Personal Computer - History


Main article: History of personal computers See also: Microcomputer revolution

The Z3 by German inventor Konrad Zuse from 1941 was the first working programmable, fully automatic computing machine. Thus, Zuse is often regarded as the inventor of the computer.

The Programma 101, released in 1965, was the first commercial "desktop computer", but today it would usually be considered as a printing programmable calculator.

The Soviet MIR series of computers was developed from 1965 to 1969 in a group headed by Victor Glushkov. It was designed as a relatively small-scale computer for use in engineering and scientific applications and contained a hardware implementation of a high-level programming language. Another innovative feature for that time was the user interface combining a keyboard with a monitor and light pen for correcting texts and drawing on screen.

In what was later to be called The Mother of All Demos, SRI researcher Douglas Engelbart in 1968 gave a preview of what would become the staples of daily working life in the 21st century - e-mail, hypertext, word processing, video conferencing, and the mouse. The demonstration required technical support staff and a mainframe time-sharing computer that were far too costly for individual business use at the time.

By the early 1970s, people in academic or research institutions had the opportunity for single-person use of a computer system in interactive mode for extended durations, although these systems would still have been too expensive to be owned by a single person.

In 1973 the IBM Los Gatos Scientific Center developed a portable computer prototype called SCAMP (Special Computer APL Machine Portable) based on the IBM PALM processor with a Philips compact cassette drive, small CRT and full function keyboard. SCAMP emulated an IBM 1130 minicomputer in order to run APL1130. In 1973 APL was generally available only on mainframe computers, and most desktop sized microcomputers such as the Wang 2200 or HP 9800 offered only BASIC. Because SCAMP was the first to emulate APL1130 performance on a portable, single user computer, PC Magazine in 1983 designated SCAMP a "revolutionary concept" and "the world's first personal computer". This seminal, single user portable computer now resides in the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. Successful demonstrations of the 1973 SCAMP prototype led to the IBM 5100 portable microcomputer launched in 1975 with the ability to be programmed in both APL and BASIC for engineers, analysts, statisticians and other business problem-solvers. In the late 1960s such a machine would have been nearly as large as two desks and would have weighed about half a ton.

Another seminal product in 1973 was the Xerox Alto, developed at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), it had a graphical user interface (GUI) that later served as inspiration for Apple Computer's Macintosh, and Microsoft's Windows operating system. Also in 1973 Hewlett Packard introduced fully BASIC programmable microcomputers that fit entirely on top of a desk, including a keyboard, a small one-line display and printer. The Wang 2200 microcomputer of 1973 had a full-size cathode ray tube (CRT) and cassette tape storage. These were generally expensive specialized computers sold for business or scientific uses. The introduction of the microprocessor, a single chip with all the circuitry that formerly occupied large cabinets, led to the proliferation of personal computers after 1975.

Early personal computers — generally called microcomputers — were sold often in kit form and in limited volumes, and were of interest mostly to hobbyists and technicians. Minimal programming was done with toggle switches to enter instructions, and output was provided by front panel lamps. Practical use required adding peripherals such as keyboards, computer displays, disk drives, and printers. Micral N was the earliest commercial, non-kit microcomputer based on a microprocessor, the Intel 8008. It was built starting in 1972 and about 90,000 units were sold. In 1976 Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak sold the Apple I computer circuit board, which was fully prepared and contained about 30 chips. The first successfully mass marketed personal computer was the Commodore PET introduced in January 1977. It was soon followed by the Apple II (usually referred to as the "Apple") in June 1977, and the TRS-80 from Radio Shack in November 1977. Mass-market ready-assembled computers allowed a wider range of people to use computers, focusing more on software applications and less on development of the processor hardware.

During the early 1980s, home computers were further developed for household use, with software for personal productivity, programming and games. They typically could be used with a television already in the home as the computer display, with low-detail blocky graphics and a limited color range, and text about 40 characters wide by 25 characters tall. One such machine, the ZX Spectrum introduced at 1982, totaled 8 million unit sold. Following came the Commodore 64, totaled 17 million units sold, making it the best-selling single personal computer model of all time. Another such computer, the NEC PC-98, sold more than 18 million units.

Somewhat larger and more expensive systems (for example, running CP/M), or sometimes a home computer with additional interfaces and devices, although still low-cost compared with minicomputers and mainframes, were aimed at office and small business use, typically using "high resolution" monitors capable of at least 80 column text display, and often no graphical or color drawing capability.

Workstations were characterized by high-performance processors and graphics displays, with large local disk storage, networking capability, and running under a multitasking operating system.

Eventually, due to the influence of the IBM PC on the personal computer market, personal computers and home computers lost any technical distinction. Business computers acquired color graphics capability and sound, and home computers and game systems users used the same processors and operating systems as office workers. Mass-market computers had graphics capabilities and memory comparable to dedicated workstations of a few years before. Even local area networking, originally a way to allow business computers to share expensive mass storage and peripherals, became a standard feature of personal computers used at home.

In 1982 "The Computer" was named Machine of the Year by Time Magazine.

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