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UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering

Thirty Years Later, Computer Scientists Who Popularized Early PC Language Return to UCSD Pascal's Birthplace

Kenneth Bowles
Kenneth Bowles

San Diego, CA, October 11, 2004 -- Dozens of alumni who worked on a ground-breaking language for what would later be called the personal computer will gather at the University of California, San Diego to mark the 30th anniversary of the computer language. The UCSD Pascal Reunion Symposium will take place on Friday, October 22, from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Price Center Ballroom on the UCSD campus in La Jolla, CA. Organized by UCSD's Jacobs School of Engineering and its Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) department, the symposium will feature talks by several former researchers on the project, including the project's leader, professor emeritus Kenneth Bowles, as well as presentations by current CSE faculty. (For the full program, click here.)

"UCSD Pascal became both a programming language and an operating system for some of

Prof. Ken Bowles describes the advantages of the Pascal language for teaching computer programming. Length: 3:01 >>
Bowles revisits the moment the team realized UCSD Pascal would change the face of micro-computing. Length: 3:46 >>
Bowles says the lasting influence of UCSD Pascal was its contribution to object-oriented programming. Length: 2:21 >>
 the earliest personal computers," said CSE chair Mohan Paturi. "Its development not only put computer science at UCSD on the map in a big way, but its innovations also had a major impact on developers of other languages and operating systems at Apple, Microsoft, and elsewhere."

Pascal was originally created by Swiss scientist Niklaus Wirth in 1969 for use on mainframe computers. Starting in 1974, Bowles - who at the time directed UCSD's computing center - began to adapt Pascal for use on so-called "microcomputers," precursors of today's PCs. His primary interest at the time was a programming language that would allow students to work individually on projects without waiting their turn to do batch processing on the mainframe. But Bowles also foresaw the value of portable software that would allow programmers to write something once and run it anywhere. His solution was pseudo-code - p-code for short - an intermediate language to run on each machine and serve as a uniform translator. (Even Sun Microsystems' Java language incorporates p-code.)

Since most of his fellow computer-science faculty members were involved in more theoretical research, Bowles turned instead to students to fulfill his dream. He recruited one graduate student, Mark Overgaard, and a handful of undergraduates. At one point or another, more than 70 students were involved in the UCSD Pascal project, doing everything from writing code to shipping floppy disks to research centers around the world (for a token $15 royalty fee). In the early 1980s, the University of California sold rights to the technology to SofTech Systems, which tried but failed to convince IBM to adopt UCSD Pascal as the core operating system of its first personal computers.(Bill Gates' MS-DOS won the IBM contract.)

Roger Sumner, Class of '77, describes how UCSD Pascal revolutionized programming for microcomputers.
Length: 1:54 >>
 Richard Kaufmann, '78, reminisces about UCSD Pascal and the experience for the students involved.
Length: 2:16 >>
Overgaard and several other members of Bowles' initial research team will participate in a roundtable discussion during the October 22 symposium. Some will also deliver presentations, including Richard Kaufmann, class of '78, now a distinguished technologist at Hewlett-Packard, who will reminisce on "What the Heck Was UCSD Pascal?"; and Roger Sumner, '77, president of Beach Software Designs, who will discuss Pascal's far-reaching impact. Ken Bowles will also do a 15-minute presentation.  "Ken is the most intelligent person I have ever met in my life, and one of the kindest," Keith Shillington, '78, told a reporter for a commemorative article in @UCSD, the university's new alumni magazine. "He is truly a great human being."

The UCSD Pascal Reunion Symposium is open to the public and the news media, free of charge, and is co-sponsored by the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology [Cal-(IT)2]. Attendees are asked to register online at For a history of the UCSD Pascal program, including recollections from speakers who will attend the symposium, read "UCSD Pascal and the PC Revolution," by Christine Foster, in the September 2004 issue of @UCSD. It is available online at

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