Charles W. Bachman, a software engineer whose creation of the first database management system helped popularise computers in the corporate world and earned him the highest honor in computer science, died July 13 at his home in Lexington, Massachusetts. He was 92.
The cause was Parkinson’s disease, said a daughter, Chandini Bachman.
When Bachman joined General Electric in 1960, computers were bulky, costly, arcane and in many cases disappointing. The devices had promised to reshape businesses around the world, making it possible to automate everything from accounting to inventory, but companies struggled to integrate different processes in one easy-to-use system.
Altering an inventory program, for instance, might require subsequent alterations in a related supply program or changes in a program showing customers’ recent orders. And because data was stored on magnetic tape, it had to be accessed sequentially – just as, when watching a movie on a VHS tape, there is no way to access the end of the film without fast-forwarding through the beginning and the middle.
The creation of disk storage, in place of tape, allowed computers to access and alter individual records much faster, through a process known as random access. It was what General Electric and Bachman likened to a system of “one million pigeon holes,” in which data could be retrieved from any “hole” at all – from a hole labeled C or a hole labeled X, without having to go from A to B to C, all through the alphabet.
Bachman, a bow tie aficionado with a fondness for exotic plants, devised a kind of road map for the system that would allow programs to access a vast…