April 12, 1981
NASA launches the first Space Shuttle mission, STS-1, sending the Columbia on its maiden voyage. This mission intended to prove the feasibility of the Space Shuttles in specific, and reusable spacecraft in general. Originally set to launch on April 10th, problems delayed the launch by two days, which caused the launch to occur exactly 20 years after Yuri Gagarin became the first man to fly into space.
April 12, 1961
Yuri Gagarin, age 27, becomes the first man to orbit the Earth aboard the Soviet spacecraft, Vostok 1. He remains in space for an hour and forty-eight minutes before re-entering the atmosphere. This ultimately was Gagarin’s only space flight. He died on March 27, 1968 when the MiG-15 he was piloting crashed near Moscow. Reportedly, at the time of his death, Yuri Gagarin was in training for a second space mission.
April 12, 1976
Ronald Wayne, one of the three co-founders of Apple Computer, leaves the company just eleven days after it was established, selling his ten percent share for $800. In his short time with the company, Wayne illustrated the first Apple logo, wrote the company’s partnership agreement, and wrote the manual for the Apple I. He choose to leave the company because the partnership agreement imposed unlimited personal liability on all three co-founders, regardless of which partner incurred the debt. Unlike Jobs and Wozniak, 21 and 25, Wayne had personal assets that potential creditors could seize. The failure of a slot machine company he had started five years earlier also contributed to his decision to exit the partnership. Wayne would later say that, “Either I was going to be bankrupt or the richest man in the cemetery.” By 1982, a ten percent share of Apple Computer was worth US$1.5 billion. And in 2010 it was worth $22 billion. They say hindsight is 20/20 … or perhaps $22 billion?
April 11, 1985
Almost exactly 2 years after joining Apple, John Sculley, asks Steve Jobs to step down as head of the Macintosh division at an Apple Computer board meeting. With the backing of the company’s other executives, Jobs is stripped of nearly all responsibilities at Apple. While Jobs retains the title of Chairman, he has no authority and eventually leaves Apple.
April 10, 1943
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania begin work on the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC), which when completed, will become the first general-purpose fully electronic computer, capable of making calculations one thousand times faster than any other prior computer. The work will be carried out in secret since the computer is intended for military purposes, though it won’t actually be completed until after World War II ended. ENIAC will be unveiled to the public in February 1946.
April 9, 1959
NASA announces the selection of the United States’ first seven astronauts, Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Donald Slayton, The seven were chosen from 110 applicants to participate in the Mercury program, the nation’s first manned space program. The news media quickly dubs the group the “Mercury Seven.” On May 5th, 1961, Shepard will become the first American in space during the flight of Freedom 7.
April 8, 1983
John Sculley is named president and CEO of Apple Computer after Steve Jobs convinced him to leave his position as president of PepsiCo. While Steve Jobs wanted the position of president for himself, then-CEO Mike Markkula did not think Jobs was ready to take on that responsibility.
Jobs wanted Sculley based on his success growing Pepsi’s marketshare against Coke. He wanted that same type of marketing success for Apple against IBM. Part of computer industry lore, Jobs reportedly asked Sculley, “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life or do you want to come with me and change the world?”
Ultimately, Sculley and Jobs entered into a power struggle, Sculley convinced Apple’s board of directors to strip Jobs of all power within the company, and Jobs left Apple. One has to wonder how the computer industry would be different today if Steve Jobs had been given lead of his company in 1983 instead of Apple opting for “adult supervision”. Recent history with companies such as Facebook, Google, and even Apple since Jobs’ return, has shown that visionaries can make great leaders of technology companies.
April 7, 1964
IBM launches the System 360 mainframe architecture, which comprised six compatible models complete with 40 peripherals. The line, dubbed the “360″ because it addressed all types and sizes of customer, cost IBM over five billion dollars to develop, and it is widely considered one of the riskiest business gambles of all time.
Up until this time, computer systems, even from the same manufacturer, were generally incompatible with each other. Software and peripherals from old systems would not work with new systems. This stifled acceptance and deployments of new systems as business customers were hesitant to lose their investments in their current systems. By developing a mutually compatible series of mainframes, customers were assured that their investments would not be lost if they purchased further System 360 models.
IBM’s gamble paid off handsomely, as in just the first three months of its release, IBM will receive US$1.2 billion in orders. Within five years, over thirty-three thousand units will be sold, popularizing the concept of a computer “upgrade” around the world. The 360 family was the most successful IBM system of all time, generating in over US$100 billion in revenue through the mid-1980’s. It became the basis for all sequent IBM mainframe architectures, which will hold a 65% marketshare in the 1990’s.
The 360 architecture also introduced a number of industry standards to the marketplace, such as the worldwide standard of the 8-bit byte. Its enormous popularity catapulted the business world into the technology age and transformed the computer industry. Not bad for a bunch of suits.
April 6, 1992
Microsoft releases Windows 3.1, priced at $149.00, selling three million copies over the next two months. Windows 3.1 added multimedia extensions allowing support for sound cards, MIDI, and CD Audio, Super VGA (800 x 600) monitors, and increased the speed of modem it would support to 9600 bps. For many of us that were into computers back in the day, it was the first version of Windows we actually used, as previous versions were still gaining consumer acceptance and Windows 95 wasn’t released until 3 years later.
April 5, 1995
Dan Farmer and Wietse Venema release to the Internet the Security Administrator Tool for Analyzing Networks, known by its acronym, SATAN. SATAN is a network scanner for investigating the vulnerability of remote systems. Designed for use by network administrators, the program will soon generate controversy over the ethics of freely releasing powerful security tools to the general public. And it didn’t please the Church Lady one bit, either.