It’s Obvious that one of the great inventions of our time has been the computer. Today, billions of people use computers in their daily lives. The early computers were extremely large and they took up entire rooms but today, computers are extremely small and can not only fit on a desktop, but in phones and on chips which are the size of rice grains. Throughout the years, computer has evolved from an extremely costly, awkward and slow device to today’s extremely smart and quick machine with an incredible and unbelievable processing power.
A concise history of computers is explained below.
The early computer
There was no single person who is widely credited with the invention of computer but many are of a view that Konrad Zuse and his Z1 machine was the first in a long line of innovations that gave us the computer of today, he was a German whose claim to fame is the creation of the very first freely programmable and mechanical computing device in 1936. Many would see Zuse’s Z1 as the first long line of calculators. Zuse had found out that one of the most difficult aspects of completing large calculations on the calculation devices of the day like a slide rule or mechanical adding machine was the ability to keep track of many results that would have to be recomputed to give a final answer. The Z1 of Zuse was created with a focus on 3 basic elements that are still necessary in today’s calculators, it is necessary to have a control, it is necessary to have a memory to store results of every step and it is necessary to perform calculations.
The Zuse Z1
In the later additions of Konrad Zuse’s computer, he created the Z2 and Z3 and the innovations to his computers were pretty important. The Z2 was the first fully functioning electro-magnetic computer and the Z3 was the first fully electronic and digital computer that included programming ability. Z3 was programmed with a binary floating point number and switching system and it even included storage which used tape in the form of old movie reels. In those days most business machines used punched paper however paper was extremely expensive at the time in Germany
Harvard Mark 1 Computer
With the World War II blazing, the US government realized that it needed to be more innovative than ever to gain upper hand. At major universities across America, many scientists and mathematicians worked hard on innovating new ways to keep up with the technology that was rapidly advancing. Much of the focus was on making rockets and ballistics more precise which required complex calculations. At Harvard, the first MARK series computers were being built. The MARK 1 began in 1944, this computer was completely huge and filled a room with 55 feet long by 8 feet high and it contained an amazing array of components. Actually, in all it had over 760,000 parts, it was loud and clicked and clanged like a huge factory. However MARK 1 turned out to be a success and it was utilized by the US Navy for the calculations of ballistics, it performed well for the next 15 years being in service till 1959.
The MARK 1 computer used pre-punched paper tape, it performed a wide variety of calculations including addition, subtraction, multiplication and division and it was able to hold and reference a previous result used in its calculations, it even had the capability of computing numbers up to 23 decimal places. As for the enormity of this machine, it was not only loud and had hundreds of thousands of parts but included 500 miles of wire. While the computer itself was high tech for its time, the output was not digital. The MARK 1 used a simple electric typewriter to display results and its speed was also lacking with a typical multiplication computation taking from 3 to 5 seconds.
The ENIAC stands for Electrical Numerical Integrator and Calculator, this computer was known as being one of the most important achievements in computing, it was commissioned during WWII and it was originally commissioned and used by the US military for ballistics research for computing tables. This computer was developed by John Mauchly and J Presper Eckert, while Mauchly created several previous calculating machines, this machine would be different. The ENIAC used vacuum tubes instead of electric motors and levers to speed up calculations, it was originally designed starting in 1943 however it was not built and ready for operation until 1946. The total cost of the ENIAC was $500,000. While it was originally built for ballistics, it was used for a whole host of issues including weather, random number studies and even wind tunnel design. The ENIAC had an enormous amount of vacuum tubes over 14,000 and included 70,000 resistors and over 5 million soldered joints. This computer was enormous covering a space of 187 square meters and weighed over 30 tons.
The ENIAC was blazing fast for the technology in those times regarding speed, it could perform 5,000 additions, 357 multiplications or 38 divisions in one second. This computer was about 1,000 times faster than any other calculating device during that era and it stayed in operation till 1955.
The first RAM (Random Access Memory)
RAM was first introduced and started to be utilized as an effective data storage device in 1946. While the ability to use a cathode ray tube was being studied for several years, the first RAM to be utilized in computers was the Williams tube. RAM or Random Access Memory is an easy way to store computer instructions that can be used over and over by computer without any unnecessary programming. The first RAM was actually a metal detector plate that was in a position close to a vacuum tube which detected the difference in electrical charges. On a CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) screen, one can see the difference between these charges as either a dot or pixel of green or black, this in essence was binary code is either 0 or 1. With the introduction of RAM, rewiring each time a new installed program was no longer necessary and programming itself became more convenient and quicker. This type of memory was used until core memory took over in 1955.
Manchester Baby and Manchester MARK 1
As plenty of innovations were taking place in the 1940’s after the world war, faster and more complex computers were being built on both sides of the Atlantic. England had its own successes with early computers specially the Manchester Baby and the Manchester MARK I. Telecommunications Research Establishment developed the Manchester Baby and decided to build a computer based on the Williams tube. One of the designers Tom Kilburn devised an even more impressive way to store data than the current Williams tube was able to handle. Kilburn’s new innovation allowed the storage capacity to include 2048 bits of information. The Manchester Baby went live in the year 1948 and it was the first computer to use a stored program.
Besides the Manchester Baby, Manchester MARK 1 was commissioned to be built and it went live in 1951. It was built upon the successes of the day’s computers and while it showed wonderful progress against the computers built just a few years ago, it also showed researchers that there was also huge potential for the computer.
The UNIVAC stands for Universal Automatic Computer, it was one of the most popular computers of the past besides the ENIAC and it was built and developed by those who created the ENIAC computer. Instead of working for the US military, the UNIVAC was first sold to the US Census Bureau that required a computer for complex computations dealing with the expansion in the US population. In 1946, the US Census Bureau gave a $300,000 deposit for the development and creation of the UNIVAC but it was stated in the contract that it would pay no more than $400,000 for the computer. However falling into financial difficulties and cost over runs, the UNIVAC was delivered at the cost of 1,000,000 dollars. The UNIVAC was In fact now owned by the Remington Rand Corporation which sold the first UNIVAC at a loss with a hope that later sales of the computer would pay back their initial investment.
The UNIVAC computer was extremely a cutting edge for its time, it was fast and able to handle many computations. This computer could add in 120 microseconds, multiply in 1,800 micro seconds and divide in 3,600 microseconds, it was also able to read characters that were fed via magnetic tape at a speed of 12,800 characters per second. All in all it was one of the fastest and most innovative computers of its time. Although the UNIVAC received public praise and bad name when it was used to predict the next US president.
IBM and the computer
IBM stands for International Business Machine, today it is known for bringing the first widely affordable and available personal computer (PC) to the masses, however earlier in the 20th century they were widely known for their punch card business machines such as calculators. The first IBM general purpose computer was the IBM 701 and in 1953 it was developed in part due to the Korean War. The objective was that a computer was needed in helping to compute and keep track of the effort of policing Korea. The IBM 701 not only delivered one computer for the Korean War cause but it built 19. Some went to atomic research; others went to aircraft companies and research facilities including the US Weather Bureau. A company or large organization could rent the 701 for $15,000 per month at that time. It was built with storage tubes for memory and used magnetic tape to store information. It should also be noted that the new computer programming language FORTRAN was utilized in the new IMB 701.
Besides the IBM 701, there were also other IBM computers including the 704, it was the first super computer to utilize floating point hardware and a magnetic core memory that was much faster than magnetic drum stored memory. The IBM 7090 being the first commercial transistorized computer was also a big success, it was built in 1960 and was the fastest computer of its time. IBM capitalized on the 7090 and it dominated the business computers for the next 20 years.
The IC (Integrated Circuit) – The Chip
One of the biggest innovations to the computer was the integrated circuit (IC) now known as the chip. The chip has made the computer extremely powerful and affordable so that everyone can practically can own a computer in the world today. The chip has an enormous influence in reducing the cost of the computer and literally cutting it by a factor of a million to one.
The chip was actually invented by two different companies at the same time without any company knowing about the other. However, both companies were extremely smart and combined their licensing agreements to take advantage of the huge market for technology. In order to make a computer more powerful and add innovation in the first few decades of computer creation, it usually required more and more parts, however with a chip, everything can be placed on a little piece of silicon.
The first commercial integrated circuits were sold in 1961. Whereas first were bought by the military they later were used in the first mobile calculators. The first chip had one transistor; three resisters and one capacitor which could fit on a space less than a square inch but today’s chips are much smaller and can hold more than 125 million transistors.
First Microprocessor – Computer on a chip by Intel Corp.
While the IC (integrated circuit) chip was already developed, Intel Corp. was the first to put a complete microprocessor or computer on a single chip and the first Intel chip to do so was the Intel 4004.
The Intel 4004 was able to put a central processing unit, memory, input and output controls on a single super small chip, this chip had huge implications to almost anything digital and as the years went on, Intel was able to create smaller and more powerful chips that actually less cost. Today’s personal computer has Intel 4004 chip grateful for its ability to be incredibly powerful and affordable for the consumer.
First consumer computers
If a person wanted to use a computer in the 1960’s or 1970’s, these huge devise were not only very rare being only available to students and researchers at major universities but they were also extremely costly to operate. However for those who were interested and fascinated by computers were mostly looking for ways to own their very own affordable computer. One of the first consumer computers introduced in the market was the MITS Altair 8800, it was developed in 1973 and 1974 and was first sold in 1975 as the “World’s First Minicomputer Kit to Rival Commercial Models”. The computer included an 8080 CPU, 256 byte RAM card and a new bus that had 100 pins, it was a kit so it had to be put together by the customer and sold for $400.
First Apple computers
During the mid 1970’s there were plenty of hobby computers for sale however many were difficult to put together, they had plenty of indistinguishable switches and had to be programmed using difficult languages. Steve Wozniak was a computer hobbyist and started Apple Computers with his friend named Steve Jobs. In the beginning they showed off the Apple I computer, it was equipped with a single circuit board, video interface, RAM of 8K, a keyboard and was made with affordable components including the 6502 processor that had a cost of only $20.
While roughly 200 Apple I computers were sold in 1976, in 1977 at the first West Coast Computer Faire, the Apple II was released with many of the same components, an increase in RAM and a floppy disk drive. While the first Apple computer was sold for $666.66, the second was a little more polished and more expensive selling at a cost of $1,298.
1977: Banner year for home computer
During 1977, Apple II, Commodore Pet and the Radio Shack TRS80 all became available for the domestic use. With both Apple II and TRS80 computers using floppy disk drives, it was now easier for software developers to create and sell programs to the masses. One company that started to grow and even trademarked their name in 1977 was called Microsoft.
The IBM PC
IBM has always been enormously influential on the computers that we use today. While many computers that were first created by IBM were for defense or for large government organizations and corporations. A time came when IBM started to notice that there was a tremendous amount of demand building up for home computers in the 1970’s. On seeing this, IBM developed a personal computer known as the PC in the late 1970’s and 1980, it was released for the public in August of 1981. The IBM PC grabbed the attention of the public and many businesses that realized that there must be a real demand since IBM was selling PC’s to the public.
Numerous companies came that innovated the PC and since the IBM PC was based on off the shelf parts and had an open architecture, many businesses would be able to support and even start to build computers of their own. The first IBM PC had a 4.77 MHZ Intel 8088 microprocessors, RAM of 16 KB, two 160K floppy drives and even an optional color monitor, while the price was still expensive at the cost of $1,565, many hailed this achievement as the beginning of home computing market.
While the IBM PC gained popularity not only for consumers but also for small and medium businesses, Apple computers still continued to be dominant in the market. In 1984, the Apple Macintosh was released, while not an immediate success in sales as the company hoped for, it did have one of the first GUI (graphical user interfaces) that made computing much more attractive and easy to use. In addition to this, the Apple Macintosh also had an 8 MHZ processor, RAM of 128K, a floppy disk drive and a monitor. It went into production from January 1984 to October 1985 and had a cost of around $2,500. However it lacked memory and was difficult to use with its one single floppy disk drive.
Microsoft Windows – Software increases computer sales
When the personal computer market started to build up in the early and mid 80’s many companies realized that a GUI (graphical user interface) was the best way to operate and perform tasks on a computer with ease. While several companies created operating systems for PC’s, none of them had stuck because there was no support. However Microsoft had the backing of the computer makers specifically IBM which helped them to legitimize their product and sell their OS for Windows. It is important to mention that Apple did not license out either its hardware or software to third parties reducing the growth of their computer market share. Windows was originally announced in late 1983 but did not come to market until two years later with MS Windows 1.0.
Bill Gates is the famous person for introducing Microsoft Windows. With the introduction of later editions of Windows, 2.0 and 3.0, Microsoft included desktop icons and many of the features that are now a staple of home computing today. During the late 80’s WISYWIG programs (what you see is what you get) were introduced including updates of word processing software and updated spreadsheet programs which could make these computer programs for home and small businesses easier and even more powerful to use.
Many things have changed since IBM introduced its first PC. Today, computers have practically infiltrated into every aspect of our lives, they are extremely powerful, extremely small and more affordable than ever. With the arrival of internet in the late 60’s and the growth of the World Wide Web (WWW) decades later, the computer is used as a very powerful tool for communicating and conducting commerce activities.
In fact, computer has been a tremendous engine in worldwide growth and it has helped a lot in raising the quality of life for potentially billions of people. As the computer becomes more and more sophisticated with a vast variety of other aspects of our lives, it is still unimaginable where and how the computer will continue to evolve.