Inforex 1300 Systems

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Inforex Inc. corporation manufactured and sold key-to-disk systems in the 1970s and mid-1980s. The company was founded by ex-IBM engineers to develop direct data entry systems that allowed information to be entered on terminals and stored directly on disk drives, replacing punched cards and keypunch machines which had been the dominant tools for data entry since the turn of the twentieth century.

Background Information[edit]

Key-to-disk systems were systems that took data entered by users from keypunch-like keyboards and held the information on a hard disk. The information was then transferred from disk to 1/2 inch tape for processing on the user's mainframe equipment.

At the time data gathering in large scale for processing on a mainframe computer was a labor-intensive expensive endeavor. For example, a typical sales order might go through the following steps:

1) Order written on contract, collected by the salesman. 2) Order transferred to paper order sheet (unusually with multiple carbon copies) transcribed by the salesman or a secretary. 3) Order sheet, after verification and approval passed to the Data Center for entry into the computer system for processing. 4) Order sheet, transferred to by a keypunch operator to a card or multiple cards for processing. 5) Order card(s), verified by a second keypunch operator (by essentially punching the card a second time) to verify accuracy. 6) Order card read by computer. 7) Parts ordered, equipment purchased.

The same tried and practiced methods were used to bill the customer, record customer payments, and pay outgoing expenses.

The advantage of key-to-disk systems over card punches was the ability to see the entire content of an 80 byte card on a monitor to edit and correct mistakes.

A major and unique advantage of the Inforex Key-to-Disk-to-Tape system allowed an operator to directly read, edit, and write back, any single tape record directly onto the original 9 track output tape, in that tape records' original position in the tape. This capacity would allow for quick corrections to minor keying errors.

The 1301 Key to disk system[edit]

The original processor had 4 registers with one register being 8 bit (used for data) and the other three being 12 bit (used for data manipulation and addresses). The commands for the processor were 8 and 16 bits. The original disk was 800 kilobytes. The original system had 2k of non-volatile magnetic core memory. The final version of the 1301 had 12k of memory. The system supported 8 keystations.

A unique advantage of the Inforex Hardware Design involved generic printed circuit cards to which were soldered a variety of very basic integrated circuits. These IC's were inter-connected on the opposite side of the pc board by pinpoint soldering of enamel coated wires, from point to point to point. These wiring networks were complicated and intricate. They were initially soldered together by Computer Numerical Controlled systems. Repair and correction for circuit design errors were handled mostly by field office personnel up to the point of 30 to 50 wiring changes on a single board. Larger circuit design changes were handled by the factory and their programmed assembly systems.

The 1302 Key to disk system[edit]

This was an expansion of the 1301 system. The biggest difference was that the system could support 16 key stations (in 2 banks of 8 stations) and 12k of memory.

The 1303 Key to disk system[edit]

The 1303 was a total redesign of the 1301 system with a new backplane. The disk drive was 2.4 megabytes. The processor address bus was now 16 bits and the instruction set consisted of 8, 16, and 24 bit instructions. Core memory was increased to 24k. Additional capabilities were added which included a communications card, which allows the system to send data using a 300/1200/2400/4800 baud modem.

The company also made model 3300 max-edit data entry and model 5000 for high volume data base management. These used 5 platter "washing machine" style hard drives.

The System 5000 Turnkey File Management System[edit]

Already established as a leader in the key-to-disk data entry system market by the 1300 series, in the early 1970s Inforex tried to expand by creating a new product category: turnkey file management systems. The impetus came on a request from Westinghouse, who were trying to keep track of 750,000 engineering drawings (known then as "blueprints" after the ink color used by the large-format printers) via a manual system. In that era, most business applications were written in COBOL, and could take up to two years to develop from the time a user department requested the application. The System 5000 anticipated by more than a decade early PC applications like PFS:File and dBASE II. The entire system was driven by simple two-letter commands entered on video terminals.

The first step was to create a format. This command allowed the user to type a form directly onto the screen, using fixed text for headings, and indicating where variable data fields would get populated from the data file. The format could be associated with a data file created by an existing application, or used to create a new one by entering records interactively. v1.0 supported only sequential files, but search performance was predictably terrible, and multi-key indexed sequential files were quickly added in v2.0. Once the format was created and associated with a file, the user employed intuitive commands such as:

AR = Add Record (to a sequential file)

IR = Insert Record (to an indexed file)

TR = Transfer Record (from one file to another)

DR = Delete Record

In v4.0 of the System 5000, a processing language similar to IBM's RPG[1] was added to allow computation, manipulation and transformation of data across multiple files when records were added or updated.

The revolutionary ease of use of this system can best be illustrated by an anecdote. When the first system was installed at Westinghouse, the site employee directory was loaded into a file, and a terminal was given to the company receptionist so that she could direct phone calls and visitors appropriately. The next time the Inforex SE came in, the receptionist proudly showed off the new application she had created by herself to help out her friend, the parking lot security guard. With the application, she could track all the assigned parking spaces, and what license numbers were entitled to park in each one. She could even monitor the Employee of the Month space, and who was allowed to park there each month.

Unfortunately, the company never quite figured out how to market the System 5000. Its data entry products were sold as productivity upgrades to production data entry departments, which during the 1960s had used keypunches to enter data onto punch card decks. Inforex could market the 1300 series by showing the improvement in productivity, measured in keystrokes per hour, and the reduction in errors because the data could be validated as it was typed. The System 5000, on the other hand, was an application engine, which needed to be sold to application development departments, or even directly to user departments impatient with the turnaround time to get a solution built by IT. The Inforex marketing and field organizations never quite figured out how to do this.

Inforex End Game[edit]

The company developed one of the first distributed processing systems, the model 7000.

All components of the system, except for the printers and monitors, were made by the company since third-party OEMs were not yet available.

In 1978 Inforex filed bankruptcy due to the inability to market the 5000 and 7000 product lines profitably. They were eventually purchased by Datapoint. However, Datapoint ran into financial hardships in 1985 and sold the company to Recognition Equipment in Dallas, who had a competitive product and converted Inforex's customers to that product. In 1988 Inforex's headquarters were closed.

Inforex's headquarters were in Burlington, MA, a few towns over from DEC (Digital Equipment Corp) headquarters in Maynard, MA. They had sales and service offices throughout the USA, Canada, Europe, UK, and Japan.


  1. ^ "RPG". Wikipedia. 2017-01-28.