The usual configuration was a console with a keyboard, a small, roughly 9" CRT character display and either a Selectric or the IBM 46/40 ink jet printer, renamed the IBM 6640. Documents were stored on 8-inch diskettes and magnetic cards, which could be exchanged with IBM's previous generation of Mag Card Selectrics. Internally, OS/6 machines used a proprietary 16-bit single-chip microprocessor called the OPD Mini Processor. The display was pre-WYSIWYG, so special symbols embedded in the displayed text marked formatting information the user could edit. Navigation was pre-mouse and used arrow keys.
In an age before PCs, when typing was still done primarily only by clerical staff, the OS/6 was intended for what IBM envisioned as centralized word processing centers at large organizations. It included features like mail merge, very high print quality with lots of formatting options and printers that could feed envelopes or sheets from two drawers, usually referred to within IBM as letterhead and second sheet.
Development on OS/6 was done in the "Rio" project at IBM's Austin, Texas facilities. A proposed video display upgrade for the Selectric Mag Card II had been rejected. Instead, it was announced in 1977 that Mag Card II users would be able to add a communications option to link up with System 6.
In a 1977 presentation the System 6 was shown with the models 6/430, 6/440, and 6/450. One year later the models 6/442 and 6/452 were shown additionally. System 6 building blocks were monitor, keyboard, magnetic card unit, ink-jet- and daisy-wheel-printers, and a floppy disk station.
In 1978, a stand-alone CPU (without magnetic card and printing capabilities) was added to the product line, the IBM 6/420 Information Processor
In 1979, a communication-enabled laser printer and photocopier combination was introduced, the IBM 6670 Information Distributor.
Also in 1979, IBM General Systems Division (GSD) introduced IBM 5520 systems, not related to System 6, with some overlapping functionality and performance.
- Business Week 14.Feb.1977 article IBM enters 'the office of the future'
- IBM History IBM typewriter milestones
- CW 4.Feb.1977 and 14.Apr.1978 (in German)
- California Surveyor Winter 1978 p.20
- Computerworld 1.Dec.1980 p.49ff
- A partially working example of a 6/420 is on display at Computer museum @ hack42.nl blogpost on this machine ( in Dutch) http://computermuseumarnhem.nl/?p=44
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