A History of Modern Computing (History of Computing)

A History of Modern Computing (History of Computing)

Paul E. Ceruzzi

Language: English

Pages: 460

ISBN: 0262532034

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


This engaging history covers modern computing from the development of the first electronic digital computer through the dot-com crash. The author concentrates on five key moments of transition: the transformation of the computer in the late 1940s from a specialized scientific instrument to a commercial product; the emergence of small systems in the late 1960s; the beginning of personal computing in the 1970s; the spread of networking after 1985; and, in a chapter written for this edition, the period 1995-2001. The new material focuses on the Microsoft antitrust suit, the rise and fall of the dot-coms, and the advent of open source software, particularly Linux. Within the chronological narrative, the book traces several overlapping threads: the evolution of the computer's internal design; the effect of economic trends and the Cold War; the long-term role of IBM as a player and as a target for upstart entrepreneurs; the growth of software from a hidden element to a major character in the story of computing; and the recurring issue of the place of information and computing in a democratic society. The focus is on the United States (though Europe and Japan enter the story at crucial points), on computing per se rather than on applications such as artificial intelligence, and on systems that were sold commercially and installed in quantities.

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UNIVAC console, ca. 1960. Reels of UNIVAC tape are visible on both sides of the control panel. (Source : Smithsonian Institution photo #83-14878, gift of Grace Murray Hopper.) showed the central processor was available 81 percent of the time, a very high figure compared to contemporary vacuum-tube machines.52 The Census Bureau said, ‘‘We never encountered an incorrect solution to a problem which we were sure resulted from an internal computer error.’’53 The machine’s design reflected Eckert’s

equation. As far as the public face is concerned, ‘‘computing’’ is the least important thing that computers do. But it was to solve equations that the electronic digital computer was invented. The word ‘‘computer’’ originally meant a person who solved equations; it was only around 1945 that the name was carried over to machinery.2 That an invention should find a place in society unforeseen by its inventors is not surprising.3 The story of the computer illustrates that. It is not that the computer

in the mid1960s, the Model 33 was one of the first to adopt the standard for coding bits then being promulgated by the American Standards Association, a code known as ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange). The Flexowriter’s code was popular with some business equipment companies, but its code was rejected as a basis for the computer industry when ASCII was developed.70 Just as the Chain Printer symbo- 134 Chapter 4 lized the mainframe computing environment, the Model 33

dominate the industry. The computer business was not a zero-sum game; DEC’s gain was not automatically IBM’s loss—at least not for a while. The mini showed that with the right packaging, price, and above all, a more direct way for users to gain access to computers, whole new markets would open up. That amounted to nothing less than a redefinition of the word ‘‘computer,’’ just as important as the one in the 1940s, when that word came to mean a machine instead of a person that did calculations.

Palevsky stated, under oath for the United States vs. IBM antitrust trial, that he believed otherwise.69 The division did not grow, and Xerox closed XDS in 1975. SDS had no adequate plan for expanding its products beyond the narrow niche it occupied—again revealing the wisdom of IBM’s System/360 philosophy. But Xerox must also shoulder the blame. The company had built up the finest research laboratory for computing in the world, in Palo Alto, California, but it failed to fit these two pieces of

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