A History Lesson

Blaise Pascal

A small history lesson

In case you don’t care for history at all you better skip this post :).

A computer is a common device to us. We are used of working with it every day. Although the personal computer has only been booming the last 30 years the idea of the computer has been around much longer.
In the first half of the 17th century mathematicians were trying to produce a machine that could perform mathematical functions.

It was Blaise Pascal, a leading french mathematician who successfully created the first mecanical “adding device”. Fun fact, the programming language Pascal, which is still commonly used is named after this person, in honour of his contribution to the development of the modern computer.

In 1804 the first automatied punched card machine was introduced, this machine was used to operate weaving looms. This was the first known use for programmed instructions.
Although around the same time a British inventor, named Charles Babbage, designed a “problem solving” machine which had mecanical memory to store the result of the calculations.
His partner, Augusta Ada, suggested to use a binary system rather than a decimal system for the data storage.

Somewhere in 1850 a British mathematician, named George Boole (see it coming?), realized that complex mathematical problems could be solved by reducing them to a series of questions, each question could be answered positive or negative represented by either 1 or 0 and so it happened, the binary numbering system and the “Boolean” was founded.

It was not until the early 20th century that the world saw the next stage in computer history, the very first electronic machine, capable of solving simple differential questions. George Stibitz constructed this complex number calulator in 1937. This was the very first binarny adding machine, the beginning of all digital computers.

The Atanasoff-Berry Computer

Another fun fact, in 1939 the Atanasoff-Berry computer was built (named after the creators). The first general purpose electronic digital computer. When the creators contacted IBM about this machine, the company replied that it would never be interested in an electronic computing machine.

As we all know, during the second world war a lot of inventions were done and the first operational general purpose computer was built for Germany by Konrad Zuse. This machine used the binary logic which was discussed before and vacuum tubes. But when Zuse asked for funding (he wanted to use this machine to crack war-time codes), the request was refused. Hitler refused because he believed the war would be over before the project could be finished.

There was however an English genius who pursued the work of Zuse. Alan Turing comstructed the Automatic Computer Engine which could process 25000 characters per second (which was a massive amount in those days).
A few years later in 1942 John Mauchly and J Presper Eckert built a machine to compute artillery firing tables for the American goverment. This computer had a mass of 30 tons and contained about 100000 electronic components including 17000 vacuum tubes (try to fit that under your desk).

And so the story continues, improvements were made and the idea of a computer kept growing. Jack Kilby (Texas instruments) and Robert Noyce (Fairchile Semicontor) both discovered that resistors, capacitors and transistors could be made from semiconductor material and a vast number of transistors could be etched onto a single silicon chip. And do it happened, the age of integrated circuits had arrived.
From this point forward computer became smaller while the power and performance improved.

Around the mid 60s the first IBM mainframe computer was introduced (designed by Gene Amadahl).

Altair 8800

By 1970, Intel had created a memory chip that could store one dazzeling kilobyte of information. In the beginning of the 70s the company managed to integrate the arithmetic and logic functions of several chips into 1 chip. This was world’s first microprocessor. This, ofcourse, enabled the development of the first microcomputers. The earliest microcomputer was developed in 1975 by Ed Roberts, this machine used the intel microprocessor and had less than 1 kb of memory. The name of this machine: Altair 8800 (:o! assassins creed!).
A few others quickly followed hereafter: TRS-80, Commodore Business Machine PET and the apple 11.

Now as you may have guessed, the market for microcomputer software was also developing at this time and it was in 1974 that Bill Gates and Paul Allen developed Microsoft BASIC which was used by all of these early microcomputers.
Now we probably get to more familiar events, like for example in 1981, Microsoft’s new operating system was release: MS-DOS. By 1984 this has become the standard by all microcomputer suppliers.

And the rest.. is history ;-)

As you can see, we came a long way. The truth, however, is that the computer business and the improvement of computer hardware is a thing from the last 10 – 15 years. Computers get faster, better, more performant. If you want, you can buy a better computer, with better hardware, every single month.

I know history is not exactly the most interesting thing to read through, but I do hope you enjoyed (even if it was only a tiny little bit)..


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