History

The Transputer was a product of Inmos Ltd, a British semiconductor company based in Bristol and Colorado Springs USA. Inmos was founded in 1978 by Iann Barron and Dick Petritz. Iann Barron had previously managed CTL (Computer Technology Limited) that produced the Modular-One computer. Dick Petritz ex. Texas Instruments and one of the founders of Mostek (Z80 fame).

The rationale behind the design of the Transputer came from the point-to-point connection architecture of the Modular-One computer and the work of Tony Hoare (of QuickSort fame) on Communication between Sequential Processes. His seminal paper led to the design of the Transputer and the parallel programming language Occam by David May.

The Inmos business plan had the intention to generate substantial early revenue from large capacity, high-speed static RAM and use that money to fund the design and manufacture of a radical new microprocessor. Starting in early 1981 David May designed the Transputer and the novel Occam language and compiler. It was not until 1985 that the first prototype Transputers came off the production line at the Inmos foundry at Newport, Gwent.

So what happened …?

Production delays, cash starvation, high selling price and poor uptake of the Transputer conspired to spell its doom. Without money, the compilers for high level languages such as PROLOG, LISP, C, FORTRAN, ADA etc were not produced until much later.

Without the compilers, programmers showed little interest in the architecture.

The touted benefits of parallel processing to overcome the apparent ceiling of computational power inherent of 1980's microprocessor design were dashed as new microprocessor design techniques overcame these performance obstacles. Wavering programmers were then persuaded to continue using their well-known and understood toolsets on microprocessors such as the Intel 80x86 (PC) and Motorola 680x0 (Atari ST/Falcon, Commodore Amiga, Apple Macintosh, Sinclair QL).

Inmos changed hands many times before ending up in the ownership of SGS Thompson (now ST Microelectronics). Soon after, the Transputer was killed off and the staff of Inmos were re-purposed for other work.