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Defining moment in computing

Today is the 100th anniversary of powered flight in a heavier than air aircraft.A lot of people look upon this day, 100 years ago, as the day that flying was born.

True, the Montgolfier brothers had been in flying in balloons in France for ages.

True, the Lilienthal brothers had been flying gliders in Germany for ages.

The Wright brothers though, built what opened up new possibilities. All of a sudden you we not not at the mercy of air currents (broad simplification I know). You also now had an aircraft that was not the size of a small town.... It was a defining moment.

When people look back on the history of computing. What moment, if any will be taken to be the day it all began.


My take... launch of the original 8088 IBM PC.

Tapiwa
Wednesday, December 17, 2003

The Apple ][

apw
Wednesday, December 17, 2003

The release of netscape 4.6.

_
Wednesday, December 17, 2003

The IBM PC was definitely a late entrant and offered virtually nothing unique: While it may seem important given that we currently use a descendant of it,  the ground was pioneered by many other entrants long before it.  The Apple II, as mentioned, came out in 1977 (versus the PC's 1981 release), and invaded hundreds of thousands of homes and schools. Around the same time the Commodore PET came out (I remember one of these sitting quietly in the back of my junior grade public school). From then other computers such as the accessible Commodore 64, to the multimedia leap forward that the Commodore Amiga brought the world, blazed a path.

It wasn't until the late 80s that the x86 market started offering anything unique or even marginally competitive.

Dennis Forbes
Wednesday, December 17, 2003

The Altair, obviously ;)

Joel Spolsky
Wednesday, December 17, 2003

ENIAC

http://ftp.arl.mil/~mike/comphist/46eniac-report/

Kentasy
Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Dennis, the unique thing the original PC had was the three little letters IBM. Prior to that point, lots of people thought they were toys.

However, I'd have to agree with Joel on the Altair.

pdq
Wednesday, December 17, 2003

The invention of the semiconductor. Thats when the ball startet rolling and computers evolved from huge electromechnaical calculators to electronic devices.

Eric DeBois
Wednesday, December 17, 2003

I agree it was the IBM PC.  The Apple II and Altair were hobbyist computers and not really used in business, but the PC put a computer on everybody's desktop and changed daily work routines. 

Jack Tripp
Wednesday, December 17, 2003

The Altair computer, 1975.

It was a do-it-yourself kit that preceded the Apple or Commodore but it was the first computer small enough and cheap enough that hobbyists could work with it at home. Like the Wright Bros. first 12 second flight, the capabilities of the Altiar were laughable. It spawned the entire industry, including Apple itself. IBM only jumped into the game much later with the PC when it looked like a real big business was birthing and they didn't want to be left out.

old_timer
Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Nah, by the time the IBM PC came along (1981) we were already proliferating Apple II, TRS-80 and a couple other microcomputers throughout our labs and offices. The market was ripe for major expansion or IBM never would have stuck it's toe in.

I worked for GE back then which is one of the most conservative companies around and if we had TRS-80's all over the place, so did every other technology company.

Here's a link to who else was already in the game before IBM muscled it's way in.

<http://www.darron.net/firstibm.html>

I built myself a CP/M S100 bus system with 64Kb, dual 8" floppies and a Lear Seigler CRT in 1980 and it even had basic and fortran compilers. I wrote an ftp program in 8080 assembler and was able to do some serious work with it.

old_timer
Wednesday, December 17, 2003

The whole analogy is totally broken if the criteria is "became a standard business tool" -- this has no relative comparison to the Wright brothers or Kittyhawk, unless their first craft was the 707.

By the original post in this thread, the XT is a horribly invalid choice.

Dennis Forbes
Wednesday, December 17, 2003

World War II.

Alan Turing and friends in Bletchly Park, cracking the Enigma (and many other) ciphers.

They gave birth to the first large-scale electronic computers. Sure, it's vacuum tubes and not IC's but it was still a massive jump.

Mike Swieton
Wednesday, December 17, 2003

The original question was too ambiguous for a good answer.  Most people took the question to be "microcomputer".  "semiconductor" is only a good answer if the question was "computer hardware".  What about von Neumann's contributions to structure and software?  "Eniac" is not a bad answer, in general.  The Wright Brother's powered flight was a first in a whole genre of flight ( balloons and gliders were unpowered ).  Maybe the question can be rephrased to be more specific than "computing", which had MANY mathematical and hardware antecedents.

Barry Sperling
Wednesday, December 17, 2003

The Intel 4004....

http://www.intel4004.com/

Code Monkey
Wednesday, December 17, 2003

For this board?

Grace Hopper's moth - giving us the word "bug"

Philo

Philo
Wednesday, December 17, 2003

The abacus.

http://www.educalc.net/144147.page

Interaction Architect
Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Philo - see [ http://jove.eng.yale.edu/pipermail/eas-info/2001/000244.html ]. Bugs were there earlier. Much, much earlier.

Ori Berger
Wednesday, December 17, 2003

The race to the moon , many many knowledge quests were accelerated.

moses whitecotton
Wednesday, December 17, 2003

My vote is also for ENIAC. How anything later than that can even be considered escapes me. Obviously many other events had great impact. But the original question was:

"What moment, if any will be taken to be the day it all began."

Maybe ENIAC isn't early enough. Charles Babbage's machine maybe? Or as mentioned the abacus :)

sgf
Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Altair Basic, of course.

GP
Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Jack Kilby's Op-Amp in 1959 - the first Integrated Circuit

http://www.cnn.com//TECH/9709/09/chip.inventor/chip.large.jpg

John Murray
Wednesday, December 17, 2003

For anyone who wants a trip down memory lane, there's a great site here:

http://www.obsoletecomputermuseum.org/

Lots of pictures/info on vintage PCs, including the Altair 8800.

Robert Jacobson
Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Turing machine

Prakash S
Wednesday, December 17, 2003

How about Leo - the Lyons Electronic Office.

A cynic writes
Wednesday, December 17, 2003

nitpick....  "( balloons and gliders were unpowered )"

There were powered balloons (lighter than air craft) prior to the Wright Brothers flight.  People strapped engines to balloons pretty quickly. 

The Wright brothers were the first heavier than air, powered flight.  Quite an accomplishment even with those disclaimers.

chris
Wednesday, December 17, 2003

The IBM-PC really corresponds to the Douglas DC-3.

The Kitty Hawk of computing in general would be Eniac; the Kitty Hawk of microcomputing would have to be the Altair.

Joel Spolsky
Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Zork

www.MarkTAW.com
Wednesday, December 17, 2003

For a more recent moment how about Aug 20 1991 in when Tim Berners-Lee released the World Wide Web Project:

http://groups.google.com/groups?selm=1991Aug20.015441.913%40news.media.mit.edu&oe=UTF-8&output=gplain

Matthew Lock
Wednesday, December 17, 2003

>>The Kitty Hawk of computing in general would be Eniac; the Kitty Hawk of microcomputing would have to be the Altair.

Which is a nice comparison, because neither was the first in its genre.  Ader flew his powered heavier-than-air aircraft in 1890 thirteen years before the Wright Brothers, and Zuse built his first working digital computer in 1938 a few years before the Eniac.

Karel Thönissen
Wednesday, December 17, 2003

The Colassus code-breaking machine developed by the Brits in 1944 arguably qualifies as the first digital computer (predating the ENIAC by two years.)  Its existence was classified until 1970, though, so it didn't have the influence in computer history that ENIAC did.

http://www.alanturing.net/turing_archive/pages/Reference%20Articles/BriefHistofComp.html
http://www.computer50.org/mark1/contemporary.html
http://www.computer.org/history/development/
http://www.codesandciphers.org.uk/lorenz/

Robert Jacobson
Wednesday, December 17, 2003

If ENIAC is pivotal accomplishment, then the "Kittyhawk of computing" would be the Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD where ENIAC first became operational. [1] ENIAC is the "Wright Flyer of computing".

So this would give Maryland of all places the right to put "First in Computing" on their license plate.

[1] http://novaonline.nvcc.edu/eli/evans/his135/events/Eniac46/Eniac46.html

dmooney
Wednesday, December 17, 2003

In the UK, the launch of the Sinclair Spectrum was a defining moment in IT. I think a lot of current IT careers was built on that amazing (at the time) Z80A platform.

Steve Jones (UK)
Thursday, December 18, 2003

"The IBM PC was definitely a late entrant and offered virtually nothing unique"

This is one of the more wrong-headed comments I've seen in awhile. In fact it was an extremely unique aspect of it that has led to its utter dominance: the use of off-the-shelf parts and a reasonably open, semi-non-proprietary system.

pb
Thursday, December 18, 2003

my birthdate?

na
Thursday, December 18, 2003

Most certainly not! Mine!

Anon.
Thursday, December 18, 2003

I'd say the ZX80 rather than the Spectrum, as pathetic as it was.  (disclaimer: I've still got mine)

A cynic writes
Thursday, December 18, 2003

I think I'll have to agree with this one. The IBM PC was the Dakota of computing.

Speaking of those, I have always wanted one. Anyone want to buy me one of those for Christmas?

Tapiwa
Thursday, December 18, 2003

"This is one of the more wrong-headed comments I've seen in awhile. In fact it was an extremely unique aspect of it that has led to its utter dominance: the use of off-the-shelf parts and a reasonably open, semi-non-proprietary system."

Your reply is one of the more wrong-headed comments I've seen in a while. It also shows how people amazingly look at where we are and then imagine a history quite different from that which actually took place.

Firstly, would you care to explain what in the world "off the shelf" parts means in respect the the IBM PC and XT? Do you think there was a market for ISA cards and EIDE drives? The technologies and standards in the PC and XT were both created for the same, and there was absolutely nothing "off-the-shelf" about them apart from the fact that some of the chips were industry standard (just as the chips in all other computing devices were).

Secondly, claiming that it was "reasonably open" is again ridiculously revisionist history -- The cloning of the IBM PC happened to the consternation (and legal threats) of IBM because IBM didn't lock a contract in with either Intel or Microsoft, and because Compaq was dedicated to reverse engineering. The growth of the PC market basically occurred because IBM failed to protect itself (though it tried), not because they published some amazing open hardware standard. (BTW: To try to regain propriety they then tried to introduce the Microchannel Architecture, but it was too late)

Dennis Forbes
Thursday, December 18, 2003

IBM PC. As in flight, there where some other contestants arguably earlier, better etc., but as far as milestone, the IBM PC was THE defining moment.

Just me (Sir to you)
Thursday, December 18, 2003

Wasn't the zx80 a "build yourself" one? If so then I'd have to vote for the zx81 instead, as the 80 was obviously too far into geekdom.


Thursday, December 18, 2003

If memory serves, you could get the ZX80 as a kit or pre-built.  I cheated and bought one off a mate (complete with scratches were his dog tried to eat it). 

However, this was ...mumble...years ago so don't quote me.

A cynic writes
Thursday, December 18, 2003

"IBM PC. As in flight, there where some other contestants arguably earlier, better etc., but as far as milestone, the IBM PC was THE defining moment."

If you want to look at where we are and simplistically presume that the predecessor was a champion of its time, could you at least state that the two pivotal events were a) The Compaq Portable PC (1982), which was the clone that opened the floodgates and actually _did_ create a standard platform, b) MS-DOS, which wasn't tied to IBM and hence presented a common software platform for the clone market that Compaq pioneered. _These_ are the events that led to the evolution of the systems that we se today, not IBMs response to the Apple II.

Dennis Forbes
Thursday, December 18, 2003

The GPL ;)

Either that or the first release of Linux by Linus... ;)

pete
Thursday, December 18, 2003

Well that depends on what you mean by off the shelf Dennis. Ignoring the bios and keyboard chips, IIRC every other chip on the PC main board was off the shelf.
The PC bus was the intel 8088 glue chip (8288?) brought out to the back plane. It helps that 8088 systems are incredibly easy to design, 286 systems aren't actually much harder (although I had row with my boss over the bus timing). I remember looking at MCA and thinking that looks like a 286 system bus....

Peter Ibbotson
Thursday, December 18, 2003

LOL!

Inappropriate Abbreviator
Thursday, December 18, 2003

I agree that the terminology of "off-the-shelf" isn't clearly defined in this context. What I'm debating is what I perceive as a contention that the PC market of 1981 was even remotely like it is today -- you'd pick up your ATX case, a mini-AT motherboard, some DDR SIMMs, a PCI network card, etc...  Such standards didn't exist at all, nor were they incorporated on the IBM PC (and most came about later by consortiums of clone makers). Instead  the IBM PC was a completely "proprietary" assemblage of available industry chips (just as virtually all computers of the time were a collection of industry available chips, sometimes with a tiny percentage of custom hardware for graphics or sound, or whatever).

Dennis Forbes
Thursday, December 18, 2003

I agree with the contention that the original PC was basically off the shelf other than the BIOS. IBM did publish detailed specs (anyone remember the "Technical Reference Manual") that led to it being open.

Anyway, at the time, there was a microcomputer "standard"  - S-100 bus systems. This is a bit before my time, but i understand that this was a copy of the Altair bus. It wasn't long before there was a lot of cross pollination betwen the PC and the S-100 systems.

pdq
Thursday, December 18, 2003

Since the title says "computing", I take it that software counts, too? If it does, I'm surprised that Microsoft hasn't been mentioned.

I can't make up my mind wether I'd say the day when Gates and Ballmer sold "their" DOS to IBM or the release of Windows 3.0 would have been *the* moment, but these two really have affected a lot of the way we see the world today. Maybe I'd vote for the DOS episode, as it was what set the ball in motion for MS - who knows, if IBM had told them to go home with their stupid ideas, computers might cost 20.000 dollars, have tiny monitors and small colorful fruit logos on the side, and only a tiny fraction of the world would be using them... ;-)

Antti Kurenniemi
Friday, December 19, 2003

Sorry, not the IBM PC.  When the IBM PC was released in 1981, it was substantially worse--especially for the price--than the half dozen home computers already on the market.  So it wasn't even a significant moment in home computing history, except that it eventually became popular.

But there were decades of serious research and development and hundreds of architectures designed and built prior to it.  Look at the Evans & Sutherland machines from the 1970s with hardware accelerated 3D.  Look at how many years were dominated by mainframes and minicomputers from IBM, DEC, and Burroughs, to name a few.  Look at all the research in the 1970s that led to the Alto, which had a GUI many years before the Macintosh.  Look at Wirth's Lilith, a computer designed specifically to run a high-level language efficiently.  Look at CPM, which was *the* microcomputer operating system prior to PC-DOS.  Look at UNIX, which was a decade old when the original IBM PC was released in 1981.  Look at the Z80 and and 6502 microprocessors, which were sold by the millions before Intel developed the 8088.  Look at all the computer languages developed in the 1960s and 1970s: C, Pascal, Lisp, Forth, Simula, Smalltalk, Algol, Modula-2, Scheme, Prolog, SNOBOL, Logo, fp, BLISS, Mumps, Awk, and hundreds more.

In a history of computing, the IBM PC wouldn't even be mentioned until chapter 26.

Junkster
Tuesday, December 23, 2003

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