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PC World

The digital century: Computing through the ages


November 24, 1999
Web posted at: 12:59 p.m. EST (1759 GMT)

by the PC World staff

(IDG) --

3000 B.C.E. to 17th Century A.D.

3000 B.C.E. An early form of the bead-and-wire abacus is used in Asia.

876 C.E. First recorded use of the symbol for zero occurs in India.

1620 Edmund Gunter of England invents the slide rule, forerunner of the electric calculator.

1642 Blaise Pascal designs the first functioning mechanical calculator, which can perform the work of six accountants; initial public reaction is less than overwhelming, but the Pascaline will remain in use until the mid-20th century.

1694 Gottfried Leibniz builds a calculating machine that uses binary representations of numbers.

19th Century

1812 Factory worker Ned Ludd inspires other workers to destroy "labor-saving" machines that they fear will take over their jobs; Luddite later comes to refer to anyone who opposes technology.

1832 Charles Babbage designs the first computer driven by external instructions; due to lack of funding, however, he never builds it.

1854 George Boole publishes his thoughts on symbolic logic, which decades later will form the basis of computer science applications.

Monday:The Digital Century: The PC

Tuesday:The Digital Century: Software and the Internet

Wednesday:The Digital Century: Tech Trailblazers

Thursday:The Digital Century: Video games & Computing's Hall of Shame

Friday:The Digital Century: Computing Through the Ages


1857 Sir Charles Wheatstone introduces continuously feeding paper tape that can be used for storing and reading data.

1876 Alexander Graham Bell, 27 years old, files a patent for the telephone.

1890 Herman Hollerith designs the punch-card tabulation machine, allowing the U.S. Census Bureau to reduce its data calculation time from ten years to two and a half.

1896 Herman Hollerith founds the Tabulating Machine Company, one of three companies that will later merge and become known as IBM.

1897 Karl Braun develops the cathode-ray tube.

Early to Mid 20th Century

1918 Two inventors build a calculating machine based on the binary numbers 1 and 0.

1937 John Atanasoff begins work on the first electronic digital computer but neglects to take out a patent; almost ten years later, the ENIAC will be based on his pioneering work. Georges Stibitz develops the first binary circuit at Bell Labs.

1938 William Hewlett and David Packard form HP in a garage in Palo Alto, California. Konrad Zuse produces the first computer that uses binary code.

1939 Georges Stibitz and Samuel Williams build the Complex Number Computer, which has 400 telephone relays and is connected to three teletype machines -- precursors to the modern-day terminal.

1944 Engineers at Harvard build the Mark I computer, but the machine breaks down repeatedly.

1946 Engineers at the University of Pennsylvania demonstrate the ENIAC, the first general-purpose electronic computer.

1947 Two workers at Bell Laboratories experiment with the first transistor.

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1949 John Mauchly develops the Short Code, the world's first high-level programming language.

The 1950s

1951 Mauchly and John Eckert build the UNIVAC I, the first commercial electronic computer, which is installed at the U.S. Census Bureau. Grace Murray Hopper develops A0, which translates programming code into binary code.

1952 The UNIVAC I successfully predicts a landslide presidential victory for candidate Dwight Eisenhower over Adlai Stevenson, despite pundit predictions to the contrary.

1953 IBM manufactures its model 650, the first mass-produced computer; the company sells 1500 units before taking it off the market in 1969.

1955 Narinder Kapany develops the optical fiber. American Airlines installs the first large database network, built by IBM, connecting 1200 teletypewriters.

1956 IBM develops the first hard drive, called RAMAC. Programmers at IBM write the computer language FORTRAN. The MANIAC I becomes the first computer program to defeat a human opponent in a game of chess.

1958 Texas Instruments builds the first integrated circuit. Bell Telephone introduces the first modems. Researchers at Bell Labs invent the laser.

1959 Using an abacus, Lee Kaichen, a Chinese professor, performs calculations faster than computers in Seattle, New York, and Taipei. Grace Murray Hopper and Charles Phillips invent COBOL. John McCarthy and Marvin Minsky form the Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT. Xerox introduces the first commercial copier.

The 1960s

1960 Digital Equipment Corporation develops the PDP-1, the first commercial computer equipped with a keyboard and monitor.

1961 John Kelly at Bell Labs programs a computer to sing a song; the tune it warbles: "Daisy Bell (Bicycle Built for Two)."

1962 The People's National Bank in Gouster, Virginia, installs the world's first ATM; it isn't a success, however, and its maker eventually goes out of business. Programmers at MIT create the first video game.

1963 Douglas Engelbart develops the mouse at the Stanford Research Institute; two decades later, the Macintosh will make it a standard component.

1964 Computer dating services become a fad. Zenith develops the first commercial product that uses an integrated circuit -- a hearing aid. The American Standard Association adopts ASCII as the standard code for data transfer.

1965 Digital Equipment Corporation builds the first minicomputer; it costs $18,000. The simplified computer language BASIC is developed; it will later become the standard language for PCs.

1968 Intel is formed. For the first time, a computer (HAL 9000) costars in a movie, Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey; as its memory is unplugged, it sings "Daisy Bell (Bicycle Built for Two)" -- the same tune John Kelly's computer had sung seven years earlier.

1969 Honeywell releases its H316 "Kitchen Computer," the first home computer; priced at $10,600 in the Neiman Marcus catalog, the computer can plan menus and take care of other household business. ARPAnet, precursor to the Internet, debuts. ATMs become more widely used in banks. "Bubble memory" makes its debut, allowing computers to retain memory after being shut off.

The 1970s

1970 The floppy disk is introduced. Intel develops the first memory chip, which stores 1024 bits of data. Xerox establishes its Palo Alto Research Center. The daisy wheel printer appears on the market. Bell Labs develops Unix.

1971 Texas Instruments introduces the pocket calculator. Dot matrix printers appear. Niklaus Wirth develops PASCAL. The first speech-recognition software, Hearsay, is developed in India.

1972 Ray Tomlinson invents e-mail. The first home video games are designed for use on the TV, and Atari releases the first arcade game, Pong. Programmers at Bell Labs develop the computer language C.

1974 Congress passes the Privacy Act, which gives the public greater control over the collection and use of personal information.

1975 First widely marketed personal computer, the Altair 8800, debuts. Liquid crystal displays are marketed. Bob Metcalfe at Xerox develops Ethernet. The first word-processing software, the Electric Pencil, is developed. The federal government's antitrust suit against IBM goes to trial; the government will drop the case in 1982, but not before producing some 30 million pages of documentation. IBM introduces the laser printer. Microsoft, the unofficial partnership of Bill Gates and Paul Allen, achieves sales of $16,000.

1976 Data General unveils its computer chips in the navel of a belly dancer at the National Computer Conference in New York. Gary Kildall develops CP/M. IBM develops the ink jet printer. Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs form Apple Computer.

1977 Bill Gates and Paul Allen officially found Microsoft. Apple introduces the Apple II, the first preassembled personal computer; the Apple II will lead the PC market until the IBM PC appears in 1981. Tandy and Commodore release PCs with built-in monitors -- no need for a TV hookup.

1978 WordStar is released and quickly becomes the most popular word processing program.

1979 Steve Jobs visits Xerox PARC. Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston introduce VisiCalc ("visible calculator"), the first killer app.

The 1980s

1980 dBASE II appears on the market.

1981 IBM introduces the IBM PC with an MS-DOS operating system.

1982 Dr. Barney Clark receives the first artificial heart; a microprocessor controls its functions. Andrew Fluegelman creates the first shareware, PC-Talk. Compact disc players are introduced. Osborne builds the first PC portable. The first IBM PC clones are marketed. Time magazine names the PC "Man of the Year."

1983 Workers lay the Boston/New York/Washington, D.C. fiber-optic link. Apple introduces the $9,995 Lisa, the first computer to use a graphical user interface and a mouse. IBM launches the PC-XT, the first computer with a built-in hard drive, and also introduces the PCjr.

1984 CD-ROM debuts; Apple releases the Macintosh. 2400-baud modems are introduced. Hewlett-Packard markets the LaserJet, the first personal laser printer. Novelist William Gibson coins the term cyberspace.

1985 America Online is founded. Microsoft develops Windows 1.0 for the IBM PC. Bill Gates and Apple CEO John Sculley sign a confidential agreement granting Microsoft the right to use aspects of Apple's graphical interface in its software, while acknowledging the Mac OS as the inspiration for Microsoft Windows. Nintendo arrives in the United States.

1986 Microsoft goes public. The National Science Foundation approves funding for the Internet backbone.

1988 Microsoft releases Windows 2.03, whose overlapping windows resemble the Macintosh's, and Apple files suit; six years and some $10 million later the court will decide in Microsoft's favor. Steve Jobs introduces NeXT. The Internet Worm, a piece of self-replicating software, wriggles through the Internet.

1989 Tim Berners-Lee invents the World Wide Web. Xerox files suit against Apple for stealing its graphical interface designs for the Lisa and Macintosh computers; after selling only 60,000 or so Lisas, Apple discontinues the model and buries the remaining units in a landfill in Utah. HDTV appears in Japan.

The 1990s and beyond...

1990 Intel introduces the i486 chip. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission begins its investigation of Microsoft. Microsoft sales hit $1 billion; Windows hits 3.0.

1993 Personal digital assistants (handheld computers) introduced. Intel releases the Pentium chip. Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina design Mosaic, the first graphical Web browser. The Apple Newton debuts.

1994 GPS auto navigation systems become available in U.S. Intel ships 2 million flawed Pentium chips. Iomega introduces the Zip drive and disks. Marc Andreessen helps found Netscape.

1995 Flat-screen TVs introduced. Microsoft releases Windows 95. Pixar Animation Studios and Disney release the first full-length computer-generated feature film, Toy Story. Microsoft introduces Windows 95 and Office 95. DVD technology is standardized. Jeffrey Bezos founds Netscape goes public.

1996 Set-top boxes allow users to surf the Web through their TV. Palm Pilot debuts.

1997 DVD players become available in the United States.

1998 Diamond Multimedia introduces the portable MP3. The Starr Report is released online; within hours, the Hacking for Girlies group breaks into the New York Times Web site and brings it down for nine hours. Apple releases its candy-colored iMacs. E-commerce explodes as a new shopping medium and some 30 million households are purchasing goods over the Internet. Clarion and Microsoft introduce the Auto PC. Share prices of Yahoo and Infoseek stocks skyrocket.

1999 The Linux OS hits the big time. AOL completes its acquisition of Netscape. Microsoft, with 27,320 employees, reaches $14.48 billion in sales. E-Trade experiences outages three days in a row.

2000 The Y2K crisis hits -- end of civilization as we know it.

Marine Corps headquarters at Pentagon hit by computer virus
October 22, 1999
Future computers will feel your pain
October 22, 1999
Palm computer goes multicolor for students
August 5, 1999
Moving toward molecular chips
July 20, 1999

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