Classic Computer Magazine Archive ANTIC VOL. 2, NO. 12 / MARCH 1984



The Canadian connection


The Canadian association with the Logo computer language is almost as old as that of Logo itself. The story begins with Guy Montpetit, a Quebecois, and his friend, Seymour Papert, who both studied under theorist Jean Piaget in Geneva back in the early 1960's. Papert left Geneva to work and study at MIT, while Montpetit started a few small businesses, including a research lab in Montreal. They stayed in touch.

In 1970, the Logo group was established within the Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT. Shortly after, in 1971 Montpetit decided to introduce Logo into Canada. In Ottawa, he managed to connect up to a mainframe government computer, a PDP-11; his system used terminals at a school in Longueil, one of Montreal's eastern suburbs. His work with Logo there stirred much interest, and members of the MIT group frequently came up to see what he had accomplished.

In 1974, Guy took time off from his Ottawa work and moved to Boston, to be closer to his old friend Papert and the MIT experiments. Montpetit soon realized the need for finding an implementation of Logo that would make it acceptable to the world outside the university. In 1980, back in Canada, he formed a company called SGT (General Turtle Corporation) and got a contract to design and manufacture business computer work stations that used Logo as the operating language. With SGT, Montpetit developed a number of business applications for Logo, including a word-processing package. But response from buyers was too small to keep the company afloat, and SGT soon went bankrupt.


Undaunted in his faith that Logo was an important computer language, Montpetit convinced Papert and other MIT players -- Marvin Minsky, Cynthia Sulliman, and Brian Silverman (another Canadian) - to found Logo Computer Systems Inc. (LCSI) in Montreal. The new company, formed across a kitchen table one evening, was dedicated to creating a new implementation of Logo that would run on the Apple computer. MIT had already licensed Texas Instruments, Terrapin, and Krell to sell a microcomputer version of Logo, but what LCSI was after was a new, reconstructed implementation, something redesigned from the ground up on their LISP-based computers.

The LCSI group sought out local talent to help them develop the company in order to give the company a marketable image, they brought in Jim Baroux, a veteran of the corporate world with extensive sales and marketing expertise. To stay close to MIT development, LCSI maintained a lab in Boston, where Papert and Minsky worked. Papert became th~ media spokesman for both Logo and LCSI, a role Baroux created, because he saw the new company's need for an articulate expert who could talk to the press, to governments, and to educators with authority. Baroux's efforts were so successful that Logo became a conversation item for people who didn't even own a computer!


Meanwhile, under Brian Silverman's sleepless efforts, LCSI polished up and brought forth its first product: Apple Logo. This was sold to Apple Computer Corporation and marketed under Apple's own label, a unique contract for the industry at the time.

The public response was enthusiastic, and Logo became a respected term in the vocabulary of educators. This version was to win LCSI the Best Microcomputer Software of the Year Award, presented by the Learning Periodicals Group. Apple Logo again gained prominence when Apple chose it as the only software to accompany their give-away computers to schools in the "Kids Can't Wait" program.

Not long after Apple Logo's release LCSI found itself at the center of world attention, with major corporations asking almost daily for an implementation for their machines. Japan, in particular, has been interested in Logo, and many Japanese executives and researchers have come to Canada to work with LCSI.

By mid-1983, LCSI had 15 contracts to develop Logo for various machines: the IBM-PC, Atari 400/800/1200XL, DEC's Rainbow and 350, Europe's large Thomson Brandt company's model TO-7, the Fujitsu computer, Coleco's Adam, the Timer Spectrum, an Apple Sprite Logo (a version with graphics to challenge TI's or Atari's), a Music Logo, and more.

Brian Silverman proved to be the guiding light of Logo's technical development. Tireless, brilliant and farsighted, Brian has been offered positions by many of the major computer companies. Loyal to LCSI however, Brian began developing an entirely new version of the memory-hungry language for use in the educational field. Brian foresees this as a huge potential market. The first product to use this new implementation is Atari Logo, a surprisingly powerful program packed into a tiny 16K of ROM (Apple Logo takes 48K!)


From the beginning, LCSI has consistently pointed out that Logo is not merely Turtle Graphics, but a sophisticated language with powerful list-processing capabilities. Logo is not just another PILOT, a language designed to allow educators to develop curriculum and lesson programs. Nor is it simply a "kid's" language, as many outsiders imagine it to be. Instead, it is a fully-expandable language based on the science of learning.

The big dream of LCSI is to see Logo replace BASIC as the language of choice for computing. Jean Pierre Brunet, head of LCSI's Apple products division, says that they are "trying to package and sell thought." He expects Logo to be for the home market "what VisiCalc has been to the business market."

LCSI's position in Canada has not gone unchallenged, however. Recently, Waterloo University released a version of Logo for the IBM computer. This professional, powerful version reflects Waterloo's position as the finest computer-science school in Canada.

Ontario's educational computer, designed and manufactured by CEM Corp, will sport a new version of Logo for its 16-bit networking system. So far, no one has been named as the developer, but certainly Waterloo and LCSI are in the running. So is a new company, Human Computer Resources, whose Richard Miller is responsible for writing a Logo which may be upgraded for the new computer. This lucrative CEMCorp contract would insure Logo a place in Ontario schools, since the government has guaranteed an initial equipment purchase of $10 million.


LCST's most serious competitor, in their own eyes, is not a Canadian company, but rather Digital Research, which is based in California. The company that brought us CP/M has also released Logo for the IBM-PC. LCSI sees DR as having the market credibility to present a solid challenge to their sales. However, LCSI also believes that having DR on the Logo bandwagon will lend credibility to the language.

Meanwhile, independent groups such as the Logo Special Interest Group (Sig Logo) of the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario (ECOO), are working to spread the interest in Logo into Ontario schools. This group has scheduled a research conference at Queen's University in Kingston and expects individuals from across North America to present papers about their work with Logo.

Dr. Bill Higginson at Queens produces the Sig Logo newsletter, LOGO-Phile, an erratically scheduled publication which is surprisingly full of Logo information and gossip. Higginson also heads a Logo research project in provincial public schools, which is sponsored by the Ontario Department of Education. Dr. Higginson's co-worker, Dale Burnett, wrote a popular book on Logo.


The GAMMA Institute - a think tank jointly funded by Montreal, McGill and Concordia Universities, and Ryerson Polytechnic Institute - recently released a research paper called "On Terminals, Turtles and Turning Teaching Inside Out," which examined the impact of the personal computer on education. It concludes that researchers and educators at higher levels are very much concerned with Logo and its developments.

Elsewhere in Canada, Logo is finding strong footholds in school systems in British Columbia, Quebec, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. In Quebec, the provincial government's "Buy Quebec" policy is helping ICSI's Logo enter the schools, especially now that the company offers a version in French. In Manitoba, the Department of Education published a pamphlet for teachers called Getting Started in Logo, but as a beginners' guide it lacks professionalism and direction. Surprisingly, a 1983 report from the Alberta Ministry of Education on computers in the schools completely overlooked Iogo in an otherwise excellent proposal. Obviously, educators still have a lot to learn.

However, through the efforts of a handful of dedicated people in a small office outside of Montreal, Logo has become an important new element in educational strategy, with Canada in the forefront of research and applications. Perhaps, someday, LCSl's dream that Logo will be available in every school and home will come true.

Ian Chadwick resides in Torono, Canada, and is the author of the excellent reference text, Mapping the Atari from COMPUTE! Books.