Office Technology Ltd

Office Technology Ltd

Office Technology Limited (OTL) was a startup company in Winchester, England, founded in late 1979. It was a subsidiary of Computer Technology Limited (CTL). Tony Davies bought control of CTL after selling his electronics' test company Membrain Ltd. to the electronics investment arm of Schlumberger Corp. The mission of the OTL subsidiary was to create a computer for office automation. Its founding members were CEO "Spud" Taylor, a former ICL executive, and three ex-IBM buddies of whom John Boal was the leader and chief technical officer.

The architecture of the OTL system was a central communications and file server that served as the hub for up to 30 intelligent, wysiwyg work stations. Both the server and the workstations were custom designs based on the then-new 8086, using a proprietary multi-tasking OS loosely based on the Ada concurrency model. Communication used a 1 megabit/second HDLC hub and spoke system. There was no local file store in the work stations. The work station design was done by Richard Grace and featured a high resolution (for the time) 800x600, black text on white background, screen with proportional font generation. Software was written in a mixture of Assembler and Pascal.

The system was unusual for the time in several respects. Word processing, calculation, email, and audio were closely integrated in a shared document structure. Numbers could be automatically located for calculations embedded in a text document. The keyboard included a telephone handset. Voicemail could be recorded by picking up the phone and pressing the dedicated "record" and "stop" keys on the keyboard. It would be included in the current document at whatever place the cursor was positioned, marked with a symbol representing voice. The document could be mailed to a recipient through the system and the recipient would see the voice marker, which could be replayed by positioning the cursor near it and pressing a dedicated "play" key. The wysiwig text smooth scrolled without visible tear or jitter, creating an illusion of paper under glass.

The OTL system competed in a market dominated at the time by companies such as 4-Phase and Wang. Compared to them functionality was good and price reasonable, but all of them were soon struggling under the onslaught of the PC and its imitators. These created an expectation of much lower prices, other applications, and the market proved not to care enough about high quality word processing to pay a premium. OTL also had problems with the quality of software integration especially during 1982. It eventually sold rights to its technology to Nixdorf in Germany and Nabu in Ottawa, Canada. Nabu went bankrupt from unrelated causes and never sold systems. Nixdorf persevered with improved models until approximately 1985, porting a version of Unix to the hardware and adding support for a distributed emulation of MS-DOS. The assets of the original company were folded into the parent CTL, which was itself in the process of contraction. OTL ceased to exist, like many other startups inspired by the first wave of 16 bit microprocessors.


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