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The History of Computers

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Autor:   •  December 4, 2010  •  Research Paper  •  2,311 Words (10 Pages)  •  1,078 Views

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The purpose of this paper is to highlight the history of the personal computer. The research in this paper shows that personal computers were not met with a warm reception when they were first introduced. Personal computers or PC's have impacted the culture and the way that people live their ordinary lives. At first, computers were huge mainframe computers that had to be built on site and were only used for business. The invention of the PC made it easier for people to create new hobbies, store information, or perform mathematical duties that were almost always done by hand. The invention of the PC opened the door for its younger generation; such as laptop computers and Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs).

"Who invented the computer?" is not a question with a simple answer. The real answer is that many inventors contributed to the history of computers and that a computer is a complex piece of machinery made up of many parts, each of which can be considered a separate invention. The personal computer has revolutionized business and personal activities and even the way people talk and think; however, its development has been less of a revolution than an evolution and convergence of three critical elements - thought, hardware, and software. Although the PC traces its lineage to the mainframe and minicomputers of the 1950s and 1960s, the conventional thought that was prevalent during the first thirty years of the computer age saw no value in a small computer that could be used by individuals.

When researching the history of the PC many sources claim that the MITS Altair 8800 was the first computer. The Altair, introduced in January 1975, was the first computer to be produced in fairly high quantity, and it was the first computer to run Microsoft software. Upon further research it was found that in fact, the first personal computer was created in 1950. It was named Simon. Edmund Berkeley first described Simon in his 1949 book, "Giant Brains, or Machines That Think" and went on to publish plans to build Simon in a series of Radio Electronics issues in 1950 and 1951. By 1959, 400 Simon computers were sold (Veit, p.38). By 1960, the computer was king. Companies hired armies of technicians and programmers to write its operating programs and software, fix it, and allocate the precious computer time. The capability of the machines was more than a mere mortal could fathom, but gathering raw data and "keying" it in so the computer could "crunch the numbers" was a complicated and time-consuming task.

Frustrations abounded, computer errors were called "glitches," and the phrases "garbage in/garbage out," "It's a computer mistake," and "Sorry, the computer's down and we can't do anything," were introduced into the lexicon.

The turnabout for computers came in 1968. Two engineers for Fairchild Electronics decided to set out on their own and open an electronics firm. Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore began a small company called the Intel Corporation. The company started with only 12 employees and the first year's revenues were only $2,672.00. The focus of their company was initially semiconductor computer memory. They developed a number of these chips because they were practical and affordable. In 1971 an event happened that has changed the world, and set off the microcomputer revolution (Shirley, p. 24).

Intel was approached by a Japanese calculator company called Busicom about designing a set of chips for a programmable calculator and advanced Intel $60,000 for the project. The original design that they were given was for multiple custom chips, but one of Intel's engineers, Ted Hoff, thought the plan was too complex. He developed a single-chip, a general purpose logic device that would retrieve its instructions form semiconductor memory. From his design the Intel 4004 microprocessor was created. This device was only 1/8 inch wide and 1/6 inch long, but it contained as much computing power as the ENIAC, a room sized mainframe of the time. Intel purchased the rights for its product back from the Japanese firm. This small chip was a key development in the history of the personal computer (Pask, p.256). Intel priced this new chip, the 4004, at an astonishing low price of $200. This allowed electronic hobbyists to purchase it for "homebrew" computer clubs. One such hobbyist was Steven Wozniak. He and his friend, Steven Jobs were both electronics enthusiasts that work for Silicon Valley companies. Wozniak liked to dabble in computer and electronic projects, so he began the design for the Apple I in 1976. It wasn't really taken serious by the market, but his next design, the Apple II became an instant hit. It was the first computer to come in a plastic case, and included color graphics (Thorne, p.289). Apple introduced the floppy disk drive in 1978, allowing Apple II users to store data on something other than the cumbersome and unreliable tape cassettes that had been used up to that point.

IBM, the world leader in computers of the time wanted to cash in on the new personal computer craze. Their engineers began developing a computer, but they needed software to run on it. They were running out of time to beat the deadline, so they decided to find another company to develop the software for them. Someone suggested a small company called "Microsoft". When Bill Gates was initially approached about the project, Gates was unsure if Microsoft could complete the large, complex program within the deadline, so he directed them to a competitor, Digital Research. As luck would have it IBM was unable to come to an agreement with this company and returned to Microsoft. Gates decided to take on the project (Wallace 167-171). Since he didn't have time to create the operating system from scratch, he decided to buy the rights to a rudimentary system from a programmer in Seattle named Patterson. He paid $50,000 for the program. He then cleaned it up and modified it to work for IBM. He named his program QDOS, or "Quick and Dirty Operating System" (Wallace 182-3). After IBM released their initial PC, many spin-off "IBM compatibles" flooded the market. These clones helped to expand the PC market because they were offered at lower prices.

The Sinclair ZX-80 PC, which hit the market in 1980, used the same Z-80 chip as Commodore's PET and the Tandy TRS-80. The ZX-80 had 1K RAM and 4K ROM. Developed by British entrepreneur Clive Sinclair, the ZX-80 meant that people could enter the computer revolution for under $200. Its small size and price attracted


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