The History of Computers in a Nutshell

The History of Computers in a Nutshell

Apr 21 2010 by Cameron Chapman

The History of Computers in a Nutshell

Computers have wedged themselves into every facet of our lives—they are what we would use as the symbolic representation of the modern world.

But did you know that the history of computers dates back to the 1800s?

Indeed, the history and evolution of computers is quite extraordinary—and with many early computing technology innovations tied to defense contracts, much of this information were kept secret from the public for decades. In this article, we explore the development and progression of computers.

 

Mid-1800s-1930s: Early Mechanical Computers

The first computers were designed by Charles Babbage in the mid-1800s, and are sometimes collectively known as the Babbage Engines. These include the Difference Engine No. 1, the Analytical Engine, and the Difference Engine No. 2.

Difference Engine No. 2The Difference Engine was constructed from designs by Charles Babbage. Photo by Allan J. Cronin

These early computers were never completed during Babbage’s lifetime, but their complete designs were preserved. Eventually, one was built in 2002.

While these early mechanical computers bore little resemblance to the computers in use today, they paved the way for a number of technologies that are used by modern computers, or were instrumental in their development. These concepts include of the idea of separating storage from processing, the logical structure of computers, and the way that data and instructions are inputted and outputted.

Z1Z1 was used to take the U.S. Census in 1890.

Other important mechanical computers are the Automatic Electrical Tabulating Machine—which was used in the U.S. Census of 1890 to handle data from more than 62 million Americans—and the first binary computer: Konrad Zuse’s Z1, which was developed in 1938 and was the precursor to the first electro-mechanical computer.

1930s: Electro-Mechanical Computers

Electro-mechanical computers generally worked with relays and/or vacuum tubes, which could be used as switches.

Some electro-mechanical computers—such as the Differential Analyzer built in 1930—used purely mechanical internals but employed electric motors to power them.

These early electro-mechanical computers were either analog or were digital—such as the Model K and the Complex Number Calculator, both produced by George Stibitz.

Stibitz, by the way, was also responsible for the first remote access computing, done at a conference at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. He took a teleprinter to the conference, leaving his computer in New York City, and then proceeded to take problems posed by the audience. He then entered the problems on the keypad of his teleprinter, which outputted the answers afterward.

Z3Z3 used floating-point numbers which improved the accuracy of calculations.

It was during the development of these early electro-mechanical computers that many of the technologies and concepts still used today were first developed. The Z3, a descendent of the Z1 developed by Konrad Zuse, was one such pioneering computer. The Z3 used floating-point numbers in computations and was the first program-controlled digital computer.

Other electro-mechanical computers included Bombes, which were used during WWII to decrypt German codes.

1940s: Electronic Computers

ColossusColossus—whose name was fitting for its size—was developed during World War II.

The first electronic computers were developed during the World War II, with the earliest of those being the Colossus. The Colossus was developed to decrypt secret German codes during the war. It used vacuum tubes and paper tape and could perform a number of Boolean (e.g. true/false, yes/no) logical operations.

Williams TubeWilliams Tube used RAM for its computations.

Another notable early electronic computer was nicknamed “The Baby” (officially known as the Manchester Small-Scale Experimental Machine). While the computer itself wasn’t remarkable—it was the first computer to use the Williams Tube, a type of random access memory (RAM) that used a cathode-ray tube.

Some early electronic computers used decimal numeric systems (such as the ENIAC and the Harvard Mark 1), while others—like the Atanasoff-Berry Computer and the Colossus Mark 2—used binary systems. With the exception of the Atanasoff-Berry Computer, all the major models were programmable, either using punch cards, patch cables and switches, or through stored programs in memory.

1950s: The First Commercial Computers

The first commercially available computers came in the 1950s. While computing up until this time had mainly focused on scientific, mathematical, and defense capabilities, new computers were designed for business functions, such as banking and accounting.

The J. Lyons Company, which was a British catering firm, invested heavily in some of these early computers. In 1951, LEO (Lyons Electronic Office) became the first computer to run a regular routine office job. By November of that year, they were using the LEO to run a weekly bakery valuations job.

UNIVACThe UNIVAC was the first mass-produced computer.

The UNIVAC was the first commercial computer developed in the U.S., with its first unit delivered to the U.S. Census Bureau. It was the first mass-produced computer, with more than 45 units eventually produced and sold.

The IBM 701 was another notable development in early commercial computing; it was the first mainframe computer produced by IBM. It was around the same time that theFortran programming language was being developed (for the 704).

IBM 650The IBM 650 would cost you $4 million dollars if you bought it today.

A smaller IBM 650 was developed in the mid-1950s, and was popular due to its smaller size and footprint (it still weighed over 900kg, with a separate 1350kg power supply).

They cost the equivalent of almost $4 million today (adjusted for inflation).

Mid-1950s: Transistor Computers

The development of transistors led to the replacement of vacuum tubes, and resulted in significantly smaller computers. In the beginning, they were less reliable than the vacuum tubes they replaced, but they also consumed significantly less power.

RAMACIBM 350 RAMAC used disk drives.

These transistors also led to developments in computer peripherals. The first disk drive, the IBM 350 RAMAC, was the first of these introduced in 1956. Remote terminals also became more common with these second-generation computers.

1960s: The Microchip and the Microprocessor

The microchip (or integrated circuit) is one of the most important advances in computing technology. Many overlaps in history existed between microchip-based computers and transistor-based computers throughout the 1960s, and even into the early 1970s.

Micochips allowed the manufacturing of smaller computers. Photo by Ioan Sameli

The microchip spurred the production of minicomputers and microcomputers, which were small and inexpensive enough for small businesses and even individuals to own. The microchip also led to the microprocessor, another breakthrough technology that was important in the development of the personal computer.

There were three microprocessor designs that came out at about the same time. The first was produced by Intel (the 4004). Soon after, models from Texas Instruments (the TMS 1000) and Garret AiResearch (the Central Air Data Computer, or CADC) followed.

The first processors were 4-bit, but 8-bit models quickly followed by 1972.

16-bit models were produced in 1973, and 32-bit models soon followed. AT&T Bell Labs created the first fully 32-bit single-chip microprocessor, which used 32-bit buses, 32-bit data paths, and 32-bit addresses, in 1980.

The first 64-bit microprocessors were in use in the early 1990s in some markets, though they didn’t appear in the PC market until the early 2000s.

1970s: Personal Computers

The first personal computers were built in the early 1970s. Most of these were limited-production runs, and worked based on small-scale integrated circuits and multi-chip CPUs.

The Commodore PET was a personal computer in the 70s. Photo by Tomislav Medak

The Altair 8800 was the first popular computer using a single-chip microprocessor. It was also sold in kit form to electronics hobbyists, meaning purchasers had to assemble their own computers.

Clones of this machine quickly cropped up, and soon there was an entire market based on the design and architecture of the 8800. It also spawned a club based around hobbyist computer builders, the Homebrew Computer Club.

1977 saw the rise of the “Trinity” (based on a reference in Byte magazine): the Commodore PET, the Apple II, and the Tandy Corporation’s TRS-80. These three computer models eventually went on to sell millions.

These early PCs had between 4kB and 48kB of RAM. The Apple II was the only one with a full-color, graphics-capable display, and eventually became the best-seller among the trinity, with more than 4 million units sold.

1980s-1990s: The Early Notebooks and Laptops

One particularly notable development in the 1980s was the advent of the commercially available portable computer.

Osborne 1 was small and portable enough to transport. Photo by Tomislav Medak

The first of these was the Osborne 1, in 1981. It had a tiny 5″ monitor and was large and heavy compared to modern laptops (weighing in at 23.5 pounds). Portable computers continued to develop, though, and eventually became streamlined and easily portable, as the notebooks we have today are.

These early portable computers were portable only in the most technical sense of the word. Generally, they were anywhere from the size of a large electric typewriter to the size of a suitcase.

The Gavilan SC was the first PC to be sold as a “laptop”.

The first laptop with a flip form factor, was produced in 1982, but the first portable computer that was actually marketed as a “laptop” was the Gavilan SC in 1983.

Early models had monochrome displays, though there were color displays available starting in 1984 (the Commodore SX-64).

Laptops grew in popularity as they became smaller and lighter. By 1988, displays had reached VGA resolution, and by 1993 they had 256-color screens. From there, resolutions and colors progressed quickly. Other hardware features added during the 1990s and early 2000s included high-capacity hard drives and optical drives.

Laptops typically come in three categories, as shown by these Macbooks. Photo by Benjamin Nagel

Laptops are generally broken down into a three different categories:

  • Desktop replacements
  • Standard notebooks
  • Subnotebooks

Desktop replacements are usually larger, with displays of 15-17″ and performance comparable with some better desktop computers.

Standard notebooks usually have displays of 13-15″ and are a good compromise between performance and portability.

Subnotebooks, including netbooks, have displays smaller than 13″ and fewer features than standard notebooks.

2000s: The Rise of Mobile Computing

Mobile computing is one of the most recent major milestones in the history of computers.

Many smartphones today have higher processor speeds and more memory than desktop PCs had even ten years ago. With phones like the iPhone and the Motorola Droid, it’s becoming possible to perform most of the functions once reserved for desktop PCs from anywhere.

2000s: The Rise of Mobile ComputingThe Droid is a smartphone capable of basic computing tasks such as emailing and web browsing.

Mobile computing really got its start in the 1980s, with the pocket PCs of the era. These were something like a cross between a calculator, a small home computer and a PDA. They largely fell out of favor by the 1990s. During the 1990s, PDAs (Personal Digital Assistant) became popular.

A number of manufacturers had models, including Apple and Palm. The main feature PDAs had that not all pocket PCs had was a touchscreen interface. PDAs are still manufactured and used today, though they’ve largely been replaced by smartphones.

Smartphones have truly revolutionized mobile computing. Most basic computing functions can now be done on a smartphone, such as email, browsing the internet, and uploading photos and videos.

Late 2000s: Netbooks

Another recent progression in computing history is the development of netbook computers. Netbooks are smaller and more portable than standard laptops, while still being capable of performing most functions average computer users need (using the Internet, managing email, and using basic office programs). Some netbooks go as far as to have not only built-in WiFi capabilities, but also built-in mobile broadband connectivity options.

NetbooksThe Asus Eee PC 700 was the first netbook to enter mass production.

The first mass-produced netbook was the Asus Eee PC 700, released in 2007. They were originally released in Asia, but were released in the US not long afterward.

Other manufacturers quickly followed suit, releasing additional models throughout 2008 and 2009.

One of the main advantages of netbooks is their lower cost (generally ranging from around US$200-$600). Some mobile broadband providers have even offered netbooks for free with an extended service contract. Comcast also had a promotion in 2009 that offered a free netbook when you signed up for their cable internet services.

Most netbooks now come with Windows or Linux installed, and soon, there will be Android-based netbooks available from Asus and other manufacturers.

The history of computing spans nearly two centuries at this point, much longer than most people realize. From the mechanical computers of the 1800s to the room-sized mainframes of the mid-20th century, all the way up to the netbooks and smartphones of today, computers have evolved radically throughout their history.

The past 100 years have brought technological leaps and bounds to computing, and there’s no telling what the next 100 years might bring.

Also follow these links for great timelines:


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He was able to disrupt the way the organization was traditionally thinking by introducing several techniques that will enable the team to become change agents, while deploying several new meaningful projects that will drive the team’s collaboration, team strengths, and focus based on the customer & Coca-Cola’s objectives.

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Aaron Bare’s presentation about the dynamics of the marketplace and our potential as entrepreneurs opened an entirely new set of possibilities for us. Welded to legal theory, we too easily forget about the reality of business and the dynamics beyond the staid examples of our hypotheticals. Law cannot possibly keep up with changes in technologies and global markets. Success will require vigilance for opportunities and a tolerance for risk. Mr. Bare’s fresh presentation breathed fresh thought into our law school, a perspective we direly needed.

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“Aaron Bare’s presentation spoke to the technological push in every industry and the need for lawyer’s to adapt, encouraging participant’s to consider new issues, and move the legal field into the technological age.  Aaron’s unique perspective and forward thinking approach throw participant’s into the chaos of disruptive influences, bringing it full circle by introducing new and innovative ways of considering technology and the legal field.”  James Devereaux, President, Federalist Society Chapter, William & Mary School of Law

 

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The most important thing that I took from Mr. Bare’s presentation was that it is vital to become an expert in something.  Really, it is less important what that something is, just so long as you are an expert somewhere.  From there, all that remains is to find out how to capitalize on that expertise.  Essentially, Mr. Bare helped us realize that no matter what you are an expert in, somebody somewhere will need that expertise.  Therein lay opportunity.

 

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“Aaron is a big picture thinker, who thrives on creating new ideas and cutting edge technologies. He has the unique ability to also relate these concepts to others with both passion and ease.   I’m always happy to work on projects with Aaron and Buzz Mouth – he fosters a fast-paced and innovative environment.” Laura Fursman, Executive Assistant, Blogger, Artist

 

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“Aaron redefines time and energy every day. He has the ability to implement when others are just thinking about reading more on an idea. He is a true pioneer that has courage and spirit to venture into the unknown; it is these qualities that make him a superb entrepreneur and leader. I have had the pleasure of working with Aaron on many projects in our MBA and now continue to work with him on mobile business applications. In addition to his boundless energy for creation he sees connections between social networking, marketing and sales that drive efficiencies in turning leads into customers. I would say that he is a genius in the social marketing area.” Shawn Seaton, MBA, Strategic IT thinker and implementer who solves complex application, infrastructure, people or project issues.

“Aaron is the perennial entrepreneur. His ability to generate new ideas and processes was instrumental and inspirational while we worked together. He and I became good friends because of his great work ethic, exceptional demeanor and incredibly enthusiastic attitude towards work and life. I learned quite a bit from Aaron in the short time we were colleagues and I look forward to learning more from him as a friend in the future.” David Gallello, Senior IT, Operations and Marketing Expert

 

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“Aaron Bare was a great value partner in our resent name change and marketing efforts. He gave us an agenda to follow with timelines as well, to get our project done. We think Aaron Bare is the type of person that everyone would enjoy working with, as well as learning from his vast experience and great wealth of knowledge.” Marsha Bare, President/CEO at CENTERLINE Federal Credit Union

 

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“Aaron is a dedicated professional who truly understands the concept of serving and not just selling. It’s rare to find someone who “gets it” and then “lives it”.”   Rick Stoddard Managing Partner, Performance Plus, LLC & Chief Coaching Officer, Process Corporation.  Rick Stoddard, VP & Regional General Manager, Rocky Mountain Region

 

“Aaron has strategic cunning and great business acumen. His leadership skills are his most obvious strength.” Jack Wu

 

“Aaron is a true networker. He is continuously striving to connect people for mutual benefit in a friendly and positive way. His efforts extend the people he works with and creates new opportunities for many. I am happy to have Aaron Bare in my personal and business network.”  Bill Gluth, Creative Thinking for Exceptional Businesses

 

“I recommend Aaron highly, and especially appreciate his ability communicate effectively and to find positive solutions to some of my business challenges.”  Valerie Simpson, Small Business Consultant, Efficiency & Productivity Consultant

 

“I have known Aaron for almost 15 years and he is one of the most dedicated people I have ever worked with. Aaron is focused on building mutually beneficial partnerships and has an exceptional business mind. He also has wide experience in evaluating human performance and has become a leader in this area.”  Mike Reed, Meeting Consultant at InterCall

 

“I had the opportunity to work with Aaron on multiple projects during our EMBA program. Aaron immediately stood out as an individual with innovative ideas, exemplary business acumen, and a great knowledge of social media. Aaron has always taken the time to share his wealth of knowledge with the members of our class and has inspired the creation of entrepreneurial ventures because of it. I highly recommend Aaron Bare.”  Robert Vega, Marketing/Digital Strategy Consultant at Southwest Kidney Institute

 

“Aaron is a truly innovative, high energy entrepreneur. He has a great grasp of how to own and grow businesses coupled with a kindred spirit for commerce. I look forward to working with him again in the near future.”   Kyle Stanton, EE, MBA, President at Titus Innovations Inc.

 

“I just wanted to say thank-you again for speaking at the event at McGeorge School of Law on Monday. I had excellent feedback from students who were encouraged by your presentation. These days especially, law school can become an environment where discussions about careers become dreary, discouraging, and full of doomsday predictions. It was exciting to see students energized about what they can accomplish and how to accomplish it. I am sure future leaders of the Federalist Society at McGeorge would love to welcome you back.”  Courtney Martin, President, Federalist Society at McGeorge.

 

“JD’s may be better entrepreneurs than MBA’s.  The talk by Aaron Bare re: entrepreneurial opportunities in the law was motivating!”  Alden Hinds, JD candidate

 

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Advice from a Buzz Mouth Mentor

I have always lived my life by making lists. These vary from lists of people to call, lists of ideas, lists of companies to set up, lists of people who can make things happen. I also have lists of topics to blog about, lists of tweets to send, and lists of upcoming plans.

Each day I work through these lists, and it is by ticking off each task that my ideas take shape and plans move forward. As the new year gets started, lots of you will be busy making resolutions. If you want to stick to them, I suggest making them into lists. Here are my top 10 tips for making lists:

  1.     Write down every single idea you have, no matter how big or small
  2.     Always carry a notebook
  3.     Find a list method that works for you. Doodles, bullet-points, charts – what suits you best?
  4.     Make a list of small, manageable tasks to complete every day
  5.     Mark off every completed task – you’ll find making each tick very satisfying
  6.     Make your goals measurable so you know if your plans are working
  7.     Set far off, outlandish goals. What do you want to have achieved by 2020? How about 2050?
  8.     Include personal goals in your lists, not just business
  9.     Share your goals with others. You can help motivate each other further
  10.     Celebrate your successes – then make new lists of new goal

By . Founder of Virgin Group

How do colors affect purchases?

Kissmetrics: For retailers, shopping is the art of persuasion. Though there are many factors that influence how and what consumers buy. However, a great deal is decided by visual cues, the strongest and most persuasive being color. When marketing new products it is crucial to consider that consumers place visual appearance and color above other factors such as sound, smell and texture. To learn more about color psychology and how it influences purchases, see our latest infographic:

PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT FRAMEWORK: PRAGMATIC MARKETING

When we engage with a startup or a new product we use the Pragmatic Marketing Framework, our CEO has been certified and a student of the framework applying to past engagements from Sun Microsystems, Facebook to his own startups.   This clearly aligns strategy with technology and marketing, the core of what we do at Buzz Mouth.

As you can see from the last few post, Buzz Mouth is working on improving our Framework, yet proud to be using proven processes to drive our success and our clients.

 

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