The History of Computers: An Essay

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction: The Dawn of Computing
  2. The Mechanical Beginnings: From Abacus to Analytical Engine
  3. The Birth of Binary Logic and Its Impact on Computing
  4. The Era of Innovations: Babbage to the First Relay Computer
  5. The Advent of Electronic Computing: World War II and Beyond
  6. The Transition to Transistors: The Second Generation of Computers
  7. Integrated Circuits and Minicomputers: The Third Generation
  8. The Microprocessor Revolution: The Fourth Generation and Personal Computing
  9. Conclusion: The Future of Computing and Its Infinite Possibilities

Introduction: The Dawn of Computing

The evolution of the computer has been an ongoing struggle with technology. The first computer created was in the third century. The Abacus was developed for counting and since this time man has been pushing the limits to create machines that can perform tasks faster and more efficient than human possibility.

The Mechanical Beginnings: From Abacus to Analytical Engine

The pre-computer age was a time in which mathematic engineers battled with the creating somewhat of a more efficient abacus. John Napier created the logarithm table to simplify calculations needed for astronomy. The Napier bones were a set of bones that when place in order could show the product of computations. After this the more popular Pascaline invented by Blaise Pascal was an automatic desk-top machine that could add and subtract. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz invented a calculating machine that could not only add and subtract, but could also divide and multiply. While these men were working on mechanical calculators, other inventors discovered theories and relationships between logic and mathematics.

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The Birth of Binary Logic and Its Impact on Computing

George Boole s invention marked a milestone in the nineteenth century. He discovered the significance of the algebraic binary zero-logic system. He simplified logic into a two-value system, binary notation, which is used today. He wrote and studied about the relationship between logic and mathematics, which later lead to the development of the electronic computer. His discoveries allowed Charles Babbage to produce machines that could perform logical operations.

The Era of Innovations: Babbage to the First Relay Computer

In 1822 Babbage created the first automatic calculating machine, the Difference Engine. Later in 1833 he designed the Analytical Engine the first universal automatic calculator. His designs had the same elements as the modern computer: memory, control, arithmetic units, input and output. He is known as the grandfather of the modern computer.

Seven years after the Analytical Engine was introduced the first relay computer was designed by George Stibitz. He introduced the idea of a remote data processor. Unlike its predecessors it could perform complex calculations. The Complex Number Calculator was developed for Bell Laboratories and was the first calculator that could operate from a remote teletype terminal.

The Advent of Electronic Computing: World War II and Beyond

The first generation of computers was from 1945-1956. The pressures of fighting in World War II encouraged the government to advance the technology in the United States to compete with Germany s technology. During this time computation speeds ranged from 500 to 1000 calculations per second, a phenomenal increase for the pre-computer stage. During the 1950s vacuum-tube computer were built and marketed and magnetic drums were used for data storage. This meant that computers were tremendously large and often over heated because of their size and the amount of energy that they consumed. Computer had individual languages and were difficult to program.

In 1941 German s, Konrad Zuse, developed a computer that could create designs for airplanes and missiles. In 1943 the British gained an edge on Germany s technology by designing the colossus which could crack Germany s computer codes. The Colossus was designed by Alan Turing.

Howard Aiken led the way in American computer technology for World War Two. Aiken worked with IBM to create the Automatic Sequencing Controlled Calculator known as the Mark I. It was used to design gunnery and ballistic plans for the United States Navy. Aiken continued to work with IBM and developed the Mark II and the all-electronic Mark III, and the Mark IV for the U.S Air Force.

In 1944 The Ballistic Research Laboratory of the United States asked for someone to recompute the strategies for the use of missies and guns in the war. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly submitted proposals and created the Electronic Numerical Integration Computer. Mauchly and Eckert went on to work for the Sperry Rand Corporation and the Unisys Corporation as well. In 1969 Ecket was given the National Science Foundation National Medal of Science for his contributes to computing. By 1959 Mauchly had formed Mauchly and Associates. It was here that he developed the critical path method (CPM), which was used for scheduling. Mauchly s last accomplishment was the creation of the dynatred and systems which predicted the weather and stock market trends.

The Hungarian scientist Neumann published three papers on quantum theory as well as one on game theory and one on formal logic and the mathematic system. In 1946 he re-introduced the idea of stored programs; this was revolutionary because at this time programs were on push cards or wired control panels. In 1947 he created the mathematical analyzer and numerical integrator and computer which allowed the United States to create the world’s first hydrogen bomb in 1954. After his contribution to the war, he returned to his study of mathematics and quantum mechanics and went on to prove that Schrodiger’s wave mechanics were equal to Heisenberg s matrix mechanics.

Norbert Wiener developed the concept of cybernetics. Cybernetics is the theoretical study of controlled processes in electronic and mathematical analysis of the flow of information in mechanical and biological systems. He designed a central processing unit which allowed all computers to function from same source. Wiener refused to construct any other machine or contribute any other studies to the military.

The first generation of computers can be characterized not only because they were built to aid in the World War II, but because each was built for a specific task. Until modern computers they were not versatile and could only perform few operations. Each computer had a different language that instructed it how to operate. They all used vacuum tubes which made them gigantic in size this not only meant that they were expensive but that they could not be used for business or personal use.

The Transition to Transistors: The Second Generation of Computers

The second generation of computers was from 1956-1963. In 1947 transistors were invented in the Bell Laboratories. Transistors along with magnetic core memory transistors made the second generation of computers smaller, faster, more energy efficient, and more reliable. By the late 1940s transistors started to replace vacuum tubes in televisions, and radios. By 1956 transistors were in computers.

The transistor computers could move at speeds ranging from 2,000 computations per second in the small machines, to 500,000 per second in the large machines. The early supercomputers were Stretch by IBM and LARC by Sperry Rand. These computers were too powerful and expensive for use among small business and households. Both the Stretch and LARC could store massive amounts of data and were popular amongst atomic scientists.

Thomas Watson combined three computer companies in 1911 and these would soon be known as IBM after 1925. Watson and his developers created machines that would perform better than the Mark I. In 1947 they created the Selective Sequence Electronic Calculator this was the most powerful and versatile computer availed.

After the Korean war the IBM designed the 701 it was one forth the size of the pervious computer and could process information twenty-five times faster. They also introduced the 700 the first family computer available. In 1954 they released the 650 and later that year the 704 as well as two more in 1955 and in 1956. IBM was on its way to becoming the largest computer producer in the world.

Integrated Circuits and Minicomputers: The Third Generation

The third generation do for computers was from 1964-1971, it marked the invention of the integrated circuit (IC), and the development of operating systems. Jack Kilby, an engineer of Texas Instruments developed the IC in 1957 and by 1964 it was in use. The development of the IC was significant because it pooled the role of the transistors and other circuits into a chip. These new IC chips were one sixteenth of a square inch and a few hundredths of an inch thick. Furthermore, these chips were produced through a photographic process and were inexpensive.

Computers that used ICs were less expensive and could perform up to ten million additions per second and had greater memory. In 1965 the first minicomputer was introduced by the Digital Equipment corporation. Small business brought the minicomputer not only because of its lower price but because of its smaller size.

In the early 1970s large-scale integration (LSI) circuit chips were made. This helped decrease the size of computers, as well and signified a change in the generation. In the 1980s the largest scale integration chip was made (VLSI). It could hold five times as many transistors as the LSI.

In 1969 the microprocessor was developed. It was a general-purpose computer that could be programmed to do numerous jobs. The microprocessor created a compact, complete and inexpensive computer that was hounded by businesses. The operating system had been developed which allowed computers to perform many tasks at a time. The battle of vacuum tubes was over ICs were in place and chips revolutionized the size of computers and moved them into the fourth generation.

The Microprocessor Revolution: The Fourth Generation and Personal Computing

The fourth generation of computers started in 1971 and goes until the present day. During this time the popularity and technology of computers has become epic.

The Altair 8800 in 1975 was the first real microcomputer. In 1975 Stephen Wozniak and Jobs started to build their own microprocessor. They developed the BASIC language for programming and playing games and marketed it as the Apple I. After this they merged all the components into one circuit board revised the Apple I into the Apple II and created the Apple Computer Corporation. The Apple II was sleeker than the Apple I, and weighted only twelve pounds and had a plastic case. In 1984 they created the Macintosh, the easiest computer of all time to use and soon had nine hundred and eighty-three million dollars and four thousand, seven hundred employees. In 1985 Jobs has a disagreement and left to create his own company NeXT. He planned to create scholars’ workstations for universities. In 1988, after NeXT computer systems developed Jobs idea unfortunately the company was not successful.

In 1972 Seymour Cray founded Cray Research Incorporated. Their first computer was the Cray-1. It was the first effective use of vector processing, which allowed different parts of the computer to be used at once. Three year later they designed the Cray-2 which had six to twelve times the speed as the previous model and the largest internal memory available. That same year Cray began working on plans for the Cray-3 which would have billion bytes of memory and process information five to ten times as fast than then the Cray-2. He won the Engineering Leadership Recognition award for his ground breaking technological developments.

The next challenge for computer developers was the reduce the size. By the 1980 s VLSI had not only diminished some of the size and price but had made computers more powerful and efficient. In 1971 Intel created the 4004, the first microprocessor. Intel s technology took the IC a step further by taking all of the programming elements and putting them into a central processing unit. This was significant because previously ICs had been designed for a specific task and Intel s 4004 could do a number of tasks. The power of the microprocessor overflowed into all areas of science and engineering. Microwaves ovens, televisions, radios and automobiles used microprocessors.

The microprocessor’s efficiency and price made it ideal for families and businesses. In the mid to late 1970s manufactures began designing computers for the use of small business and everyday people. Small business and families demanded computers with word processors, spread sheets, and video games. Commodore, Radio Shack and Apple jumped into the market, and provide inexpensive computers that came with the software demanded. Arcade games like Pac Man and home gaming systems were developed. Atari 2600 encouraged consumers to explore the powers of computer technology.

Throughout the 1980s many companies tried to take advantage of the popularity of computers but only a few survived the fierce competition. The copy right laws hurt some companies while allowing other to clone their models and ideas.

This was a time when there were many manufactures, each competing to have the fastest computer, and using everything that IBM had created. By 1979 there were over a million computers in the United States. While Motorola marketed a versatile 16-bit chip, that could work with an add-on; Intel found a cheaper way to increase performance by using a 16-bit internally and 8-bits in the data bus. Texas Instruments developed a Personal Computer that used ROM cartridges for programs and games. Epson generated better dot matrix printer, the mx-80 which became an industry standard. Hayes marketed its first modem, and set the pace and compatibility for modem development.

In 1980 Xerox introduced the graphical Star Workstation. This was the first graphical user interface. They gave a demo of their work to the Apple corporation, and they soon adapted it into Apple s design. Hewlett-Packard was leading in the development of PCs. They made the first 32-bit microprocessor that would could operate in cycles of 55 billion per second. Although Hewlett-Packard had the most colors, Commodore developed a computer that became the best-selling computer of all time in 1982. It was the VIC-20 with 5KB of RAM expandable to 32KBS. Hayes created the Smartmodem which could transfer data at 1,200bps.

In 1982 Microsoft released FORTRAN for the PC, and COBOL for MS- DOS. Peter Norton created Norton Unities, software for recovering files. WordPerfect 1.0 and Lotus 1-2-3 were introduced. Compaq produced a portable computer that was virtually a clone of the IBM PC. Epson manufactured the HX- 20 which was the first notebook size portable computer. Compaq continued to clone IBM s computers and became IBM s biggest competitor. While Compaq and IBM competed for the sales of sophisticated PC market, Commodore took control over the market by offering cheaper prices. Commodore developed the Commodore 64, with a price of two hundred dollars, it became the best-selling computer of all time. Despite the sales of PCs Apple was number one with annual sales of over one billion dollars.

By 1983 the impact of the computer and the path that they would take was becoming clearer. Time magazine named the personal computer ‘Man of the Year’. Microsoft released Microsoft Word 1.0, which crushed the competition became the best-selling work processor. IBM introduced the PC-Draw their first IBM PC based graphics program. Tandy, NEC and Epson were competing in notebook sales. Tandy created a model which sold of under five hundred dollars and was the easiest to use. By the end of 1983 there were over ten million computers in the Unites States.

In 1984 the influence of computers was becoming clear. Dell computer company was founded, a computer museum was opened in Boston, and Bill Gates was featured on the cover of Time Magazine. The 3.5-inch floppy disk was introduced and Haynes created modems that could send data at 2,400 bps. Apple introduced its Macintosh with a graphic user interface allowing user to use a mouse to make command rather than typing them in like on a PC. Meanwhile, IBM compatible computers were becoming more wide-spread.

In 1985 Microsoft and IBM begin to discuss the development for a new operating system. Gateway 2000 is founded and now competes with Dell for mail order computers sales. Intel develops the 80386 which can access four gigabytes of memory. Microsoft continues to influence the PCs with the development of windows 1.0 and the introduction of over twenty new languages and operating systems. A Vision, becomes the first graphics program that is independent and based on Windows; a trend which is exists today. Aldus Corp. create PageMaker for Macintosh which begins the age of desktop publishing.

In 1986 Apple markets the Mac Plus, while Compaq beats IBM and introduces the first 386-based PC compactable machine. IMB creates the first laptop with a PC converter and Toshiba quickly duplicates it and wins kills IMB it its laptop sales. Microsoft goes on the New York Stock Exchange and at twenty-one dollars per share and Bill Gates becomes the youngest billionaire ever.

In 1987 Hayes creates the Integrated Service Digital Network which can transfer information four times faster than telephone lines. Microsoft purchases Forethought Inc., which has developed power point, and they make it available for Macintosh and the PC. Microsoft sells Windows 2.0 and Microsoft Works and stock shares hit one hundred dollars. Microsoft and IMB introduce OS/21.0 in hopes that it will replace MS-DOS. IBM introduces the PS/2 PC which has a floppy drive and a (MCA) Micro-Channel Architecture in hopes to separate it from other PCs. They do not allow others to copy the MCA. This turned out to be IBM s biggest mistake. The Computer Security Act was put into effect to secure classified information and start security training.

In 1988 there are 45 million PCs in the United States. Apple files a suite against Hewlett-Packard for using their graphical interface kit. Microsoft creates Microsoft Publisher and PC Works.

In 1989 there are more than one hundred million computers in the world. Tim Berners-Lee develops the language and protocol that leads to the creation of the World Wide Web. Creative Labs introduces SoundBlaster live for PCs, with digitized voice input and output. The GriD systems creates the first pen-based computer. Intel releases the 486DX Processor and Hayes introduced an improvement in ISDN technology. Poqet introduces the Poqet PC, the only MS-DOS compatible pocket size computer. Motorola markets its 68040 processor with memory management and a FPU built inside.

In 1990 Microsoft comes on the internet with its release of Russian DOS 4.01 The World which is the first commercial internet provider. Microsoft and IBM stop developing an operating system together. IBM chooses not go along with Microsoft s vision; IBM s second major mistake. Creative Labs makes the best-selling add-on board for the PC, the 8-bit stereo sound system with CD-ROM interface and 20-voice FM synthesis.

In 1991 the World Wide Web is launched. Gopher is created at the University of Minnesota. This helps people search for information online. Intel tried to bring down the costs of its chips with the 486SX, which has 1.18 million transistors and no math coprocessor. IBM and Microsoft are no longer working together so they change the name of OS/2 to Windows NT. Sony, Philips and Microsoft create CD-ROM for text to video CD-ROM software.

In 1992 Bill Gates is worth over four billion dollars and is the second richest person the United States. Microsoft sell over one million copies of Windows 3.1 within its first month. Microsoft and IBM agree to end all connection to each other and sign a document that allows them to share a source code in the current operating system. Intel releases the 486DX2 with a central processing unit that operates with 1.2 million transistors, and with the first x86 chip with an external bus, working at half the core speed. There are over one million computers that are on the Internet.

In 1993 there are fifty World Wide Web servers, and Bill Clinton put the white House online. Microsoft releases Windows NT 3.1, Microsoft Office 4.0 MS-DOS which includes DoubleSpace Compression utilities, Stac Electronics sues Microsoft for right over DoubleSpace utilities. Intel releases the Pentium Processor, which moves at 60MHz. Gateway 2000 breaks a million computers in sales. Steven Jobs hires John Scully as president of Apple, which will hurt Apple later. Scully encourages the creation of a palmtop computer call the Newton. The Environmental Protection Agency establishes the Energy Star guidelines to decrease the amount of energy that computers use.

In 1994 as the internet celebrates its twenty fifth anniversary, Marc Anderson and James H. Clark develop Netscape Communications and introduce Netscape Navigator. Commodore Computer which sold the most popular computer of all time the Commodore 64, filed for bankruptcy. Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, U.S West, Telstra, Deutsche Telekom, NTT, Olivetti, Anderson and Alcatel work together to develop software for interactive television. Microsoft develops software for Visa so that customers can do international electronic shopping. Microsoft releases its operating system Windows 95. Microsoft soon signs a consent agreement with the United States Department of Justice and the European Union because of suspicion of antitrust violations. Microsoft can no longer collect money from distributors who used MS-Dos and Windows as their operating system.

In 1995 Apple allows other companies to copy the Macintosh computer but the PC has already conquered the market. Microsoft joined forces with DreamWorks SKG and formed DreamWorks Interactive to create multimedia software for households. Microsoft joins forces with the NBC to create interactive television. Netscape shares open to the public at twenty-eight dollars per share and close at fifty-eight dollars per share, creating the first largest increase in the history in the New York Stock Exchange. Intuit the maker of Quicken, joins with American Express, Chase Manhattan Bank and Wells Fargo to allow customers to enter their accounts through dial up modems. Microsoft announces its intentions to buy Intuit, but the U.S Department of Justice threatens to sue Microsoft and Microsoft withdraws the statement. Microsoft releases Windows 95, Microsoft Office 95; and both are huge successes. Intel destroys 1.5 million chips because of flaws. They release the Pentium Pro (P6) with 5.5 million transistors.

In 1996 IBM and Sears sell Prodigy online to investors as Internet Wireless. AT&T creates WorldNet and gives its customs free hours. Java allows applets to be run on web sites. Telephony lets Internet customers call long distance without paying long distance fees. Sony introduces the VAIO multimedia computer. Bill Clinton signs the Communication Decency Act which bans obscene material from the internet.

Conclusion: The Future of Computing and Its Infinite Possibilities

The fifth generation of computers starts at the present and goes into the future. Each day there are more advancements in computer technology. The Hal9000 from the novel ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ is the ideal fifth generation computer. It is human like and has visual input and can learn from mistakes and communicates like a human. The idea of life like computers or robots, still exists. Innovations like the superconductor which allows electricity to flows without opposition increases the speed of the exchange of data.

I predict that the future of computers will not only offer more educational opportunities through the internet but medical and scientific advancements. History shows that the computers have become for important over time. They are more sophisticated, and capable of doing more human tasks each day. Today we rely on computer for many important things, and they are significant part of our society. I think eventually that gap between human beings and machines will decline and computers will evolve into subhuman machines capable of almost all human actions. Computers will surely be a part of the future and their power has infinite possibilities.

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