Computers have evolved from the fundamental principles of mathematical calculation and language processing. The computing systems of today are an outcome of the efforts and intellect of mathematicians, logicians, linguists, and technologists from all over the world.
Computer history comprises the evolutionary journey of computing systems, the timeline of operating systems as well as the history behind the development of computer software and hardware.
How did the different types of computers evolve? Here is an overview of the progress of computing technology from calculators of the 18th century right up to the modern-day digital portable computers.
Before 1801
Adding machine
Calculators were the earliest computing devices. They were the only computation tools for long years before the creation of computers.
After 1801
Punched cards
The years after 1801 were dominated by the use of punched cards for computing. Users would submit programming assignments to a computer center using stacks of cards. The programs used to be queued for processing and execution.
1930 - 1960
Desktop mechanical calculators were built during the 1930s. During the 1950s and the '60s, electronic desktop calculators were introduced. Analog computational technologies predominated this period.
1940 - 1960
Bipolar transistors
Bipolar transistors
This period witnessed the emergence of digital computing technology. Zuse Z3, ENIAC and EDSAC were some of the early digital computers.
  • First-generation computers were based on the von Neumann architecture.
  • In the second generation computers, bipolar transistors replaced vacuum tubes. They were composed of printed circuit boards.
Multi-core CPU
These years witnessed the development of third generation computers. They were based on integrated circuits. Computer systems of this period had large storage capacities and high processing powers. Multi-core CPUs became available in the 21st century. Laptops, palmtops, handheld PCs, notebook computers, and tablet PCs are popular today. Computer development continues.
Let us now look at the history and timeline of computing systems. Before moving ahead, it will be interesting to know when the first computer was made!
2400 BC
Abacus, the first known calculator was invented in Babylonia. It was a major step towards the era of computing that was to follow.
500 BC
Panini, an ancient Indian Sanskrit grammarian came up with the predecessor of the modern formal language theory.
300 BC
Pingala invented the binary number system that serves as the foundation of computing systems the world over.
John Napier designed the system of movable rods, which used algorithms to perform the basic mathematical operations.
Slide rule
William Oughtred invented the slide rule, which is a mechanical analog computer that can be used to perform basic mathematical operations.
Charles Babbage
Charles Babbage devised the first mechanical computer.
1935 - 1944
1937: John V. Atanasoff devised the first digital electronic computer.
1939: Atanasoff and Clifford Berry came up with the ABC prototype.
1941: The electromechanical Z machines by Konrad Zuse proved to be an important step in the evolution of computers.
1943: Colossus, which was able to decode German messages, was designed at Bletchley Park in Britain.
1944: Harvard Mark I, a computer with lesser programmability was designed.
John von Neumann described a stored program architecture, for the first time ever. This architecture was at the heart of computer systems developed thereafter. This architecture, which came to be known as the von Neumann architecture is a part of every computer even today.
The Ballistics Research Laboratory of the United States came up with the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC). It was the first general-purpose electronic computer; but had an inflexible architecture.
The US National Bureau of Standards came up with the Standards Electronic/Eastern Automatic Computer (SEAC). It was the first computer using diodes for handling logic.
Lynos Electronic Office (LEO), the first business computer was developed by John Simmons and T. Raymond Thompson. UNIVAC I, the first commercial computer was designed in the United States by John Presper Eckert and John W. Mauchly. EDVAC, the electronic discrete variable automatic computer was introduced.
1955 - 1970
1955: Bell Labs introduced its first transistor computer. Transistors made computers energy-efficient.
1958: Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) was formed. Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce made the first silicon chip.
1968: DEC launched the first mini computer known as PDP-8.
1969: The US Department of Defense founded the ARPANET. It was established with the intent to develop a computer network and is the predecessor of the Internet.
1971 - 1980
1971: Microcomputers came up with microprocessors and Ted Hoff at Intel, introduced 4-bit 4004.
1972: This year witnessed the creation of 8080 microprocessors by Intel.
1973: A minicomputer that was called Xerox Alto was developed during this year. It was an important milestone in the development of personal computers.
1974: Researchers at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center came up with Alto, which was the first workstation with an inbuilt mouse. It had a fair amount of storage capacity and offered menus and icons. It could also connect to a network.
1975: Altair came up with the first portable computer. The foundation of the present-day relationship between portability and computing was laid way back in 1975! Tandem computers, the first computers with online transaction processing capacities were born during this period.
1979: By 1979, more than half a million computers were in use in the United States. This number crossed 10 million by 1983.
1981 - 1990
1981: The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) was founded. It was during the same year that the first 32-bit chip was introduced by Hewlett-Packard.
1982: Intel announced the 80286 processor.
1983: In this year, the Time magazine nominated personal computer for the title 'machine of the year'.
1985: Intel introduced the 80386 processor that consists of a 16MHz processor.
1989: The World Wide Web was born. Tim Berners-Lee, a researcher at CERN, developed HTML. He came up with specifications such as URL and HTTP. He based the World Wide Web on enquiry-based system that used hypertext and enabled people to collaborate over a network. His first web server and browser became available to the public. The development of newer versions of computer systems continues.
An operating system is that software component of a computer system, which deals with the management of different computer processes and the sharing of computer resources. It hosts computer applications and handles computer hardware. Take a look at the major events in the history of operating systems. Before going ahead, you might like to take a quick look at the different types of operating systems.
1950 - 1980
1954: MIT came up with their operating system for UNIVAC 1103.
1964: Dartmouth time-sharing operating system was developed.
1965: Multics was announced. However, it was opened for paying customers in October 1969.
1966: DOS/360 of IBM came up.
1969: This year witnessed the development of the Unix operating system by AT&T.
1976: CP/M was developed.
1980: OS-9 came up in 1980.
1981 - 2000
1981: This year can be considered fortunate to have witnessed the development of MS-DOS. IBM had hired Paul Allen and Bill Gates to create an operating system in 1980. They used the operating system manufactured by the Seattle Computer Products as a template to develop DOS.
1984: Macintosh operating system came up this year.
1987: It was during this year that MINIX, BSD2000, and OS/2 were developed.
1988: RISC iX, LynxOS, and Macintosh OS (System 6) came up this year.
1989: This was the time when the RISC operating system was developed.
1991: It was in 1991 that Linux came up. It is a Unix-like operating system, which is a free software. It was during this year that Minix 1.5 was developed and Macintosh came up with System 7.
1992: Solaris, the successor of Sun OS 4.X came up during this year.
1993: Plan 9, FreeBSD, NetBSD, and Windows NT 3.1 came up in 1993.
1995: OpenBSD and Microsoft Windows 95 came up in 1995.
1996: Windows NT 4.0 entered the market in 1996.
1998: This year witnessed the release of Windows 98 as well of Solaris 7.
2000: Windows 2000, which hit the markets in 2000, was the first Windows server operating system to drop the 'NT' suffixed to its name. Windows ME, which was sold during this year, was the last operating system in the Windows 9x line. Red Hat Linux 6.2E also came up in 2000.
2001 - 2008
2001: Windows XP was launched and it soon gained wide popularity. Windows XP 64-bit edition followed in 2002.
2002: Windows XP Service Pack 1 was released in 2002.
2003: This year witnessed the launch of the Windows 2003 Server as also the release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3.
2004: Windows XP Service Pack 2 was released in 2004.
2006: Windows Vista entered the market.
2008: Windows Vista Service Pack 1 and Windows Server 2008 came up. It was during this very year that Windows XP Service Pack 3 was released.
Computers have always been the most efficient computational devices. They have high processing powers and are able to run and execute large programs. Programming languages serve as the means to write programs on computer systems. Thus, it is important to look at the timeline of the development of some of the major programming languages. Following is an overview of the important events in the history of computer languages.
Before 1950
The ENIAC coding system was primarily used in computing.
1951 - 1970
1954-55: Fortran "0" was designed by a team at IBM. Fortran Implementation was developed by John Backus at IBM in 1957.
1956-58: John McCarthy came up with the concept of LISP.
1959: COBOL concept came up followed by its implementation that was developed by the Codasyl Committee in 1960. The LISP implementation was developed in 1959. LISP's successor, Common LISP, came much later, in 1984.
1964: IBM came up with PL/I concept. PL/M followed years later in 1972. 1964 also saw the development of BASIC by Kemeny and Kurtz.
1969: Ken Thompson developed the B language.
1970: This was when Pascal was published.
1971 - 1990
1972: It was during 1972 that Smalltalk and Prolog were developed. One of the most important events in the history of computing was the development of C language. It was developed by Dennis Ritchie in 1972.
1975: Scheme, the successor of LISP came up in 1975 as also Modula, the successor of Pascal.
1978: SQL was developed at IBM in 1978.
1979: REXX and AWK came up in 1979.
1980-83: C with classes was developed in 1980. Objective-C came up in 1982. 1983 witnessed the development of C++, one of the very popular languages till date.
1985: PostScript and Object Pascal came in 1985.
1987: Perl that derives some of its features from C, as also from AWK, sed and sh evolved in 1987.
1991 - 2000
1991: Van Rossum came up with Python. Visual Basic, developed by Alan Cooper, came up in the same year.
1993: Ruby, which is considered a successor of Smalltalk and Perl, came up in 1993.
1994: PHP was born in 1994.
1995: ColdFusion belongs to 1995. It was during this year that James Gosling at Sun Microsystems came up with Java.
1996: Javascript was born this year. ECMAScript, its successor came up in 1997.
1999: XSLT, a language based on XML by the W3C and the Game Maker Language by Mark Overmars were born in 1999.
2000: The D language and C# came up in 2000.
2001 onward
2006: The development of Windows PowerShell by Microsoft was one of the significant events in computing that took place in 2006.
2007: Apple introduced the first iPhone. Microsoft launched Windows Vista.
2008: Google introduced the first version of Android.
2010: Apple released the first iPad, as well as the iPhone 4.
2011: Seagate released the first terabyte hard drive.
2012: This year saw the release of Microsoft Windows 8.
2013: Apple came up with iPhone 5S.
2014: Seagate released the first 8 terabyte hard drive. Intel brought the first eight-core desktop processor.
2015: Windows 10 was released by Microsoft.
Looking at the speedily advancing computing technology, we can surely say that the future of computers is going to be as glorious as their history.