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A Nostalgic View

A Quick History of MultiValue


Bob Miller, Onsystex | April 19, 2024

The Journey of Pick:

A Tale of Data Management and Efficiency

In the swinging sixties, when mainframe computers were the size of small rooms and punched cards ruled the data world, two visionaries—Don Nelson and Dick Pick—set out to revolutionize how businesses handled information. Their brainchild, the Pick Operating System, emerged from the cocoon of research labs and took flight in the bustling business landscape.

Origins and Early Successes

It’s 1965, and the Cheyenne Helicopter project at TRW demands a robust database system. Enter GIRLS (Generalized Information Retrieval Language System), the precursor to Pick. What made it special? Let’s break it down:

  1. MultiValue Magic: Pick danced to a different beat. Instead of rigid data types, it treated everything as character strings. This flexibility allowed it to store diverse data—numbers, text, even grandma’s secret cookie recipe—all in one cozy place.

  2. Hash-File Sorcery: Pick’s secret sauce was its hash-file system. Imagine a magical library where books rearrange themselves to make room for new ones. That’s what Pick did with data. It organized it into dynamic associative arrays, making retrieval lightning fast.

  3. Multi-User Marvel: Pick was the life of the party. It hosted multiple users simultaneously, like a digital soirée. No more waiting in line for data access; everyone got a seat at the table.

The Rise of Reality

Fast-forward to the early 1970s. Microdata Corporation donned the cape and released the commercial version: Reality Operating System. Here’s why it soared:

  1. Efficiency Unleashed: Businesses loved Reality. It juggled data like a circus performer—demand-paged, virtual memory, and all. No more sluggish computations: it was like upgrading from a horse-drawn carriage to a rocket ship.

  2. Data Flexibility Wins Hearts: Reality’s MultiValue database was like a Swiss Army knife. It sliced through complex datasets, storing them in non-first-normal-form. Say goodbye to rigid rows and columns; data could now stretch and breathe.

  3. Widespread Adoption: Reality found cozy homes on minicomputers, microcomputers, and even personal computers. It became the go-to for inventory management, accounting, and more.

MultiValue Heyday and Beyond

In the heyday of PICK, businesses across industries relied on it for their daily operations. It was the unsung hero behind inventory management, point-of-sale systems, and more. If you ever wondered how your favorite store kept track of products, chances are PICK played a role!

While newer technologies have taken the spotlight, some legacy systems still run on PICK databases.  For those who remember the days of green-screen terminals and monochrome displays, PICK brings a sense of nostalgia.


But the world has moved on and the trillions of dollars in investment by thousands of companies have created an eco-system of technologies that have reached far beyond the MultiValue propositions of 30 years ago.  

At Onsystex, we share some of the nostalgia (in private) while helping companies move to the next generations of business computing.

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