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Brief history of information technology and personal computers

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Brief history of information technology and personal computers: from the abacus to the first calculators to the first electronic processors and microprocessors. This is a brief historical summary intended as a lesson for high school.

The ancestors of the computer

The abacus


The abacus is the oldest known calculation tool, the first examples in the form of “calculation tablets” appeared in Mesopotamia and China around 1200 BC Ref. Http:// / wiki / Abacus

Only around 1300 AD did the abacus, as we know it today, replace the Chinese calculation tables.

Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci

Recent studies have brought to light some drawings by Leonardo Da Vinci, known as the ” Madrid Code “, depicting a strange machine designed to perform calculations with the decimal system. However, there are no historical traces of the functioning of this mechanism conceived around 1500.

The first mechanical calculator


On the other hand , it was Blaise Pascal , a French philosopher, mathematician and physicist, who in 1643 created a machine that automatically performed addition and subtraction, the Pascalina .


Analytical machine

Charles Babbage, an English mathematician, built the first general purpose automatic digital calculator (addition, subtraction, division, multiplication) in 1834. The computer took the name of ” analytical engine”, and constituted a model for all subsequent digital calculators. This machine could be used with punch cards ”, a concept taken up by Jacquard’s famous automatic looms.

The birth of IBM


Thomas J. Watson, an American entrepreneur, founded the International Business Machine in 1924 , better known today as IBM . The new company quickly became the most powerful industrial empire in the IT sector. Thomas is also the man who coined the “ THINK” slogan that still invades IBM’s products and advertising slogans today.

The second world war was the birth of the first computer

Mark I

The first electronic computers were born at the end of the Second World War. At that time they were very different from how we think of them today: they were huge computers, the size of an entire building, which were used for specific purposes. They did not have an operating system, their operation was determined by their wiring diagram rather than a program. The most famous of these, the “Colossus” (or “Mark I”), was built in 1943 by the British government to decrypt German radio communications encrypted with the ENIGMA machine more quickly.


In 1945, after the end of the great war, the Americans realized the usefulness that computers could have even for non-war purposes. Thus began the creation of a computer that was “programmable”, the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) was born. Its purpose was to carry out ballistic calculations for the US military. The programming of this huge machine was carried out exclusively in machine language, that is, according to binary codes directly executed by the processor, and was carried out by means of a series of pins inserted on particular cards.

La macchina di Von Neumann

John Von Neuman

The study of computers moved to the universities of the United States, where the work of many researchers and in particular of the mathematician and physicist John Von Neuman led to the definition of the basis of modern computers: no longer sophisticated calculators but entities capable of executing sequences of commands ( algorithms). John von Neumann defined for the first time the concept of a stored program electronic computer, the so-called “von Neumann machine”. Neumann was the first to frame “intelligent machines” and automata in a coherent mathematical theory. For this he is also considered as the father of information technology.


A year later, John Von Neumann and others made the first real computer, the Electronic Discrete Variable Computer (EDVAC) equipped with a rudimentary “Operating System”. Derived from ENIAC, it perfected the concept of programmability, as the programs, instead of being inserted from the outside, are incorporated in the machine’s memory and can be recalled at will, thanks to the OS.

Birth of RAM memories

In 1951 Jay Forrester registers a patent for the magnetic core memory which will replace the more cumbersome magnetic drum memory.


In 1952, during a television broadcast, a UNIVAC computer calculates the projections for the presidential elections.

Texas Instruments


In 1954 Texas Instruments introduces the silicon transistor, aiming at the drastic reduction of production prices.

Commercial computers

In 1957, IBM introduced and began installations of RAMAC (Random Access Method Of Accounting And Control) systems. These are the first commercial computers that have a hard-disk drive for data storage that replaces the cumbersome and slow magnetic tape drives.

John Backus and other IBM colleagues release the first version of the compiler for the FORTRAN (Formula Translator) programming language.

In 1958 the modem was born. Bell develops a modem for the transmission of binary data by telephone.

The Committee for the languages ​​of data systems is formed and COBOL (Common Business Oriented Language) is born. In the same year, LISP came to light, a language designed for artificial intelligence. The 1960s saw the end of punch cards as an input and programming device. DEC introduces the PDP-1, the first commercial computer with a monitor and keyboard for input.

SpaceWar for the PDP-1

In 1962 the first videogame in history was born at MIT thanks to the student Steve Russell, creator of Spacewar! , shooter for PDP-1. Fun fact: the PDP-1 monitor was circular in shape, like a porthole.

In 1964 the BASIC language (Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) was born.

In 1964 Doug Engelbart invents the mouse .

In 1968 Robert Noyce, Andy Grove and Gordon Moore founded Intel .

UNIX systems and the birth of the Internet

Around 1969 at Bell Labs (AT&T) Ken Thompson invented the Unix operating system . This new operating system, unlike its predecessors, was multi-user and multiprocess , that is, multiple programs could be run at the same time and could be used by multiple users at the same time; it was equipped with “networking” tools, that is: two unix systems could communicate with each other through a network, laying the foundations for the birth of ARPAnet


In fact, the US Department of Defense commissions ARPANET , the ancestor network of the Internet. The purpose of this network was to keep US military strategic centers in contact in the event of a nuclear weapon attack. ARPAnet was never fully used for military purposes, American universities and government offices also began to require a connection node to be part of it. ARPANET’s first 4 operational nodes were: UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, SRI and the University of Utah. In 1970 the first 8-inch IBM floppy disks as well as the daisy-head printer made their debut.

In 1971 Ray Tomlinson realized the most important application of the net: the electronic mail . With Newman they send their first e-mail message over the network.

In 1972, the first pocket calculators became popular, making old slide rules obsolete.

Nolan Bushnell creates Atari , the Pong game comes out shortly thereafter .

Also in “72 the Intel 8080 microprocessor was born, the first 8-bit microprocessor.

The C language

At the end of ’72 Dennis Ritchie develops the “C” language at the Bell laboratories. So called simply because its predecessor was baptized “B”. The “C” language allows the portability of a program between different operating systems. The UNIX Operating System is then rewritten in “C” language to be used on machines and architectures other than the PDP-11.

In 1973, Xerox PARC developed an experimental PC called Alto, which uses a mouse, an Ethernet network card, and a graphical user interface (GUI) called SmallTalk . Curiosity: the monitor was oriented vertically in order to edit the text without having to resort to the so-called scrolling . A year later, Xerox PARC itself writes the first WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) application and calls it BRAVO.

In 1975, IBM introduced the first laser printers to the market. A year later it will be the turn of ink-jet printers.

The era of home computers

Apple II

In 1977 the APPLE II was released on the market , the first home computer with word processing programs, spreadsheets, games and much more. In the same year Bill Gates and Paul Allen founded Microsoft. ATARI sells the first home console: the VCS 2600.

In 1978 the Intel 8086 16-bit processor comes out.

In 1979 Don Bricklin and Bob Franston created VISICALC, the first spreadsheet in history. The “resource hunger” of this program contributed to making all previous computers obsolete.

Also in ’79 Motorola introduced the 68000 chip, which would later support Macintosh computers and Commodore Amigas. In the same year Sony and Philips announce the first digital video discs while the first mobile phones are being studied.

IBM Personal Computer

In 1981 the open architecture of the IBM PC was launched in August, decreeing the affirmation of the desktop computer at the expense of company terminals connected to the MainFrame . A year later Compaq produces the first clone. Commodore presents the famous VIC 20: 6502A processor, 5 KB of Ram. Up to 9,000 copies will be sold per day.

In 1982 Commodore presented the Commodore 64. The best-selling computer in history : between 17 and 22 million units.

In 1983 the IBM XT computer was released, at the same time the Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet was launched on the market, which allows the creation of pie charts

In 1983, the specifications of the TCP / IP network protocol were published, marking the beginning of the Internet age

In 1984, Apple announced the Macintosh personal computer. Sony and Philips introduce the first CD-ROMs, which provide huge data recording capacity (up to 640mb). Production of the 16-bit Intel 80286 processor begins in August and is included in the IBM “AT” PC.

Silicon Graphics markets its first Unix graphics workstation entirely dedicated to three-dimensional graphics.

The DNS (Domain Name Server) is born on the Internet. It translates the numerical addresses of the machines into names.

In 1985 Microsoft developed Windows 1.0, introducing typical aspects of the Macintosh (menus, windows, icons) in compatible DOS computers. In October, Intel announced the 32-bit 80386 chip with on-chip memory management.

It was from the Internet

In 1989 Tim Berners-Lee proposed the World Wide Web (WWW) project at CERN. In the same year the Intel 80486 processor comes out, with 1.2 million transistors. Quake and Doom are the first three-dimensional video games for personal computers.

In 1990 the Microsoft Windows 3.0 operating system was born from a split with IBM. IBM will make up for it by releasing its own operating system: OS / 2

In the same year the internet of our days was born: Berners Lee writes the initial prototype for the WWW, which uses his other creations: URL, HTML and HTTP.

Linux e Linus

In 1991 Linus Torvalds writes the first version of the Linux operating system which is disseminated over the internet on the FTP site of the University of Helsinky.

In 1993 Intel announced the Pentium processor.


In April 1994 the software that will change history was born: Jim Clark and Marc Andreesen founded Netscape Communications (originally Mosaic Communications). At the end of the year the Netscape Navigator browser comes out and the web surfers boom is immediately.

In 1995 Microsoft, with an extraordinary market operation, launches Windows 95 which includes the Internet Explorer browser. For this reason, Microsoft will face an unfair competition trial. Microsoft’s move allows it to take the leadership of Internet browsing by forcing Netscape to close.

In 1998 the Internet is in almost all offices and in many homes, the phenomenon of the “New Economy” is born

In 1999 Palm Computing introduced the 3Com Palm IIIe handheld computer.

From 2000 to 2010 the internet is everywhere through cable, satellite or wi-fi connections: from any device it is possible to access the internet. Mobile phones have turned into pocket mini PCs permanently connected to the network and capable of playing video in real time. Even telephony migrates over the network, thanks to VoIP (Voice over IP) it is possible to make calls using the network. It is also the period in which Apple returns to the fore by creating products such as the iPhone and the iPad based on a touch interface of extreme quality and usability.

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