Shop now Shop now Shop now See more Shop all Amazon Fashion Shop now Learn More Shop now Cloud Drive Photos DIYED Shop now Shop Fire Shop now Shop now Shop now

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
27
4.5 out of 5 stars
Format: Paperback|Change
Price:£11.99+ Free shipping with Amazon Prime
Your rating(Clear)Rate this item


There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.

on 26 August 2003
As an enthusiast of vacuum tube radio technology, with its smells of hot dust and pipe tobacco, I found the story of the Lyons Electronic Office to be a superb metaphor for the British approach to engineering - uncertain, incremental, cautious, yet with flashes of great brilliance.
John Simmons and his team knew they were far ahead of everyone else (just as, earlier, at Bletchley Park, Thomas Flowers and Alan Turing must have known the same about their 'Colossus' machine) and we see that the dedication and enthusiasm produced by that awareness led them to the very forefront of an emerging technology. In 2003, vacuum tubes and tanks of mercury must seem very 'Heath Robinson' to us, yet it is worth reflecting upon the vast distance the computing industry has travelled in the 50 years since LEO. For a vivid example of this journey - go to the Science Museum in London and take a look at the Ferranti 'Pegasus' machine on display as a contemporary of LEO.
Alas, the business world failed to capitalise on the opportunity and the subsequent mergers meant opportunity was lost.In fairness, the author does make the point that the mergers that led to the creation of ICL had to happen to make the industry, as a whole, stand any kind of chance against the huge US market. Despite this, the Americans were still able to achieve dominance.
This is a fascinating story, skilfully told to engage and capture the reader's attention. There are no heavy techie details and no long/boring corporate manifestos - just the plain simple story of the vision of those who saw an opportunity to advance their own view of the application of knowledge for the benefit of all.
0Comment| 17 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 13 December 2004
I'm only a few chapters into this book, but am back to buy another copy to give to a friend.
If you are interested in how innovation happens in business, or in the development of the computer industry, or in the application from first principles of computers to real-world problems, or in productive co-operation between industry and academia, or in user-centred product development, or in how immigrants can benefit an economy, then there is raw material for you in this book. It is (at least as far as I have read) a gripping story rather than an academic analysis- read how it was, and then if you feel so inclined draw your own conclusions.
When I joined the computer industry in 1965, a friend in IBM confided in me that the Leo (Lyons Electronic Office) series of computers (already in there last days) were IBM's most serious rival in commercial computing. This book makes this entirely credible. If you're British, read it and reflect on how British people managed to invent both commercial computing and the web, and yet Britain manages now to be a distant follower in both areas of endeavour.
11 comment| 10 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 30 June 2005
There are two stories in this satisfying little book: one the story of a computer, or rather line of computers, and the other the story of a company. The curve of the Lyons company is traced from the company's origins in catering for exhibitions in the 19th century, through its heights in the 20s and 30s when its tea shops were the clerical worker's favoured lunch stop, to the post-way years of austerity when formica had replaced marble and service by waitresses (or "Nippys") had given way to self-service. At this point a visionary management, always looking for increased efficeincy in the business of getting buns from bakeries to plates as cost-effectively as possible, starts to automate its clerical functions by computer. What was so remarkable about this, as Georgina Ferry makes very clear, was that no company in the woorld had previously done this. Computers had been tools for universities and government researchers, not management information systems for businesses. What emerges clearly from her account is that the systems developers never lost sight of business needs in their extraordinary efforts to invent an industry from scratch. This book has several delights: the description of mercury delay lines shows how difficult it was to implement memory in the pre-semiconductor age and the continuous Swiss Roll bakery is a hard image to forget.
Ironically in view of its origins in "temperance fare", Lyons was swallowed up by a brewery at last. The computer subsidiary, having blazed a trail in business automation, was itself consumed by English Electric to become part of ICL and later Fujitsu. Georgina Ferry - wisely - does not draw too explicitly conclusions about British entrepreneurial skills from the whole history: she leaves us however with an impression that the history of computing in Britain and elsewhere might have been very different if opportunities had been grasped.
0Comment| 9 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
VINE VOICEon 5 December 2003
Being 'in the trade' myself, and having used in my time Computers from Elliott, ICT, GEC, ICL, Data General, DEC, Burroughs, as well as IBM, I wondered whether this would just be a 're-hash' of some old war stories.
I was pleasantly surprised as to how Georgina Ferry had managed to breathe fresh life into the old tale.
It's particularly ironic today with all the emphasis on Data Modelling, Business Modelling, UML etc to look back at John Simmons's work and see just how visionary he was to take a Business-driven approach to both software & hardware nearly 40 years ago.
One puzzle remains : John Simmons retired in 1968; there's no mention in this book of what happened to him thereafter, but we do get biographies of all the other key characters.
0Comment| 7 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 5 June 2003
Not being interested in computers or corporate history, I was more than a little disappointed when I was given this book. How wrong I was!
Before a man named John Simmons saw the potential for using computers to complete some of the huge amount of clerical tasks performed by Lyons' staff, computers were almost entirely used for solving mathematical problems. 'A Computer Called Leo' is the the story of Simmons's vision, and of the talented and dedicated staff he attracted to work with him.
The book's title doesn't do any justice to its breadth of scope. It is at once both a social history and an in-depth study of such varied topics as management techniques and scientific innovation.
Ferry is clearly fascinated by her subject, and her affection for the people she is writing about shines through the book. This is just one of the things that makes this book on a quite unprepossessing subject a truly engaging read.
'A Computer Called Leo' is a timely reminder that, as we become increasingly reliant on computers, only 50 years ago they were a room-sized rarity. It is also sobering to discover that at one point Britain led the world in computer innovation, but fell behind because the government dragged their heels.
Anyone with an interest in the world around them should read this book!
0Comment| 13 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 20 June 2005
This little book is a fascinating look at one of the little known stories of computer history: that UK catering giant Lyons not only built the world first business computer, but then set up their own company (Lyons Electronic Office or LEO for short)to sell the machines to European businesses trying to get back on their feet after the war.
The book is well written, and easy enough to understand whatever your understanding of computers is like. The notion of a computer is introduced early on, as well as the peculiar requirements of the massive Lyons empire that led to the introduction of the LEO. The book not only charts the development and introduction of the machine, but also the ultimate decline of the once proud company and the fate of its groudbreaking technology. The story is ultimately a typical story of an economically challenged post-war British company trying to recover its pre-war heyday, but the tone of the book is always upbeat, concentrating on the achievements other than their ultimate failure.
Computer history owes a great deal to British efforts. The UK built (in secret) the first wholly digital computer (Colossus), the first electronically-programmable computer and the first dedicated office computer but these achievements are often overlooked in other books which are mostly written by American authors and concentrate on the US story (fair enough) but are then presented as the whole story. This little book is a timely, readable and utterly likeable reminder that once upon the time the UK led the world in computer research, development and application and that the US hasn't always been the leader in the field.
Highly recommended.
0Comment| 5 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 26 July 2015
A very interesting insight to LEO (Lyons Electronic Office) and the "birth" of computers in business. I programmed computers in the late 1970's; some of my colleagues in the 1980's & 90's when I worked for ICL (International Computers Ltd), had worked on the LEO machines decades earlier.

Highly recommend if you are over 60 yrs old and worked in the computer industry in your youth!
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 2 June 2003
There are two stories in this satisfying little book: one the story of a computer, or rather line of computers, and the other the story of a company. The curve of the Lyons company is traced from the company's origins in catering for exhibitions in the 19th century, to its height in the 20s and 30s when its tea shops were the clerical worker's favoured lunch stop, to the post-way years of austerity when formica had replaced marble and service by waitresses (or "Nippys") had given way to self-service. At this point a visionary management, always looking for increased efficiency in the business of getting buns from bakeries to plates as cost-effectively as possible, starts to automate its clerical functions by computer. What was so remarkable about this, as Georgina Ferry makes very clear, is that no company on earth had done this before. Computers had been tools for universities and government researchers, not management information systems for companies. What emerges very clearly from her account is that the systems developers never lost sight of business needs in their extraordinary efforts to invent an industry from scratch. This book has several delights: the description of mercury delay lines shows how difficult it was to implement memory in the pre-semiconductor age and the continuous Swiss Roll bakery is a hard picture to shrug off.
Ironically in view of its origins in "temperance fare", Lyons was swallowed up by a brewery at last. The computer subsidiary, having blazed a trail in business automation, was itself consumed by English Electric to become part of ICL and later Fujitsu. Georgina Ferry - wisely - does not draw too explicitly general conclusions about British entrepreneurial skills from the whole history. She leaves us however with an impression that the history of computing in Britain and elsewhere might have been very different if some opportunities had been grasped.
0Comment| 6 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 30 June 2015
Brilliantly researched saga of a now largely forgotten pioneering enterprise to computerise
a major British business company. First in the world? Of course. Neglected by the Government of the
day? Naturally. Opportunity for expansion into global markets tried - and almost succeeded.
A fascinating tale that will appeal in particular to those with fond memories of Lyons tea shops
once such a familiar feature of hundreds of British towns until the early Sixties. Who would have
thought a giant 50 foot valve powered computer weighing many tons was behind all those cakes
and buns delivered with such efficiency to so many Corner Shops. It was called Leo, but might have been
dubbed 'Nippy.' Read on and be amazed.
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 12 May 2003
I'll never use a LEO computer and yet feel a great affinity towards these great machines. 'A computer called LEO' charts the vision of a small group of managers at the Lyons Tea company to build a computer which didn't just number crunch for scientific purposes. They wanted to use these new fangled 'electronic brains' as part of their constant effort to refine the management process. The result is the tale of an incredibly forward thinking business who saw great potential in computers when the rest of post war Britain didn't even know what a computer was.
The book's superbly written and the passion and excitement of the people behind the project shines through. I found myself smiling for most of the book. If you have any interest in the history of computing at all then pick this up. You don't have to hold a degree in computing and by the end you'll feel a little bit closer to a really exciting and often unsung part of British computing history.
0Comment| 5 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse

Sponsored Links

  (What is this?)