Computers

CDC 1604 Released

CDC 1604October 16, 1959

Control Data Corporation (CDC) releases their CDC 1604 computer, the world’s fastest computer at the time and the first commercially successful fully-transistorized computer. The 1604 was CDC’s first computer, primarily designed by engineer Seymour Cray, who would later go on to found Cray Research and be called the “father of the supercomputer”.

Steve Jobs’ NeXT Computer

NeXT ComputerOctober 12, 1988

Hailed by Steve Jobs as a computer “five years ahead of its time”, NeXT, Inc. introduces their NeXT Computer. Due to its cube-shaped case, the computer was often referred to as “The Cube” or “The NeXT Cube”, which led to the subsequent model offically being named “NeXTcube“. The new computer introduced several innovations to personal computers, such as including an optical storage disk drive, a built-in digital signal processor for voice recognition, and an object-oriented development environment that was truly years ahead of its time.

While not a commercial success, the NeXT Computer and the technology developed for it have a long and storied history. Tim Berners-Lee developed the first world wide web server and web browser on a NeXT computer, crediting the NeXT development tools for allowing him to rapidly develop the now ubiquitous Internet system. After Apple purchased NeXT in 1997, they used the operating system of the NeXT computers to form the base of Mac OS X. Eventually Apple’s iOS, which runs the iPhone and iPad, was itself based upon Mac OS X and hence draws its lineage to NeXT. Finally, the object-oriented development environment that Berners-Lee used to create the World Wide Web is the forerunner of the development environment that today’s programmers use to develop iPhone and iPad Apps. If it wasn’t for the NeXT Computer back in 1988, you may not have your Angry Birds today.

ENIAC Retired

ENIACOctober 2, 1955

Considered the world’s first fully electronic computer, after eleven years of continuous service the ENIAC computer was retired from service.

Ethernet is Drafted

Ethernet RJ45September 30, 1980

Digital, Intel, and Xerox release version 1.0 of the Ethernet specification, known as the Blue Book. Since that time, Ethernet has evolved into the de facto networking standard for local area networks (LAN) in businesses and in the home.

Richard Stallman Announces the GNU Project

GNU LogoSeptember 27, 1983

Promising a “Free Unix”, Richard Stallman announces that he is going to write a complete Unix-compatible software system he calls GNU (which stands for Gnu’s Not Unix). This is a significant milestone in the history of open source and free software. Stallman would later found the Free Software Foundation.

The First Personal Computer You Never Heard Of

MCM/70September 25, 1973

Micro Computer Machines of Canada introduces their MCM/70 microcomputer at a programmer’s user conference in Toronto. Possibly the earliest commercially manufactured device that can now be considered a personal computer, the MCM/70 gained customers at companies such as Chevron, Mutual Life Insurance, NASA, and the US Army. The company worked closely with Intel on the design of their computer and made very early use of the Intel 8008 processor, of which the basic design was used for the future Intel 8086. However, failing to generate venture capital in the Canadian marketplace, the MCM/70 never gained significant market acceptance and by the time the Apple II and other early personal computers were being released, the MCM/70 was relegated to a footnote in history.

CompuServe Launches MicroNET

CompuServe and MicroNETSeptember 24, 1979

CompuServe launches the first consumer-oriented online information service, which they called MicroNET. This marked the first time a consumer had access to services such as e-mail. The service was not favored internally within the business-oriented CompuServe, but as the service became a hit, they renamed the service CompuServe Information Service, or CIS. By the mid-1980’s CompuServe was the largest consumer information service in the world and half their revenue came from CIS. In 1989 CompuServe connected its proprietary e-mail system to the Internet e-mail system, making it one of the first commercial Internet services. However, CompuServe did not compete well with America On-Line or independent Internet Service Providers in the 1990’s and lost its dominant market position.

Computer Code Protected by Copyright

Copyright SymbolSeptember 22, 1986

The US District Court for the Northern District of California rules that computer code is protected under copyright law. The ruling stems from the case NEC Corp. v. Intel Corp, which was basically a battle over who had the right to produce x86 processors. The ruling, while finding that Intel had copyright protection for the code in their processors, also found that reverse-engineering code was also legal and therefore NEC did not violate Intel’s copyright in producing their own x86 processors. This ruling that code could be copyrighted changed the landscape, for better or worse, of software and computer development.

First FORTRAN Program Runs

Fortran ManualSeptember 20, 1954

The first FORTRAN program is executed. FORTRAN was developed by IBM scientists who were looking for a better way to program the IBM 704 mainframe computer. It quickly became the dominant programming language for scientific and engineering applications and still is used today, especially in the area of high-performance computing.

NeXTSTEP OS Released

NeXTSTEPSeptember 18, 1989

NeXT Computer releases version 1.0 of NeXTSTEP, an object-oriented, multitasking operating system. Originally designed to run on NeXT’s brand of computers, it was later ported to other architectures such as the Intel x86.

Often considered years ahead of its time, NeXTSTEP brought to market many advanced features that were not seen together in any other operating system for nearly 10 years. Its powerful object-oriented development environment was also used for the creation of the word wide web.

In 1997 Apple acquired NeXT Computer to build their next-generation operating system upon the NeXTSTEP architecture, later named Mac OS X. Today’s iOS that runs on iPhone and iPads is descended from Mac OS X and NeXTSTEP.

I had the opportunity to use NeXTSTEP in 1992 for a computer science class at the University of Illinois. I immediately recognized how powerful it was, yet didn’t fully appreciate what I was experiencing until years later. It really wasn’t until the late 1990’s and early 2000’s that other operating systems brought together the power and reliability of NeXTSTEP.