Computers

One Processor to Rule Them All

Intel 8086June 8, 1978

Intel introduces the 16-bit 8086 processor with clock speeds of 10, 8, and 5 MHz. The 8086 would become the basis for the series of processors used in “IBM Compatible” PCs and the x86  family (later marketed under the name “Pentium”) would dominate the market in the PC era. Ironically, however, it was the modified 8-bit 8088 processor that was used in the original IBM PC, primarily due to factors that would reduce overall cost. The current line of Intel “Core” processors are still based on the same architecture that was introduced with the 8086.

Really Geeky Modem Technology Patented

Hayes Smartmodem 300June 7, 1983

Michael Eaton is granted a patent for the AT Command Set for Modems, which had created a standard language for interacting with modems. Two years earlier, the rights for this command set were purchased by the Hayes Corporation and incorporated into the Hayes Smartmodem 300 as the “Hayes Command Set.” The protocol will become an industry standard used for years to come.

In the early 90’s, needing to use modems so that I could connect to pre-Internet bulletin board systems, I learned the AT command set. I then used and supported modems extensively for about 15 years, and occasionally still do. Because I worked with modems so much, I used to be able to speak the AT command set in my sleep. I know, it impresses the ladies.

The Mac Gets Intel Inside

Mac OS X PowerPC and IntelJune 6, 2005

In a keynote address at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference, Steve Jobs announces that Macintosh computers will transition from PowerPC to Intel processors and demonstrates Mac OS X running on a computer with an Intel Pentium 4 processor. Jobs revealed at the time that Apple had been secretly preparing for a possible transition to Intel for many years. Unbeknownst to the public, for every version of Mac OS X released, Apple actually had prepared a version running on an Intel processor. By making the transition to Intel, Apple paved the way for the resurgence of the Macintosh computer by making it more compatible with software for Microsoft Windows.

The Apple II Enters the Market

The Original Apple IIJune 5, 1977

The original Apple II computer goes on sale. The Apple II featured an a 1MHz MOS 6502 processor, an integrated keyboard, a built-in BASIC programming environment, expandable memory (4K expandable to 48K), a monitor capable of color graphics, a sound card, and eight expansion slots. To include all these features in one discrete unit was highly innovative and the reason it is considered the first practical personal computer. However, in the spirit of the original computer hacker, the Apple II was also available as a circuit-board only, without keyboard, power supply, or case. A couple of years later, the combination of the Apple II series and the first “killer app” of the business world, the VisiCalc spreadsheet program, popularizes personal computers among business users. This sudden success of the “home computer” in the business world surprises established technology companies and eventually leads IBM to scramble to develop their IBM PC.

GIF is Not Peanut Butter

Newton's Cradle AnimationMay 28, 1987

CompuServe releases the Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) standard as a new computer graphics file format. Due to color limitations, the GIF format is unsuitable for reproducing color photographs, but it is well-suited for more simple images such as graphics or logos with solid areas of color. This made it probably the most popular graphics format for the early Internet, until the famous “GIF licensing controversy” soured many designers to its use. The PNG format was developed in response as an alternative to GIF to get around the licensing issues. However, all relevant patents have since expired and the GIF format may now be freely used. Today it still sees widespread use, especially when simple animations are needed.

IBM Announces the “Defense Calculator”, Model 701

IBM 701

May 21, 1952

The IBM 701 was the company’s first commercial scientific computer, but I guess they figured that calling it a “calculator” would help it sell better. Perhaps they were right, because only expecting to sell five, the company ended up selling nineteen to government, large companies, and universities.

Into the Ether(net)

EthernetMay 13, 1980

Digital Equipment, Intel, and Xerox jointly announce the Ethernet network specification. Ethernet is the predominant networking standard of today’s business and home networks.

The Z3

Z3 at Deutsches MuseumMay 12, 1941

German engineer Konrad Zuse unveils the Z3, now generally recognized as the first fully functional, programmable computer. Because Germany was fighting World War II, not much was known about the Z3 until after the war.

VisiCalc Unveiled

VisiCalcMay 11, 1979

At the West Coast Computer Faire, Harvard MBA candidate Daniel Bricklin and programmer Robert Frankston give the first demonstration of VisiCalc, the original spreadsheet software. First released for the Apple II, VisiCalc made a business machine of the personal computer. VisiCalc was a huge success, selling more than 100,000 copies in the first year. VisiCalc also spurred the sales of the Apple II, as people would buy the Apple II just to run VisiCalc. Overall, the spreadsheet validated the usefulness of the home computer and was likely a major factor for IBM accelerating their entry into the PC market.

*Some sources list VisiCalc’s first demonstration as May 12th. I’d like to find a definitive source.

Linux Gets Happy Feet

Tux the PenguinMay 9, 1996

Linus Torvalds decides to adopt Tux the penguin as a mascot for the Linux operating system. Perhaps had he known the movie Happy Feet would be released a little over 10 years later, he would have chosen a Warbler instead.