If you compare the early PC market for the US and the UK, you’ll notice one big difference. While many US schools had Apple computers, there were significant numbers of other computers in schools, as well. In the UK, pretty much every school that had a computer had an Acorn BBC Micro. [RetroBytes] takes us down memory lane, explaining how and why the schools went with Econet — an early network virtually unknown outside of the UK. You can see the video, which includes an interview with one of the Acorn engineers involved in Econet.
Nowadays, you don’t have to convince people of the value of a network, but back then it wasn’t a no brainer. The driver for most schools to adopt networking was to share a very expensive hard disk drive among computers. The network used RS-422, a common enough choice in Apple computers, spacecraft, and industrial control applications.
Econet had a lot of things we take for granted today. E-mail, chat, remote desktop, and more. In theory, speeds could be as much as 100 kB/second. There was even an X.25 gateway if you wanted to connect to faraway schools or a mainframe. Oddly enough, Econet required a “clock box” that provided the data clock for all stations on the network.
It is hard to remember there were so many network solutions before Ethernet. Everyone had their own horse in the race ranging from ARCnet, Token Ring, and Omninet, to name a few. There were some IBM PC Econet cards produced, but according to [RetroBytes] they were expensive and hard to find.
Like all networks, though, Econet would eventually succumb to Ethernet. It took a while, though. The Linux kernel even had support for it until fairly recently.
As common as RS-422 is in industrial settings, we haven’t seen much of it around here. Sure, there was an X-ray sensor. Then there was the thermal camera photo booth, but that might have been RS-485, which is related to RS-422 and is sort of a bidirectional version of RS-422.