 at 2:48 pm

    This video makes me to love computers

  45. Pablo TP on March 15, 2020 at 2:48 pm

    I like how Dr Corbato uses the word "we" and not I… thinking as a team not as a ‘founder’ – this film is gold.

  46. K.D.P. Ross on March 15, 2020 at 2:48 pm

    Amazing what people did with 64k of WAM. We’ve definitely lost the need for a certain sort of cleverness now that memory is basically unlimited.

  47. jvolstad on March 15, 2020 at 2:50 pm

    I’m looking for the pigeon holes on my tablet.

  48. Frankie Sanchez on March 15, 2020 at 2:50 pm

    Say it

  49. Jugganuat on March 15, 2020 at 2:51 pm

    So do you really think 6 years later we got to the moon people are so naive