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A Potted History of Computers, Computing and Communications

The following computer timeline includes early developments and their clear impact on computing today. A number of inventors and pioneers have contributed to the history of computation, many whose names are recorded here in our 'concise' documentation from the early 1600's.

Timeline: Post Jurassic

Notwithstanding the missing link, the human race is arguably the earliest form of computers on the planet (computer, a phrase coined by Sir Thomas Browne in 1646). It might otherwise be fair to say that gadgets designed and/or created to assist us include the counting board, not dissimilar to the abacus, thought to have been invented in Babylon circa 2400BC and still in use by the Babylonians circa 300BC.

The abacus, though not widely accepted in Europe until circa 1000, has itself been around since circa 500BC. A more recent discovery, the Antikythera mechanism, circa 100BC, the oldest known complex scientific 'astronomical' calculator was recovered from the Antikythera wreck at the turn of the 20th century.

In the 17th century, 1614, John Napier invented Logarithms. In 1622, English mathematician William Oughtred (1574-1660) created the slide rule. German Wilhelm Schickard (1592-1635) designed an adding machine called the Calculating Clock in 1623, and in 1642 Frenchman Blaise Pascal (1623-62) invented a mechanical calculator. In 1668 Sir Samuel Morland created a non-decimal adding machine designed to calculate English currency.

Snippet: German philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) invents the Binary System 1703. in 1775 British statesman and scientist, Charles Stanhope, the third Earl of Stanhope (1753-1816), brother-in-law to William Pitt the Younger, successfully constructed calculating machines and he also, by the turn of the century, invented a printing press, known as the Stanhope press.

Timeline: 1800–1899

1801: In 1801 Joseph Marie Charles (otherwise known as Joseph Marie Jacquard (1752-1834)) invented the Jacquard 'Silk' Loom, utilising punch cards, the world's first programmable machine, beginning the computer revolution.

Previously, looms were operated by two workers, the weaver and the draw boy, Joseph himself once a draw boy. The draw boy would sit up high on the loom, raise and lower the heavy reeds as per the weaver's requirements. Jacquard cards were later modified and evolved into computing (binary) punch cards.

Base 10 (0-9) is the numbering system most common to us. Binary is a minimum number of digits (old Latin digita meaning fingers) needed to transmit data, illustrated in modern computing by a 0 (zero) representing OFF and a 1 (one) representing ON.

1821-37: Charles Babbage (1791/2-1871), computer pioneer, designer and inventor the first automatic computing engines, the Difference and Analytical Engines. Charles, although generally accepted and recorded born in 1791, more recent research suggests that he may have been born the following year in 1792.

When Charles started his No. 1 Difference Engine project, he is thought to have hired Joseph Clement, considered at that time the best machinist in London, before setting out to create a machine that could handle as many as fifty digits. Each number in the Difference Engine was represented by a column of cogwheels, and each cogwheel was marked with digits from 0 to 9.

Although first described in 1837, the British government had earlier suspended funding for Charles Babbage's Difference Engine in 1832 and it was consequently not completed in his lifetime; though two of the No. 2 Engine incorporating improvement taken from designs of his subsequent Analytical Engine, assisted by notes from Ada Lovelace (1815-1852), have more recently been reconstructed (1991), one of which can be seen at the British Science Museum (Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London).

1832: Semen Korsakov uses punch cards for the first time to store and search for information.

1837: Morse-code (Samuel Morse) and the Postage Stamp (Rowland Hill) were both realised in the same year.

1858: First transatlantic telegraph.

1864: George Boole, English mathematician best known as authour of the The Laws of Thought incuding Boolean algerbra died (8 December 1864 (b. 2 November 1815)). Boolean logic is credited with laying the foundations for the information age.

1872: The QWERTY keyboard is invented by American James Densmore.

1876: Telephone invented by Alexander Graham Bell.

1877: The microphone is invented in the United States by Emile Berliner.

1879: William Crookes develops the Crookes' (Maltese cross) tube, an early form of the cathode ray tube – old monitors, Tv's (Thomson's CRT: 1897).

1885: First UK long distance telephone call between London and Liverpool.

1885-1924: International Business Machines (IBM) Corporation incorporated in 1924, formed through a merger of three different companies: the Tabulating Machine Company (Herman Hollerith (1896 with origins in Washington, D.C. in the 1880s)), the International Time Recording Company (founded 1900 in Endicott) and the Computing Scale Corporation (founded 1901 in Dayton, Ohio, USA).

Timeline: 1900–1999

Unlike today, the computer largely a standard system designed to multi-function, early endeavour meant that many machines were built with a specific purpose in mind, such as Colossus (Developed for use by British code breakers during WWII); ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, developed for the US Military, 1946); LEO (the Lyons Electronic Office, designed to solve clerical problems) 1951 and ERNIE (Electronic Random Number Indicating Equipment, designed to administer Premium Bond winners since 1957).

1924: IBM incorporated following the merger of three companies founded in the 19th and very early 20th century (1900, 1901).

1936-1937: A Turing machine is a theoretical device that manipulates symbols on a strip of tape according to a table of rules. Despite its simplicity, a Turing machine can be adapted to simulate the logic of any computer algorithm, and is particularly useful in explaining the functions of a CPU inside a computer.

The 'Turing' machine was described by Alan Turing in 1937. Turing machines are not intended as a practical computing technology, but rather as a thought experiment representing a computing machine. They help computer scientists understand the limits of mechanical computation.

1939: David Packard and Bill Hewlett establish Hewlett-Packard (HP).

1943: IBM chief Thomas Watson said that there would only ever be enough demand for five computers in the world.

1943-44: Colossus was the world's first programmable, digital, electronic, computing device, the first of which is operational at Bletchley Park in 1944. Designed by British engineer Tommy Flowers, the Colossus was created to break, in hours rather than weeks, the complex Lorenz ciphers (encrypted messages) used by the Germans during WWII. Ten machines were delivered to Bletchley, each using 1,500 vacuum tubes (thermionic valves) with a series of pulleys transporting rolls of punched paper tape containing possible solutions to a particular code.

1944-45: ENIAC inventors John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert proposed the Discrete Variable Automatic Computer (EDVAC) construction in August 1944, and design work for the EDVAC commenced before the ENIAC was fully operational. The design would implement a number of important architectural and logical improvements conceived during the ENIAC's construction incorporating high speed serial access memory.

John von Neumann wrote the First Draft of a Report on the EDVAC, commonly known as the First Draft, in which he outlined the architecture of a stored-program computer. It contains the first published description of the logical design of a computer using the stored-program concept, which has controversially come to be known as the von Neumann architecture.

1946: Initially commissioned to assist gunners in WWII, further developed to aid scientists and engineers with complex and repetitive calculations, IBM introduce the Fast Electronic Calculator at the University of Pennsylvania.

Also referred to as the Electronic Brain or by its proper name, Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC) the machine, built by John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert incorporating 18,000 valves, improved by 1,000 times the speed of its contemporaries.

1947: Computer pioneers Presper Eckert and John Mauchly founded the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation to construct machines based on their experience with ENIAC and EDVAC. The only machine the company built was the Binary Automatic Computer (BINAC), an early electronic computer designed for Northrop Aircraft Company in 1949.

1947: The Transistor is invented by Walter Brattain and William Shockley.

1947: The Williams tube won the race for a practical random-access memory. Sir Frederick Williams of Manchester University modified a cathode-ray tube to paint dots and dashes of phosphorescent electrical charge on the screen, representing binary ones and zeros. Vacuum tube machines, such as the IBM 701, used the Williams tube as primary memory.

1948: Norbert Wiener published 'Cybernetics', a major influence on later research into artificial intelligence. He drew on his WWII experiments with anti-aircraft systems that anticipated the course of enemy planes by interpreting radar images. It is understood that Wiener coined the term cybernetics from the Greek word for steersman.

In addition to cybernetics, historians note Wiener for his analysis of brain waves and for his exploration of the similarities between the human brain and the modern computing machine capable of memory association, choice and decision making.

1949: Maurice Wilkes assembled the Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator (EDSAC) at Cambridge University, the first practical stored-program computer. For programming the EDSAC, Wilkes established a library of short programs called subroutines stored on punched paper tapes.

1951: England's first commercial computer, the Lyons Electronic Office (LEO), solved clerical problems. The president of Lyons Tea Co. had the computer built to solve the problem of daily scheduling, production and delivery of cakes to the Lyons tea shops throughout the UK. After some success, Lyons went into business manufacturing computers to meet the growing need for data processing systems.

1954: IBM develops a computer specifically for business use. The machine consisted of a central arithmetic and logic unit that processed information from a bank of cathode-ray memory tubes, and from data stored on reels of magnetic tape, each able to hold as much information as a large City telephone directory. At ten million operations an hour, the machines raised existing calculation speeds by a thousand and were rented for approximately $25,000.00 per month.

1957: ERNIE (Electronic Random Number Indicating Equipment) was designed and implemented to administer Premium Bond winners.

1958: Development in electronic miniaturisation, the integrated circuit in which several component-like transistors are built into a single chip of silicon.

1958: Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE), built by the US Air Force in partnership with IBM, linked hundreds of radar stations in the United States and Canada in the first large-scale computer (AN/FSQ-7) communications network at that time, and quite possibly still the largest computer in the world.

1959: IBM launches 7000 series mainframes, the company's first transistorised computers, some of which featured a 64-bit word and other innovations.

1960: American Telephone & Telegraph (AT&T) designed its data-phone, the first commercial modem, specifically for converting digital computer data to analogue signals for transmission across its long distance network.

1963: American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII).

1963: Douglas Engelbart invents the computer mouse (Patented 1970) in his research lab at Stanford Research Institute (subsequently SRI International).

1965: Commodore Business Machines (CBM) is founded.

1968Intel, integrated circuits.

1968-69: The Apollo Guidance computer made its debut orbiting the earth on Apollo 7 in 1968. It steered Apollo 11 to the lunar surface the following year.

1969: Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), integrated circuits.

1971: The floppy disk (IBM); Sony ('81).

1971-72: Computer Space was the first video game arcade machine (an arcade version of Space-wars), built by Nolan Bushnell in 1971. In 1972 he introduced Pong and his new company, Atari video games.

1971-73: The Japanese (Busicom) the first to incorporate an LED display; and the Americans (Bowmar) launched pocket calculators in 1971, closely followed by Hewlett-Packard (HP) in 1972; then Sir Clive Sinclair in August 1972 with a more moderately priced unit, the first true pocket calculator, the Sinclair Executive. Shortly after that a Soviet made pocket calculator, the Elektronika, was developed in 1973, available the following year.

1973: Motorola are the first company to produce a handheld mobile phone, 3 April.

1973: The Xerox Alto was an early 'non-commercial' personal computer developed at Xerox PARC in 1973. It was the first computer to use the desktop metaphor and graphical user interface (GUI).

1975: Microsoft is founded in April by Bill Gates and Paul Allen.

1976: The Queen sends her first e-mail. Queen Elizabeth II sends out an e-mail on March 26 from the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment (RSRE) in Malvern, near Worcester, as a part of a demonstration of networking technology.

1976: Apple Computer Inc. established, April 1. See also: January 1977.

1977: Established in Cupertino, California on April 1, 1976, Apple Computer is incorporated in January.

1979: The Dongle.

1981: IBM introduces its first Personal Computer supporting Microsoft's MS-DOS operating system and an Intel 4.77 MHz 8088 microprocessor. IBM entered the PC market with a disk operating system that soon became the industry standard, the beginning of a partnership between IBM and Microsoft.

1981: The Acorn BBC Microcomputer (The Beeb) is launched and largely taken up by schools throughout the UK.

1982: The ZX Spectrum, an 8-bit personal home computer, is launched in the UK by Sinclair Research Ltd., rivalled by the Commodore 64 ('82) and the BBC Micro. ('81).

1982: Commodore introduces the Commodore 64 (C64).

1983: Bill Gates announces Windows and Word to the world, though not largely available until 1985.

1983: The Domain Name System (DNS) is created.

1983: Compaq, now a part of HP, introduces first IBM-compatible computer that used the same software as the IBM PC. Designers reverse-engineered the Compaq clone, giving it almost 100% compatibility with the IBM.

1983: Apple introduced Lisa, thought to be the first 'commercial' personal computer with a graphical user interface (GUI) some ten years after Xerox.

1984: Apple introduces the Macintosh, January 24.

1984: Lenovo Group Limited founded (incorporated in Hong Kong in 1988), the first company to introduce the home computer concept in the People's Republic of China.

1985: DELL introduces their first computer.

1989: The World Wide Web was conceived by Sir Timothy (Tim) John Berners-Lee (British Scientist).

1991: Finnish university student Linus Torvalds introduces the Linux open source operating system.

1992: Microsoft releases Windows 3.1.

1992: British Engineer sends first ever text message from a PC, December, 1992. Short Message Service (SMS), a Franco-German innovation, GSM Group, 1984, was first used when Neil Papworth, a 22-year-old test engineer for the 'then' Sema Group used a personal computer to send the text message 'Merry Christmas' via the Vodafone network to the phone of Vodafone director Richard Jarvis.

1994: Though once the largest single supplier of computers in the world, Commodore declares bankruptcy and stops operating indefinitely.

1994: Netscape Communications Corporation is founded. Netscape was originally founded as Mosaic Communications Corporation in April of 1994 by Marc Andreessen, Jim Clark and others.

1994: Yahoo (Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle) is founded by Stanford graduate students Jerry Yang and David Filo. Yahoo started out as 'Jerry's Guide to the World Wide Web' before renamed.

1995: Microsoft launches Windows '95 in August. Windows NT 4.0 is released in July the following year.

1995: Toy Story is the first full length computer-animated feature film.

1998: Microsoft launches Windows '98 in June.

1998: Google incorporated is created in September, depositing a cheque for $100,000.00 from Sun co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim, before setting up workspace in a garage in California true to the tradition of many great computer companies.

Timeline: 2000 to-date

2000: Microsoft launches Windows 2000 to replace NT in February, followed by Windows Millennium Edition (ME) in June.

2000CAPTCHA.

2001: Windows XP is launched in October.

2004: December. Lenovo Group Limited ('84), the leading Personal Computer brand in China and across Asia, and IBM announce a definitive agreement under which Lenovo will acquire IBM's Personal Computing Division to form the world's third-largest PC business giving Lenovo global market reach beyond China and Asia.

2005: May. Lenovo Group Limited acquire IBM's Personal Computing Division.

2006: Google acquire YouTube.

2007: Windows Vista is made available to the public in January.

2007: Apple re-brand from Apple Computer inc. to Apple inc. best reflecting their change in the market place.

2007: WEEE Directive UK (WEEED).

2009: Windows 7, the seventh generation of Windows platforms is launched October 22.

2010: The end to the manufacture of floppies is announced – no more from March 2011.

2011: Man vs. Machine – February, the IBM supercomputer 'Watson' defeated former US Tv Jeopardy! Champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, raising $1 million for IBM, donated to charity. Despite this impressive result, the human brain is much more powerful than any conceivable computer. The computer may need time to explore its vast database, and when it gets an answer wrong, it gets it 'spectacularly' wrong.

2011: American innovator and visionary Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple dies aged 56, 5 October (1955-2011). Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak together established Apple Computer, California, 1976; incorporated 'Apple Computer inc.' January 1977; renamed 'Apple inc.' in 2007 reflecting their change in the global market place.

2012: Blackout day 18 January - the Wikimedia Foundation blackout their website for 24 hours in protest against the US Congress who contemplate legislation that could conceivably damage the free and open Internet, essentially leading to the first ever Internet strike. Pending possible US legislation relating to Internet piracy could potentially also impact on much valued global gatekeepers such as Google.

2012: The Raspberry Pi foundation launch the ARM Raspberry Pi Model B Small-board (credit-card sized) Computer (SBC) on 29 February (See: http://computerspace.co.uk).

2012: Cefax comes to an end today, 23 October, 2012 when the last analogue signal is switched off in the UK (NI).

2012: Windows 8, the eighth generation of Windows platforms is launched in the UK November 29.

2013: A National Audit Office (NAO) report, 12 February, claims that cyber crime is currently costing the UK between 18bn and 27bn a year.

2013: Cyber-Attackers Steel $45M in Worldwide Fake ATM Card Breach. abc News (US) reported, May 9, that eight defendants are charged in the largest bank heist of its kind, a $45 million worldwide theft that took just hours using fabricated ATM cards.

2013: IBM has unveiled a prototype of a new brain-inspired computer powered by what it calls "electronic blood", 18 October; IBM PC pioneer William C Lowe dies, aged 72, 19 October.

2013: Posthumous Royal pardon for computer pioneer and codebreaker Alan Turing with effect 24 December, his later life overshadowed by his 1952 conviction for homosexual activity.

2014: On 18th June, Bletchley Park – Britain's main decryption establishment during World War Two – opens to the public following completion of a year-long restoration project. The site restored to its World War II appearance, includes a new Visitor Centre and interactive displays. Bletchley's main focus, thought to reduce the war by two years, was on codes generated by the German Enigma and Lorenz machines.

2015: Apple launches a collection of smartwatches at a press event in San Francisco on 9 March, prices spanning from £299.00 to £13,500.00.

2015: 23 June, Verizon complete the acquisition of AOL for $4.4 billion. Verizon Wireless (Verizon), founded in April, 2000, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Verizon Communications Inc. based in New Jersey, USA. In 2014 the largest wireless telecommunications provider in the United States; formerly a joint venture of American telecommunications firm Bell Atlantic – which became Verizon Communications – and global British telecommunications company Vodafone.