IBM 6901 "Personal Typing System"

User avatar
JP!

09 Jul 2021, 20:05

A few months back I acquired an essentially complete and mostly functioning IBM 6901 Personal Typing System including the original space saving keyboard, monitor, and printer. This system is a PS/2 computer similar to the IBM PS/2 Model 30 but marketed as a dedicated word processor that also happens to be a general purpose PC. Think of it like a merger between the Wheelwriter typewriter and a general purpose PC.

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Back in action :D
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So what is this and why does this even exist? I think some may have even asked the same thing over 30 years ago when this thing was released.

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"IBM says it its pitching the things at secretaries whose primary needs are for stand-alone typing and text editing, with occasional personal computing applications."

I like this theory:
depletedvespene wrote:
14 Mar 2021, 19:20
Congrats, JP\!!

stormcrash wrote:
14 Mar 2021, 19:13
Oh that's a really nice find! The Personal Typing System seems like such an odd product, a general purpose PS/2 turned into a dedicated word processor. Hope you make a thread showing the whole thing set up!
Back in the day, dedicated word processors sold quite a bit — some people even preferred those to general-purpose computers. To me, that's one proof that something as open-ended as a personal computer was something too broad for some people.
Another theory is that someone at IBM just did not want the concept of the Displaywriter to die out.

Now back to the machine. When I got this machine it was fairly dirty. After a bit of overall cleaning and TLC the machine was mostly functional except for the hard drive which is not too unusual. It sucks that it is a proprietary IBM ESDI drive so replacements or alternatives are not really available. It is possibly it just needs new capacitors but more than likely it is still toast after all these years. I was able to boot up the diagnostics disk that came with the manuals but I was missing the main program disk.

Fast forward a couple months one of my eBay searches paid off and I was able to acquire the original software for this system from an untested 30+ year old backup floppy disk. It honestly was a gamble but an archive does not exist online and there is scant information in general about this system. I archived the floppy with WinImage and with a bit of messing around I was able to test some of the software with an emulator. Since I have the manuals I will try and get those scanned and uploaded somewhere online.

Now when I fired the machine to actually run the software the floppy drive quit working even though it worked fine when I put it away a few weeks back. :x Luckily I was able to steal a working 720k floppy drive from a broken IBM 5140. Score! 8-) Apparently the caps go bad on these old drives and it is fiddly work to source and replace them all.

Something was living in this thing when I got it :o
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1392464 - aka "DisplayWrite" SSK
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Weird looking cable. Surprisingly not cracked at all.
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Mostly cleaned up.
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The full size version - 1394618
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It's alive!
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The special legends on this keyboard are very helpful for use in the word processor. It seems fairly basic yet can be kind of tricky to use for certain operations like special formatting or block editing. I guess I've been spoiled with a mouse for too long and I've yet to read the manual.
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I have yet to go through the printer yet but it does power on.
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Last edited by JP! on 11 Jul 2021, 09:59, edited 4 times in total.

User avatar
Redmaus
Gotta start somewhere

09 Jul 2021, 20:26

The beautiful simplicity of the menus is something that's hard to beat. Super cool find! I'm glad the SSK still lives with it's parent system.

User avatar
JP!

09 Jul 2021, 20:28

Redmaus wrote:
09 Jul 2021, 20:26
The beautiful simplicity of the menus is something that's hard to beat. Super cool find! I'm glad the SSK still lives with it's parent system.
I am too! The seller had a number of people who were trying to poach this keyboard from the rest of the system :evil:

User avatar
Redmaus
Gotta start somewhere

09 Jul 2021, 20:34

JP! wrote:
09 Jul 2021, 20:28
I am too! The seller had a number of people who were trying to poach this keyboard from the rest of the system :evil:
That would most definitely be a shame for something a special as this. :o

User avatar
darkcruix

10 Jul 2021, 16:20

Redmaus wrote:
09 Jul 2021, 20:34
JP! wrote:
09 Jul 2021, 20:28
I am too! The seller had a number of people who were trying to poach this keyboard from the rest of the system :evil:
That would most definitely be a shame for something a special as this. :o
Great work !!!!

User avatar
Weezer

11 Jul 2021, 08:27

"Another theory is that someone at IBM just did not want the concept of the Displaywriter to die out"

This makes the most sense to me. The displaywriter has a lot similar with a pc and DOS was even made for it. The fact that the ssk has the displaywrite layout pretty much seals it for me.

stormcrash

15 Jul 2021, 08:02

Wow! That system cleaned up beautifully! So glad you have the complete system including that box that I'm assuming has the documentation in it! You should definitely upload the disk images to Archive.org and possibly other places like Winworldpc, historical oddities like this need to be preserved, especially the software that is often the first to get lost.

User avatar
JP!

16 Jul 2021, 05:51

stormcrash wrote:
15 Jul 2021, 08:02
Wow! That system cleaned up beautifully! So glad you have the complete system including that box that I'm assuming has the documentation in it! You should definitely upload the disk images to Archive.org and possibly other places like Winworldpc, historical oddities like this need to be preserved, especially the software that is often the first to get lost.
That's an idea. I have a few other odd pieces of software including a bankers box filled with old floppy discs that I need to archive. Scanning manuals I don't have an efficient way to do this yet but it's something I've thought about as I have some that simply do not exist online.
Spoiler:
Software archived. I figure the manuals are not as volatile as the old magnetic media so I'll do those last. At least most of my manuals and misc. books are spiral bound so I don't have to worry about ruining some sort of binding.
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orihalcon

16 Jul 2021, 14:51

Very nice system indeed! I have one of those flat short coiled SDL cables and didn't really know the history behind it, but now I know that it originally went with this type of system.

jlederer

20 Apr 2022, 11:47

I co-wrote the software that operates the keyboard to printer connection “live” in “typewriter mode” with a single-line display. I would LOVE to get a short video demonstrating this. It was great for filling-in pre-printed forms.

jlederer

20 Apr 2022, 12:55

One of the unique aspects of the design accounted for the fact that secretaries of the day were always being interrupted while typing documents to other tasks such as type an address on an envelope, fill-out a form, schedule a meeting, etc. In this solution, all of the apps except Word Processor were available via a hot-key and shared 64k of RAM, so you could be editing a document, hot-key to Typewriter, type the address onto an envelope, hot key to Schedule to book a meeting, hot-key to calculator to add-up some expenses, then hot-key back to right where you left-off in Word Processor.

User avatar
beepbloop

20 Apr 2022, 19:18

Would definitely appreciate images of the software, I also picked up a PTS with SSK but no printer for $100 on facebook marketplace a while back, but haven't had a chance to get it up and running :) It's such a cool machine.

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