January 22

Famulus meeting

This meeting, convened by Richard Field under the aegis and instructions of the IUSC , set out to review the status and future prospects of Famulus as a package widely used for bibliographical and quasi-bibliographical research. It was quite well-attended, sites represented being ULCC , Aberdeen, York, Warwick, Atlas, Edinburgh (PLU), UMRCC Southampton, UCL and Trent Poly. Versions of Famulus were now available on CDC 6600/7600, Dec 1O and 20, IBM361/370, Honeywell, GEC 4020, Burroughs B6700, ICL 2900 & 1900 at least, each version having slightly different parentage and features. The Ur-Famulus, which was developed for the US Department of Forestry in Los Angeles some years ago, had been updated somewhat since its invasion of Europe (and New Zealand, which is where the Burroughs version came from); Aberdeen had been in touch with its originators but the changes appeared to be purely cosmetic and they did not seem willing to make them generally available.

Discussion centred initially on what role Famulus played in the spectrum of text processing packages. It was necessary to distinguish it clearly from full text searching packages like Status, Quill, Sift, 3ip etc. Such packages were currently under consideration by SPC anyway. Famulus had an unusually clear user interface which was widely admired and liked; moreover the Ossify program meant that an equally clear 'system interface' format was available for transferring between versions. Nearly all sites reported that the package was used chiefly for maintaining bibliographies or similar catalogues; most sites reported about a dozen to twenty users. The largest applications mentioned were the Manchester Museum's catalogue and the Oxford Onomasticon project. It was suggested that the function of KWIC/INDEX was better performed by a full text searching system or by OCP .

Amongst enhancements proposed were:- full character-handling facilities analagous to those of OCP; ability to define some fields as being numeric and ability to do some simple arithmetic on them (sums, averages, distributions, comparison etc); ability to define date fields; data validation, perhaps by a stand-alone input utility; extending the formatting options of Galley, particularly to include hierarchically sorted data and tabular output; There was general agreement that the present internal format was wasteful of space and could profitably be reorganised e.g. to use variable length records, or even ISAM files where these were available.

The meeting discussed briefly the problems of getting funding for a complete rewrite of the system, or the possibility of evaluating all the currently available software against Famulus-requirements. It was concluded that a working party should be set up to draw up a detailed report of what facilities currently existed in all the known versions of the package, and what enhancements were generally needed. An interface to support these requirements would be defined, in terms of the existing Famulus command language, and those sites which wanted to implement any of the proposed goodies would do so. R.Field would report back to IUSC which would then set up a working party and co-opt members onto it.