The world waits in anticipation of the year 2000 and the potential disasters that might be brought about by the Y2K bug. Personally, having worked years in a corporate environment getting ready for Y2K, I was pretty confident that nothing major would happen. So just for fun, I set up my home with a remote control to turn off all the lights in my house and the TV our friends would be watching at our New Years’ Eve party. Seconds after midnight, I pushed the remote control in my pocket and everything went out. There were definitely a few people at my house that night who thought the apocalypse had come. Technology practical jokes are so much fun!
Time Magazine awards its “Man of the Year” award to the personal computer, calling it “Machine of the Year,” the first non-human to receive the award since its creation in 1927. Describing the personal computer as 1982’s “greatest influence for good or evil,” the article titled “The Computer Moves In,” recognizes that the capabilities of the personal computer can be multiplied almost indefinitely by connecting it to a network of other computers, which can be used to access electronic databases or send electronic mail. The article stated that 80% of Americans expected that “in the fairly near future, home computers will be as commonplace as television sets or dishwashers.” Beating out other candidates such as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, Time stated, “There are some occasions, though, when the most significant force in a year’s news is not a single individual but a process, and a widespread recognition by a whole society that this process is changing the course of all other processes. That is why, after weighing the ebb and flow of events around the world, TIME has decided that 1982 is the year of the computer.” 724,000 personal computers were sold in 1980 and this figure doubled in both 1981 and 1982. Certainly, those who were paying attention at the time recognized that the personal computer was transforming society.
The Christmas virus begins to effect IBM mainframe computers around the world. Technically defined as a worm, the Christmas virus drew a Christmas tree text graphic on the victim’s monitor and searched out other network users. Named CHRISTMA EXEC because IBM systems only supported eight-character filenames, it was the world’s first widely disruptive computer worm.
Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems, otherwise known as MITS, begins selling the Altair 8800 microcomputer kit. As the base computer used toggle switches for input and LEDs for output, it was far from a personal computer as we know it today. However, it is one of the most important computers in history, for it inspired the first generation of entrepreneurs that created the personal computer industry. After the Altair 8800 appeared on the cover of Popular Electronics magazine in January 1975, MITS was flooded with orders. Expecting to sell at most 800 units, MITS sold over 5,000 units by August of 1975. A young Bill Gates and Paul Allen, excited by the possibility of small computers that could be used in the home, wrote the BASIC programming language for the Altair, their first software product which formed the basis of their future company, Microsoft. The Altair was also popular with the Homebrew Computing Club, where Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs began their partnership selling their own computer kit, the Apple I.
December 18, 1987
Larry Wall releases version 1.0 of Perl, a general-purpose programming language very commonly used as a Unix scripting language. Perl became very popular on the early world wide web, commonly being used to program CGI scripts for web applications. Perl’s flexibility and adaptability continues to make it a widely used programming language to this day.
Douglas Englebert and his team of researchers present a 90-minute public technology demonstration including such innovations as hypertext, video conferencing, but most famously, the computer mouse. This is the first public demonstration of the mouse, witnessed by about 1,000 computer professionals in attendance.
Paul Terrell opens the Byte Shop, one of the first retail computer stores in the world. Besides that important distinction, Paul Terrell and the Byte Shop are most famously known for ordering the first 50 computers from Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak’s fledgling Apple Computer company in 1976. As the story goes, the Steves initially intended the Apple I to be a kit, where buyers would solder together the chips onto the circuit board themselves. Terrell requested that instead they deliver fully-assembled computers as he was having trouble selling other kits to people who couldn’t put them together themselves. By insisting on a fully-assembled computer (even though the Apple I still lacked a case, power supply, and keyboard), Terrell helped shape the future direction of Apple and the entire personal computer industry. The Apple II was the first personal computer to be manufactured and sold as completely assembled units, making them accessible to the average user, thus igniting the personal computer revolution.
December 2, 1991
Apple releases version 1.0 of QuickTime, a multimedia extension for playing color video, transforming the capabilities of personal computers. Before QuickTime, only specialized computers could play color video. QuickTime allowed anyone with a personal computer to do so and it changed the history of computing – in more ways than one. It was the patent infringement battle over QuickTime that led to the now-famous truce between Steve Jobs and Bill Gates in 1997 that helped Apple survive long enough to transform itself in the 2000’s.
IBM delivers the first two IBM 7090 mainframe computers. One of the first commercially produced fully-transistorized computers, the 7090 and the later 7094 were notable for being used by NASA to control the Mercury and Gemini space flights along with many other significant scientific and government applications in the 1960’s. Some 7090’s were even used through the 1970’s into the 1980’s.