Computers

Attack of the Clones

Compaq Portable PCNovember 4, 1982

Compaq announces their Compaq Portable PC, one of the early portable computer designs and, more significantly, the first successful IBM-compatible PC clone. Compaq eventually succeeded where other similar companies failed because they took considerable care in creating their product on two fronts. First, they created the first 100% IBM-compatible BIOS, the only proprietary component of the IBM PC. Spending $1 million to reverse engineer the IBM BIOS using clean-room techniques, this also allowed them to avoid copyright infringement charges. Finally, they were legally and financially prepared for the inevitable lawsuit IBM would bring against then, which was dismissed as expected.

By proving that a clean room, reverse-engineered BIOS could create 100% IBM-compatible computers and withstand legal challenges from IBM, Compaq paved the way for the flood of IBM-compatible clones that would begin in the mid-1980’s. This was the opening of the Pandora’s Box that led to IBM losing control of the platform, and the emergence of Microsoft and Intel as the dominant technology companies of the PC era. Even though IBM lost control of the platform they created, the weight of the IBM name combined with the eventual low cost of the IBM-compatible platform crushed nearly all other competing personal computing platforms of the era.

Apple Introduces PowerBook

PowerBook 100October 21, 1991

At the COMDEX computer expo in Las Vegas, Apple introduces the first line of PowerBook notebook computers, the PowerBook 100, PowerBook 140, and PowerBook 170. The first truly portable Macintosh, the PowerBook line redefined portable computing and set the bar for future laptop designs. For example, the PowerBooks were the first laptop to have a trackball positioned in front of the keyboard. Most existing PC laptops of the time ran DOS and were therefore keyboard-oriented, requiring the use of external mice.

VisiCalc Officially Released

VisiCalc PackagingOctober 19, 1979

According to Dan Bricklin, the first “real” release of VisiCalc was completed and packaged for shipment. VisiCalc was the first commercially available spreadsheet software and quickly became the first “killer app” of the personal computer market.

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.