Way back in 1979, when the microcomputer was first introduced, Directors Peter Rowe and Walford  Pears were running Computerline's service bureau with Martyn Champion, now Director of Sales. After 8 successful years of operating the bureau, Computerline was seeking ways to improve the interface between user and mainframe. To increase the amount of control their clients had over the mainframe, Computerline decided to introduce the Tandy Model I microcomputer as a front end to their mainframe system.

Once bureau customers learned what the microcomputer had to offer — lower costs, less error, shorter turnaround time and accommodations for experimentation — they demanded more. The decision was made to develop a self-standing scheduling system for the Model I. Walford's bureau responsibilities were left in the capable hands of Paul Douglass, a young but promising man, thus freeing Walford to concentrate his efforts on the microcomputer.

Original Design

Computerline's original objective was to produce a system which provided essential features, many peripheral ones, and one which could be easily expanded in the future. The outcome was a totally original program in terms of user interface, data design, storage and access, and processing techniques. Says Walford, "After all, we were competing with our 1 MB mainframe on a 32 K micro!"

Computerline Meets the Microcomputer

Walford PearsPLANTRAC's designer and developer, Walford Pears, describes his first encounter with the microcomputer: "While strolling on High Street in Wimbledon, a Model I display in the Tandy storefront caught my eye. Upon inquiring about the new Model I, I found that the microcomputer had just entered the market that day and no one on the sales staff knew how it worked! and it was not for sale but for demonstration only." Walford convinced the salesman to let him give it a try. He tested the new microcomputer with a program he used to test the capabilities of mainframe systems. "The Model I handled the program with no difficulty at all." The potential of the small computer realised, the Model I was purchased within 2 hours.

First Installations

In 1980, on the advice of Tandy Corporation, Cape Boards, manufacturer of fire resistant materials, approached Computerline to develop a project management system for the new Tandy Model II. Cape Boards was moving to new premises and needed a system to plan the relocation of equipment, personnel and resources over a 2-year period. The Model I program was expanded and transferred to the Model II, thus demonstrating the upwardly compatible design of the initial program.

The first self-standing scheduling system, MICROPERT (now called PLANTRAC) was implemented in July 1980 at Cape Boards with outstanding project results. Cape Boards has just renewed their license contract for the sixth year and their Model II is still going strong.

The good news spread fast and within the first year, 50 firms in the U.K. were using MICROPERT, all on Tandy under TRS DOS. The wisdom of selecting the Tandy Model I as the processor on which to develop the system over other processors available proved itself in this case and also in the future with the transfer to other micros.

The Pioneering Spirit

In addition to technological developments, in 1981 Computerline ventured into foreign markets, including Japan, the high-tech "export capital of the world." In September, Peter and Walford attended the Project Management Institute (PMI) Symposium in Boston to introduce the scheduling system to American project managers. To their amazement, no other microcomputer project management software was represented at the show. The U.S. marketing rights were quickly taken by an American company involved in project management and sales began in this country. Ambrose & Associates, a construction management and scheduling company based in Washington and New York, became the first U.S. user.

Based on the highly successful market in the U.K., Computerline established a U.S. headquarters office in late 1982, changed the product name to PLANTRAC (PLANning by Time, Resources And Costs) and appointed Susan Carroll as National Manager. Groundwork was laid to establish PLANTRAC as a long-term product in the United States. In the summer of 1983, Computerline set up support and software development services, with Walford Pears spending the majority of his time in the Boston office.

A Major Breakthrough

The fall of 1983 saw U.S. companies responding to PLANTRAC's growing reputation and many systems were installed for diverse applications across the U.S. and into Canada. In early 1984, a French office was established near Paris to support the growing Southern European market.

In the spring of 1984, a major international manufacturer and installer of construction equipment evaluated project management systems and chose PLANTRAC for a company-wide implementation. With this and many other sales, Computerline's vision was realized — that others saw, as they did back in 1979, the microcomputer doing the job of the mainframe. Although this was not the first time PLANTRAC had been chosen to replace a mainframe system, it was a sign of changing times.

PLANTRAC today and tomorrow

Over 150 project management packages exist on the market today. None can offer the total scheduling, reporting, graphical and long-term user experience of PLANTRAC. Computerline's quest is to serve the present as well as future needs of the project management market. This dedication has been demonstrated by constant improvements to PLANTRAC and transfer to additional micros as they are released on the market.

Over its five-year history, PLANTRAC has grown along with its user base. Developments include versions for CP/M, MS DOS, UNIX and XENIX, as well as the original TRS DOS. PLANTRAC's architecture is completely original and because the ability to expand is included in its design, PLANTRAC can never be made obsolete. As technology expands, PLANTRAC expands with it.

Since its first installation at Cape Boards, PLANTRAC's capabilities have been expanded. The first system had 500 activities; PLANTRAC now handles 62,500. Today's system provides 200 resource categories per project versus the original 40. PLANTRAC has an improved user interface and interfaces with other software systems, such as the Lotus 123 and mainframe systems. Color graphics on the screen, printer and plotter have been added and additional enhancements are planned for the future.

Today, Computerline continues to operate the 14-year-old service bureau and markets PLANTRAC worldwide. Over 1,000 project managers from all over the globe are currently using PLANTRAC with new users joining the network daily. User group meetings are increasing and more local networks of enthusiastic users are forming.

Susan Carroll & Walford PearsSusan Carroll, National Manager, and Walford Pears work on the system in their Quincy, MA ofice.

As PLANTRAC advances to its 10th anniversary, Computerline predicts that global networks with satellites enhancing communications among users and between Computerline and PLANTRAC users. The technological possibilities for the 25th anniversary are endless!

Walford Pears

After 30 (1979-2009) successful years PLANTRAC is now a legacy system.

Successfully evolved  keeping data and features compatibility across


Click to see some of Plantrac's projects