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13 November 2014

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Digital 60

You are in: Manchester > Science > Digital 60 > A short history of computers

A short history of computers

Computers have been on something of a miraculous journey since the Small-Scale Experimental Machine (SSEM) or 'Baby' ran its first program in Manchester in 1948. Here are just some of the highlights, both in Manchester and worldwide.

'Baby' in December 1948

'Baby' in December 1948

21 June 1948 – 'Baby' runs the world's first stored program, effectively becoming the world’s first computer. Developed by Frederic C. Williams and Tom Kilburn, the computer was 5.2m long x 2.2m high, weighed one tonne and had less computing power than a modern calculator; one operation could take up to 25 minutes

October 1950 – Having moved to Manchester to work on the Manchester Mark 1 (the next generation of 'Baby'), the computer scientist and philosopher Alan Turing publishes his paper 'Computing Machinery and Intelligence'. This paper helps create the Turing Test, which is a test to find out if a machine is sentient

A computer chip

A computer chip

1951 – Christopher Strachey programs the first computer-generated music, using the Manchester Mark 1 to play 'God Save The Queen'

1951 - The first commercial computer, the 'Ferranti MARK I' is now functional at the University of Manchester

1954 – the first high level programming languages are used by John Backus and IBM in the US (FORTRAN or formula translation) and Tony Brooker in Manchester (the Mark 1 Autocode)

1958 – The integrated circuit or 'chip' is invented by Americans Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce, which allows the size and cost of computers to begin to decrease (Kilby won the  Nobel Prize in physics in 2000 for the invention of the chip)

A floppy disc

A floppy disc

February 1962 - 'SpaceWar!', the first computer game is released

1964 - Douglas Engelbart makes the first computer mouse so called because, as Engelbart explained, "the tail came out the end"

October 1965 - In Manchester, the University forms the Department of Computer Science and an undergraduate course in Computer Science, the first of its kind, begins

1969 – ARPAnet, a forerunner of the Internet, is invented as a US military device. ARPAnet would also send the first email in 1971

A 1983 Atari home computer

A 1983 Atari home computer

1970 – the DRAM (Dynamic Random Access Memory) chip takes the place of the original integrated circuit. Coupled with the invention of the microprocessor the following year in 1971, the push towards smaller computers truly begins

1971 –the production of the first floppy disc, allowing for transport of info from one computer to another

1972 - the compact disc is invented in the United States, though it is many years before it takes over from the floppy disc as the standard portable format for computers

1972 - Magnavox releases the first home video game console, the Magnavox Odyssey, invented by Ralph H. Baer

March 1974 – the first PC (personal computer) is released, though it would be three more years until they were truly available as home computers

Osborne 1, the first luggable computer

Osborne 1, the first luggable computer

1979 – the first word processing software is released

1981 – MS-DOS, the Microsoft Operating System, is available to the public for the first time, making PCs easier to use

1982 – the first luggable computer is introduced. While being physically unlike a laptop, the small and portable nature of the luggable computer would lead to the invention of the less clumsy laptop

1990 - Tim Berners-Lee proposes a 'hypertext' system, allowing for the invention of the Internet as we know it today

Garry Kasparov

Garry Kasparov

10 September 1990 - Archie, the first Internet search engine, is introduced

6 August 1991 - The World Wide Web is launched to the public by Tim Berners-Lee, who developed it as a research tool

1995 – the first social networking websites begin to appear, with a leading one,, focusing on ties with former school mates

1997 – IBM's 'Deep Blue' computer defeats world champion chess player Garry Kasparov, becoming the first machine to win a chess game against a reigning world champion

1998 – The University of Manchester celebrates 50 years of computing in the city by rebuilding of the original Small-Scale Experimental Machine of 1948 and running newly-written programs on it

Part of the IBM Roadrunner

Part of the IBM Roadrunner

1998 – the first mp3 player is introduced, sparking a revolution in the music industry which would see downloaded music outsell physical formats

2008 – the world’s fastest computer, the IBM Roadrunner at US Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration, performs 10,000,000,000,000,000 operations per second. The supercomputer is made up of 296 racks of hardware and occupies approximately 550 square metres

last updated: 19/05/2009 at 11:08
created: 17/06/2008

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