after reaching utaustin astronomy in the late eighties, unix became important. one sign of this, besides the vax-11/780 unix ‘mainframe’, was the proliferation of sun workstations.

those doing graphical computing tended to have sun workstations and to be younger, seventies, whole earth catalog types. most of the workstations were the desktop ‘pizza box’ style, not very different looking from consumer-grade home computers.

but two original 1982 rack-mount sun-1/150s were still in use for photographic plate reduction. they were work-horses with open designs and had been integrated with a hodge-podge of hardware for scanning plates. each mini-fridge style rack-mounted enclosure had fifteen slots for expansion cards.

the first unit was in the fifteenth floor ‘pds room’ and was connected with the perkin-elmer microdensitometer pds plate measuring engine. the second was in a closet-like photographic darkroom on the sixteenth floor, across the hall from the ‘vax room’, and was connected with a half-inch tape reel-to-reel unit. the first was for measuring plates, and the second was for processing the measurements and writing results to tape.

both had the standard sun-1 monitor, keyboard, and optical mouse. curiously, the monitor was from ball aerospace, a boulder colorado company that reappears in this story. it was bulky, heavy, and ‘for its day’ fairly high-resolution. they ran the sunview graphical interface, an early desktop computing environment that must have been a direct descendant of the xerox parc original.

the thing about those suns was that they were reliable. they weren’t crashing. the personal computers of that era crashed regularly and made if difficult to get work done. not the suns, they worked steadily, even though connected with external hardware. this was quite impressive and a big part of the unix ‘feel’. reliability. competence. workmanlike.