Friday, June 10, 2011

History of computers

History of computers

Computers are a part of so many aspects of our society today that it is hard to imagine life without them. To understand and appreciate fully the impact that computers have had on our lives, it is important to understand their history.

What follows is a brief history of the development of computer technology. There are five generations of modern computer history, the first of which was considered to have occurred between 1944 and 1956. Long before the first generation of computers evolved, computer development was well on its way.

Joseph Jacquard developed a loom for weaving cloth whose operation was controlled by means of cards with holes punched in them. This card laid the foundation for computer development. In 1886, Herman Hollerith improved on Jacquard’s punched card by developing a card that could be used with electrical rather than mechanical equipment. The Hollerith (or IBM) card is still very much in use.

First generation of computers – 1944-1956: Vacuum Tubes

History of first generation of computers began in the mid-1940s during the Second World War. They were needed to create ballistic charts for the U.S. Navy.

In 1944, engineers from IBM and Howard Aiken of Harvard University developed a machine called the Mark I. This 50-foot long and 8-foot high machine was able to add, subtract, multiply, divide, and refer to data tables using punched cards.

Another computer whose advancements were spurred by the war was the ENIAC computer, developed by a partnership between the U.S. government and the University of Pennsylvania. The first all-electronic computer, based on vacuum tubes, was developed in 1946 by J. Presper Eckert and John W. Mauchley of the University of Pennsylvania. This computer could make calculations a thousand times faster than earlier devices.

In 1947, John von Neuman joined the University of Pennsylvania team and developed a method for storing programs electronically. This invention of storing programs led the way for the development of today’s computers.

Then in 1951 came the Universal Automatic Computer (UNIVAC I), designed by Remington rand and collectively owned by US census bureau and General Electric. UNIVAC amazingly predicted the winner of 1952, presidential elections, Dwight D. Eisenhower. In first generation computers, the operating instructions or programs were specifically built for the task for which computer was manufactured. The Machine language was the only way to tell these machines to perform the operations. There was great difficulty to program these computers and more when there were some malfunctions. First Generation computers used Vacuum tubes and magnetic drums (for data storage).

Second generation of computers - 1956-1963: Transistors

History of second generation of computers began between 1952 and 1963. The invention of the transistor changed the way computers were being developed. The transistor replaced the large, cumbersome tube in televisions, radios, and computers. As a result, the size of electronic machinery has been shrinking ever since. The transistor was at work in the computer by 1956. By the mid 1960s, business, universities, and the government used computers. The second generation of computers began to contain many of the things we find in computers today: printers, tape storage, disk storage, and memory.

Second generation computers also started showing the characteristics of modern day computers with utilities such as printers, disk storage and operating systems. Much financial information was processed using these computers. In Second Generation computers, the instructions (program) could be stored inside the computer's memory. High-level languages such as COBOL (Common Business-Oriented Language) and FORTRAN (Formula Translator) were used, and they are still used for some applications nowadays.

Third generation of computers - 1964-1971: Integrated Circuits

History of third generation of computers began between 1964 and 1971. These computers were characterized by the semiconductor chip which was developed in the early 1960s. Another third-generation development included the use of an operating system that allowed machines to run many different programs at once with a central program that monitored and coordinated the computer’s memory.

Fourth generation of computers - 1971-Present: Microprocessors

The fourth generation of computers was characterized by the ongoing improvement of the silicon chip. The Intel 4004 chip, developed in 1971, included all the components of a computer (central processing unit, memory, and input and output controls) on a minuscule chip. Not only was the silicon chip used for computers, but everyday household items such as microwave ovens, television sets, and automobiles with electronic fuel injection incorporated these microprocessors. Computers were becoming cheaper, smaller, and faster. In 1981, IBM introduced its personal computer (PC) and began marketing it to the general public for use in the home, office, and school. The number of personal computers in use more than doubled from 2 million in 1981 to 5.5 million in 1982. Then years later, 65 million personal computers were being used.

Fifth generation of computers - Present and Beyond: Artificial Intelligence

Many advances in the science of computer design and technology are taking place to form the fifth generation of computers. Computers that can interpret the spoken word and imitate human reasoning are evolving. It is difficult to imagine now how the computer will affect your life in the next twenty years. If only those inventors who led the way to modern computing could witness the speed of today’s computers and our society’s total dependence on them. How do you think they would react to the automatic teller machines (ATM) which let us conduct banking transactions from virtually anywhere in the world; or to computerized telephone switching centers that keep lines of communication untangled; or to supermarket scanners that calculate our grocery bills while keeping store inventory? It is difficult to imagine.