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John Black

Saturday, February 15, 2014 10:30 AM | Jerry Gipper (Administrator)
Induction: February 2014

John Black, Craig MacKenna, and Cecil Kaplinsky developed the first draft of the VMEbus specification. John spent the first 13 years of his career in the rapidly emerging microcomputer industry, as a Motorola hardware/software engineer, project engineer, and engineering department manager.

During that time he also helped author the VMEbus specification, which was eventually adopted as an IEEE, ANSI, and ISO standard, and currently serves as the primary multiprocessing backplane architecture for the U.S. Military and NATO. A VMEbus-based system also serves as the heart of the Mars Rovers Opportunity and Spirit.

In 1985 John left Motorola to found his own company (Micrology pbt, Inc) to work with start-up companies seeking to offer leading edge embedded multiprocessing computer systems, based on the VMEbus standard.

At the same time he and two partners launched a technical publishing company (OpenSystems Publishing) to promote the development of open standards, and to assist start-up companies in introducing products based on those standards. In addition to his partner responsibilities, John served as Editor-In-Chief of VMEbus Systems magazine and Real-time Engineering magazine. OpenSystems Publishing (now called OpenSystems Media) is currently a leading publisher of embedded computing industry journals.

In 2003 John joined Arizona State University as a Research Scientist, to help launch the Center for Cognitive Ubiquitous Computing and the iCARE project, which conducts research aimed at the development of assistive technologies for people who are blind.

In 2010 John mentored a team of students who won first prize in the 2010 Microsoft World Imagine Cup Competition, and in 2011 he mentored another team of students who won second prize in the competition.

Key Contributions
  • John Black, along with Craig MacKenna and Cecil Kaplinsky, developed the first draft of the VMEbus specification
  • Started his own company, Micrology pbt, Inc to work with start-up companies seeking to offer embedded multiprocessing computer systems based on the VMEbus standard
  • Helped launch OpenSystems Publishing (now called OpenSystems Media), which publishes VITA Technologies magazine and other embedded technology magazines


  • Thursday, September 14, 2023 12:59 PM | Jerry Gipper (Administrator)
    From John Black:

    I was the third design engineer to join the Motorola’s Microsystems group, and was involved in the development of their 8-bit 6800-based EXORcisor development system. It included an 8-bit backplane, a processor board, memory boards, and a floppy disk interface, and was intended to help Motorola customers prototype systems based on the 6800 microprocessor.

    Based on the EXORcisor backplane, my engineering group developed a broad 8-bit I/O product line of EXORcisor plug-in boards, to provide expansion memory, an HP GPIB interface, A/D and D/A boards, etc. (They were marketed under the name Micromodules.)

    When Motorola introduced its 16-bit 68000 processor chip, another design group was assigned the job of designing a 16-bit development system, which they called the EXORmacs. They chose a very large (i.e huge) board form factor. The EXORmacs processor board included memory and some I/O, and plugged into the VERSAbus backplane. A second board that plugged into the VERSAbus backplane provided an SMD hard disk interface.

    I was not involved in the hardware or software development for the EXORmacs system. However, as I recall, VERSAdos was copied onto the hard disk from 5.25-inch floppies. So the processor board must have a Included a floppy disk interface. (I don’t recall any EXORmacs system ever being shipped with a removable hard disk.)

    VERSAdos was then booted from the hard disk - not floppy disks. (I doubt that they ever even attempted to boot it from floppies.)

    The EXORmacs design group wrote a “specification” to document the signals on the VERSAbus backplane. However, it was extremely rudimentary. Although it mapped the bus signal names to the numbered connector pins on the backplane, it only provided “typical” signal timing for those signals. When I was subsequently asked to build a product line of boards to plug into the VERSAbus backplane, it became obvious that there would be no way to ensure board-to-backplane compatibility with such a rudimentary bus specification.

    That’s when I wrote the VMEbus specification. Although it had the same signal names on the backplane, it had (1) rigorously defined signal timing specs, and (2) a much smaller (and more manageable) board size, based on the 3U/6U EUROcard standard.

    The subsequent rapid development of a Motorola VMEbus board product line (and the simultaneous emergence of UNIX as an OS standard) rapidly eclipsed the EXORmacs system, VERSAbus and VERSAdos. Although attempts were made by Motorola to upgrade the SMD hard disk system, and offer a UNIX operating system, no further board products were ever marketed for VERSAbus or for the EXORmacs system. As a result, they quickly faded from existence, as orphans of the rapidly evolving embedded industry of the 1980s.

    Given its rather brief existence, and its moderate impact on the microcomputing industry during the 1980s, I think you will have a very difficult time resurrecting your EXORmacs system. If I were you, I would invest my time elsewhere.

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