A Brief History of Computers and Networks,

Part II

Computers and Networks, Part I

In 1943 development begins on the Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer (ENIAC) in earnest at Penn State. Designed by John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert of the Moore School, they get help from John von Neumann and others. In 1944, the Havard Mark I is introduced. Based on a series of proposals from Howard Aiken in the late 1930's, the Mark I computes complex tables for the U.S. Navy. It uses a paper tape to store instructions and Aiken hires Grace Hopper("Amazing Grace") as one of three programmers working on the machine. Thomas J. Watson Sr. plays a pivotal role involving his company, IBM, in the machine's development.

Early in 1945, with the Mark I stopped for repairs, Hopper notices a moth in one of the relays, possibly causing the problem. From this day on, Hopper refers to fixing the system as "debugging". The same year Von Neumann proposes the concept of a "stored program" in a paper that is never officially published.

Work completes on ENIAC in 1946. Although only three years old the machine is woefully behind on technology, but the inventors opt to continue while working on a more modern machine, the EDVAC. Programming ENIAC requires it to be rewired. A later version eliminates this problem. To make the machine appear more impressive to reporters during its unveiling, a team member (possibly Eckert) puts translucent spheres(halved ping pong balls) over the lights. The US patent office will later recognize this as the first computer.

The next year scientists employed by Bell Labs complete work on the transistor (John Bardeen, Walter Brattain and William Shockley receive the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1956), and by 1948 teams around the world work on a "stored program" machine. The first, nicknamed "Baby", is a prototype of a much larger machine under construction in Britain and is shown in June 1948.

The impetus over the next 5 years for advances in computers is mostly the government and military. UNIVAC, delivered in 1951 to the Census Bureau, results in a tremendous financial loss to its manufacturer, Remington-Rand. The next year Grace Hopper, now an employee of that company proposes "reuseable software," code segments that could be extracted and assembled according to instructions in a "higher level language." The concept of compiling is born. Hopper would revise this concept over the next twenty years and her ideas would become an integral part of all modern computers. CBS uses one of the 46 UNIVAC computers produced to predict the outcome of the 1952 Presidential Election. They do not air the prediction for 3 hours because they do not trust the machine.

Small portion of the IBM 701
Courtesy IBM
IBM introduces the 701 the following year. It is the first commercially successful computer. In 1956 FORTRAN is introduced(proposed 1954, it takes nearly 3 years to develop the compiler). Two additional languages, LISP and COBOL, are added in 1957 and 1958. Other early languages include ALGOL and BASIC. Although never widely used, ALGOL is the basis for many of today's languages.

With the introduction of Control Data's CDC1604 in 1958, the first transistor powered computer, a new age dawns. Brilliant scientist Seymour Cray heads the development team. This year integrated circuits are introduced by two men, Jack Kilby and John Noyce, working independently. The second network is developed at MIT. Over the next three years computers begin affecting the day-to-day lives of most Americans. The addition of MICR characters at the bottom of checks is common.

In 1961 Fairchild Semiconductor introduces the integrated circuit. Within ten years all computers use these instead of the transistor. Formally building sized computers are now room-sized, and are considerably more powerful. The following year the Atlas becomes operational, displaying many of the features that make today's systems so powerful including virtual memory, pipeline instruction execution and paging. Designed at the University of Manchester, some of the people who developed Colossus thirty years earlier make contributions.

On April 7, 1964, IBM introduces the System/360. While a technical marvel, the main feature of this machine is business oriented...IBM guarantees the "upward compatibility" of the system, reducing the risk that a business would invest in outdated technology. Dartmouth College, where the first network was demonstrated 25 years earlier, moves to the forefront of the "computer age" with the introduction of TSS(Time Share System) a crude(by today's standards) networking system. It is the first Wide Area Network. In three years Randy Golden, President and Founder of Golden Ink, would begin working on this network.

Within a year MIT returns to the top of the intellectual computer community with the introduction of a greatly refined network that features shared resources and uses the first minicomputer(DEC's PDP-8) to manage telephone lines. Bell Labs and GE play major roles in its design.

In 1969 Bell Labs, unhappy with the direction of the MIT project, leaves and develops its own operating system, UNIX. One of the many precursors to today's Internet, ARPANet, is quietly launched. Alan Keys, who will later become a designer for Apple, proposes the "personal computer." Also in 1969, unhappy with Fairchild Semiconductor, a group of technicians begin discussing forming their own company. This company, formed the next year, would be known as Intel. The movie Colossus:The Forbin Project has a supercomputer as the villain. Next year, The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes was the first feature length movie with the word computer in the title. In 1971, Texas Instruments introduces the first "pocket calculator." It weighs 2.5 pounds.

With the country embroiled in a crisis of confidence known as Watergate, in 1973 a little publicized judicial decision takes the patent for the computer away from Mauchly and Eckert and awards it to Atanasoff. Xerox introduces the mouse. Proposals are made for the first local area networks.

In 1975 the first personal computer is marketed in kit form. The Altair features 256 bytes of memory. Bill Gates, with others, writes a BASIC compiler for the machine. The next year Apple begins to market PC's, also in kit form. It includes a monitor and keyboard. The earliest RISC platforms become stable. In 1976, Queen Elizabeth goes on-line with the first royal email message.

During the next few years the personal computer explodes on the American scene. Microsoft, Apple and many smaller PC related companies form (and some die). By 1977 stores begin to sell PC's. Continuing today, companies strive to reduce the size and price of PC's while increasing capacity. Entering the fray, IBM introduces it's PC in 1981(it's actually IBM's second attempt, but the first failed miserably). Time selects the computer as its Man of the Year in 1982. Tron, a computer-generated special effects extravaganza is released the same year.

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