He called his first transistorised computer Mailüfterl. The question where this invention can be found seems unnecessary. The answer has to be Vienna. There - like David takes on Goliath - the Mailüfterl (friendly Viennese word for May breeze) challenges the whirlwind of European competition as the first fully transistorised calculating machine in Europe.
Heinz Zemanek was born in Vienna on New Years Day of 1920. He spends his childhood in the countryside in Domschale near Ljubljana, Slovenia. He moves to Vienna where he stays from his school years up to his academic studies at the Technical University to study radio mechanics. In 1944 he earns his first academic grade here: Diplom-Ingenieur.
During his time in the military he serves in a communication unit, teaches at an intelligence service school in Thessaloniki and eventually works on radar research in the Zentralversuchsstelle für Hochfrequenz-Forschung (high frequency research centre) near Ulm. This work allows him to finish his diploma examination on the topic Über die Erzeugung von kurzen Impulsen aus einer Sinusschwingung. In the post-war years he supports himself as electrical engineer and radio mechanic. His attempts at founding a company for electrical engineering or writing a book on radar technology fail and he decides to return to academic life and joins the TU Vienna in 1947, where he stays until 1961.
The academic year 1948/1949 he spends on the Sorbonne (Ecole Superieure de Telecommunications, Ecole Normale Superieur, research laboratory of PTT), funded by a scholarship by the French government. Heinz Zemanek gains his doctorate in 1951, elaborating on the topic Zeitteilverfahren in der Vielfachtelegraphie (timesharing methods in multiplex telegraphy) and gains his permission to teach with work on the topic Störverminderung imperfekter Schaltnetzwerke. He uses his 14 years as university assistant to work in the fields of digital transmission technology, cybernetic models, information theory and Boolean algebra.
As early as in 1950 Heinz Zemanek sets out, with this work and the construction of the relay computer URRI, to develop his own computer with the aim is to meet a higher standard. He finds his first partners for this endeavour in a group of students who prepare the construction of the first completely transistorised, binary decimal computer on the European continent.
Heinz Zemanek has already chosen a name: Mailüfterl, to counter the whirlwind development in big mainframe computer philosophy in the USA with smaller technology.
Looking closer, you will find that a kind of personal enterprise without official order by the university is taking place here. But the enterprise is tolerated and approved because there are many financial supporters in Austria and abroad. The association of banks and bankers also supports his work.
3,000 transistors and 5,000 diodes merely as basic elements are a present by the company Philips. The European Research Office of the American army supports the user friendliness of the Mailüfterl with a translator for Algol, work for switching simplification and co-operation in software engineering. It is very important for Zemanek to co-operate with the computer development institutes of the universities in Gottingen, Darmstadt, Dresden and Munich in particular with the Zuse KG (limited commercial partnership).
At the same time other development work is under way, e.g. Vocoder, working with similar technology, is developed for digitalisation; research and development projects for the Austrian Postal and Telegraph Department. In 1961 both Mailüfterl and Vocoder move from the TU Vienna to the computer empire IBM, following an offer to found an IBM Laboratory in Vienna.
The first product is a telephone answering machine for spread sheet queries on the basis of the Vocoders IBM 7772 in system IBM/360. It is further developed in Germany and France and eventually produced in the USA.
The main work of the Vienna Laboratory is the formal definition of the programming language PL/ 1 from 1961 to 1976. An IFIP working meeting, the first of its kind about Formal Language Description Languages (200 more are to follow) helps to develop the definition language VDL, which is followed by the international standardisation of PL/1 through ANSI.
The language is further extended to become the system definition method VDM which is subsequently developed on an international scale. In 1961 Zemanek also takes over the chair of the IFIP Technical Committee No. 2 dealing with programming languages to help steer the spreading Babylonian mixture of programming language in the right direction. The above mentioned IFIP working meeting is only a by-product of his function in an organisation where he is first trustee and then vice-president.
From 1971 to 1974 Zemanek is president of IFIP. In 1977 he becomes honorary member and takes over the chair of the publication committee, a task he carries out until 1984. From 1985 to 1989 he tries to establish an IFIP commission for the history of information technology but fails because the other members do not support his cause sufficiently. Zemanek is appointed IFIP Historian.
In 1976 Heinz Zemanek receives a special honour: He is appointed IBM Fellow by the CEO of IBM and chooses the theory of system design as his working field. He calls it abstract architecture. He publishes his work in a number of papers without ever exhausting the topic. He also finds an interesting and witty application of his concept of abstract architecture in his biography: his life can be structured in seven-year periods in a most natural way.
In 1964 Heinz Zemanek is appointed non-tenured professor, in 1983 tenured professor of the TU Vienna. In 1985 he retires but continues to teach at the TU Vienna. In the academic year 1985/86 he teaches history of informatics and in 1988/89 he holds a lecture series on Das geistige Umfeld der Informationstechnik (non-material environment of information technology) for the SEL-Stiftung at the University of Stuttgart. He proposes to expand the elementary dimensions of the natural science approach, i.e. matter and energy, by the elementary dimension information.
More than 500 publications carry his name, among them there are seven books. Moreover, he works in a number of editorial committees. To give you an impression of his numerous honours and awards here is a short summary.
The Heinz Zemanek Award was founded in his honour and is bestowed every other year, annually. Heinz Zemanek was honoured with the Leonardo Da Vinci Medal of the European Society for the Education of Engineers, the Prechtl Medal of the TU Vienna, the Gold Decoration for Services tot he City of Vienna, the IEEE Computer Pioneer Medal, the Oscar-von-Miller-Plakette in bronze of the Deutsches Museum in Munich as well as the John von Neumann Medal of the Hungarian John von Neumann Computer Society.
He is corresponding member of the Spanish Royal Academy of Sciences, foreign member oft he Russian Academy of Sciences and member of the European Academy of Sciences and Arts.
The Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen conferred the academic degree of Dr.-Ingenieur eh to him on 14 July 1986.
"You do not visit Zemanek; you just wait till he drops in!" Thats what his friends say. The amount he travels is amazing and it is important for him to stay in touch to have a say in the global computer empire.
According to his own statistics he has made 575 business and professional trips and travelled nearly 2 million kilometres by plane, he has visited all continents (except for the Antarctica) and knows almost every European capital city.
Heinz Zemanek characterises himself as a committed Austrian, Catholic and engineer.
The honours bestowed on him over the last years give testimony to these convictions:
In 2003 Heinz Zemanek was honoured by the Archdiocese Vienna with the Kardinal Innitzer-Preis for his live achievement.
Federal Minister Hubert Gorbach awarded him on behalf of the Republic of Austria with the Austrian Cross of Honour for Science and Art, 1st class, on 1 March 2005 to celebrate his 85th birthday. The celebration was organised jointly by the Austrian Electrotechnical Association OVE and the Austrian Computer Society OCG.
Currently Heinz Zemanek revises the new edition of his calendar book, gives lectures and continues his publishing work.