1000 Years of Computer History
Part I: The Dark Ages 1000 AD - 1964 AD
Well that was a nifty millennium.
Okay technically the millennium is not over until
It's tradition at the
end of every year to do a little year in review bit. At the end of every
decade, we take a longer squint. I imagine the press covered with some
fondness the passing of the 19th century, a century marked by an unusually
long run of world peace and prosperity (well, peaceful for anyone not
resisting colonization and prosperous for anyone educated at
When Big Blue's big sales men in big blue suits began reporting big losses in sales to the little beige Apple, Big Blue's biggest boys knew they had to act fast big time.
Discovery of Zero by the West (12th century, more than likely a Monday)
We've lived with
post-Christmas bank balances of zero for so long it's inconceivable there was
a time when people got along, in fact prospered, with no knowledge of
nothing. It wasn't until the 5th century that zero was invented in
Punch Cards (Early 1800s)
Joseph-Marie Jacquard owned a weaving factory. To expedite the process of changing weaving patterns he invented a weaving system that had new patterns encoded on big, wooden punch cards. At the beginning of the 20th century, Herman Hollerith adopted Jacquard's punch card system to tabulate the American census. Hollerith went on to found IBM. IBM gave rise to the computer revolution and Microsoft. Oh what a tangled web Jacquard weaved.
Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine (1830)
Babbage is credited with designing the first computer, his clock-work Analytical Engine. Babbage was unfortunately an incessant tinkerer and never got around to building his engine, despite the aid of Ada Lovelace, a brilliant mathematician and daughter of poet Lord Byron. Ada Lovelace is credited with being the world's first programmer, having written a program for the Analytical Engine. The computer industry, unfortunately, would not hire another woman programmer until 1992. Pigs.
Claude Shannon Publishes his Master's Thesis (1937)
People in the know call
Claude Shannon the father of information science. Outside of MIT and Bell
Labs, he's pretty well ignored.
William Shockley Invents the Transistor and
In 1948, Bell Labs
unveiled the transistor. William Shockley, a physicist at Bell Labs,
co-developed it and won a Nobel prize for its invention. Shockley left Bell
Labs, returned to his home town of
Creation of BASIC (1964)
BASIC was written as a
small teaching aid for
Part II: The Darker Ages, from Windows to Windows 3.1
Alan Kay Invents Everything Not Yet Invented (1972)
Alan Kay took a job at
Apple II Released (1977)
Most people are
probably familiar with the story of how Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak (no relation
despite the same first name) started Apple in their garage. The Apple was not
their first creation. Jobs and Wozniak got the tinkering bug back in a high
school science course. Hewlett-Packard (HP), then an obscure manufacturer of
scientific instruments, used to donate surplus junk to
A Harvard Business Student Creates the VisiCalc Spreadsheet (1978)
For a couple years, microcomputers like the Apple II, the PET, and the TRS-80 were really just expensive calculators that played some lame games. In the spring of 1978, when most young men's minds were turning to love, Dan Bricklin dreamed up the idea of an electronic spreadsheet while sitting in a Harvard business class. He borrowed a friend's Apple II and wrote it in BASIC. Business people rapidly saw VisiCalc's utility for creating expense reports, time sheets, and other things that needed numbers jiggled. Business people bought Apple IIs in large numbers simply to run the spreadsheet software. When IBM sales people came knocking, trying to sell companies $20,000 systems, they found $2,000 worth of Apple hardware and VisiCalc running on people's desks. IBM quickly realized it need a lean, mean, VisiCalc-running machine of its own.
IBM Releases the PC (1981)
When Big Blue's big sales men in big blue suits began reporting big losses in sales to the little beige Apple, Big Blue's biggest boys knew they had to act fast big time. But they realized that being big in the world of microcomputers wasn't so grand. The time it took the company's various levels of bureaucracy to turn out a new product meant the computer would be obsolete the moment it hit the store shelves. The solution was to create a computer from off-the-shelf components and license an operating system. Legend has it IBM tried to set up a meeting with Gary Kidall, the creator of the CP/M operating system. CP/M was at that time world's most popular microcomputer OS. Kidall arrogantly thumbed his nose at IBM, preferring to enjoy a day of perfect flying weather in his private plane. IBM then looked up Bill Gates who showed them Microsoft DOS.
Internet Opened to Commercial Traffic (1991)
The National Science Foundation, which oversaw the Internet's principle backbone, had banned commercial use since the net's inception. In 1991, it lifted this restriction, opening up the net to a wide range of non-educational uses. This single move is probably more important than the development of browser and web technology (both developed in 1991 as well). With the restriction gone, the public at large now had access to all those make-money-fast emails and pictures of Gillian Anderson's head stuck on naked centerfold bodies.
Windows 3.1 Is Released (1992)
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Copyright 2002 Karl Mamer
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