Let’s get personal—or, the rise of personal computers

25.02.2016 |

Episode #5 of the course Brief history of computers by Sudeshna Das

 

Hey there! Today, we are going to explore how computers came to be household names.

Integrated Circuits, or ICs, started being used in the early 1960s. These are chips that contain multiple transistors packed onto them that perform the same task as transistors would perform if they were placed in separate chips. So, ICs essentially pack more processing power into a smaller surface area.

The number of transistors that can fit into a chip has gone from a mere ten per chip in the year 1964 to more than one million today. In fact, a law known as Moore’s Law states that the overall processing power for computers will double about every 18 months. (Moore’s Law remained true till recently, when it has started to break down.)

In 1964, the IBM System/360 series of computers was built in the United States. These computers bridged the gap between computers for scientific and non-scientific usage by following the same basic internal structure for all computers in the series.

By the year 1976, commercial personal computers were being built by multiple companies. One of these companies was Apple. The first consumer computer from Apple, Apple II, boasted color graphics and had sales of more than four million units.

Following Moore’s Law, the processing power of computers kept on increasing while prices dropped. This enabled multiple companies to create affordable microcomputers for use by the general public. These computers introduced in the market in 1977 were dubbed “home computers.”

The Atari ST series of computers were the first personal computers that came with a graphical user interface. The personal computers by Atari were particularly popular in Europe and found use for desktop publishing by small businesses.

In 1981, the IBM Personal Computer was launched. IBM had a company called Microsoft write the operating system for the IBM PC. While IBM PCs were an instant success, Microsoft continued working on bettering their operating system, ultimately launching Windows in 1985.

The launch of the Apple Macintosh in 1984 was the precursor to the now wildly popular personal computers by Apple.

While new home computers were being launched on one hand, newer software for these computers was also on the rise. Spreadsheet software Lotus 1-2-3 and word processing software Microsoft Word were also launched during this time. But perhaps the most significant development taking place was building the technology that we now call the Internet.

Watch out for tomorrow’s email, where we will find out the story behind the Internet.

Till then, have a great day!

 

Recommended book

“A History of Modern Computing” by Paul E. Ceruzzi

 

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