Friday, March 18, 2011

What is the history of computers?

First of all, we should define what is a computer for further research on its history is understood as a machine able to manipulate information according to a predetermined list of instructions, the ability to run this list of instructions or "software" is what distinguishes them from calculators.

It is difficult to establish what were the early history of the computer, since the very definition of what a computer has evolved, and devices that were once called "computers" today would not be labeled as such. In the opinion of many, the first computer by today's standards, that is the first electronic digital and was created by John Atanassoff between 1933 and 1942. For full details of this invention, you can read our article "Who invented the computer?".

The first models, as just mentioned, come from the forties, although the computer concept come from many years earlier. In fact the term before the digital age is related to performing calculations with the help of mechanical devices like the abacus, the astrolabe and the slide rule and the concept of mechanically assisted calculation can be found in history since the 150 BC, so there was no way he is new era we live. Now if we annotate our historical research to devices capable of being "programmed", we find that one of the first precursor mechanisms in our history dating back to 1800. In 1801, Joseph Marie Jacquard, inventor and manufacturer of hats, was responsible for a breakthrough in creating the "Jacquard loom", using punch cards to create different and creative patterns on her loom, the punch cards are a primitive form programmability.

Charles Babbage in 1837, invented a mechanical programmable computer called "analytical engine", but due to financial problems and design, never built. Although he had, for many it would have been by today's standards the first computer, as it was not electronic.

During the 1890 census in the United States, first conducted large-scale processing of information using punch cards in conjunction with tabulating machines, manufactured by the corporation "Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation, which later became the well known IBM.

Just between 1930 and 1950, the history of the computer as this really started and created the true precursor of today's models, with features that make them recognizable by today's standards: In 1941 Konrad Zuse creates electromechanical machine called "Z3 "were the first machines capable of processing binary arithmetic, and for some it was the first computer to meet the parameters of a" Turing complete "standard studied in computer science. As mentioned earlier, in 1941 arises Atanassoff-Berry Computer, which used vacuum tubes. In 1944 the British created the computer "Colossus" in order to decipher the German messages.

In 1946 the Ballistic Research Laboratory U.S. created the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer), which was the first programmable digital computer in history on a large scale, capable of addressing a range of computational problems. It was built to make artillery calculations. While this was already common features with modern computers, was inflexible and required permanent restructuring to change their programming. Some developers of it, created a flexible design, called "von Neumann architecture" in honor of the great mathematician who first proposed it in 1945. The ability to store programs, this architecture we have mentioned, is the common feature of these early prototypes with modern machines.

During the 50 computers were built using these principles, based on vacuum tubes, and therefore used large physical space to operate (the size of several rooms). Following the story line, the replacement of these tubes by the transistor, in the 1960's, allowed to make computers smaller, faster, and affordable, leading to commercial computing.

For the decade of the 70s, the advent of integrated circuits and then microprocessors (the first commercial microprocessor was the Intel 4004) caused a revolution in terms of size, speed and cost. On reaching the 1980, computers were already built into appliances and other everyday devices, and are amplified while the concept of "personal computer" or household. With the help of the massification of the Internet in the 90's, personal computers have become so common goods such as television and telephone.

History and the generations of computers

Another way of tabulating and understand the history of the computer is divided into "generations" of them, grouped according to their outstanding technical characteristics for each season. The first generation, between 1951 and 1958, was characterized by the use of vacuum tubes, which gave a great size to these models, which also generated a lot of heat when operating.

The second generation (1959 - 1964), was characterized by the use of the transistor, which gave computers faster, and made them smaller. Instead of using punch cards and revolving drums, computers of this generation magnetic cores used to store information. It also introduced programming languages ​​such as COBOL.

The third generation of computers (1964 - 1971) was born with the invention of integrated circuits on silicon wafers, which allowed the grouping of thousands of miniature electronic components. The machines of this era were even smaller, faster and cheaper. It also began to use magnetic tapes to store information.

For the history of the computer, the fourth generation (1971 - 1981) is marked by two technological advances: the use of chips to store information, and the possibility of integrating an even greater number of electronic components on the same chip. Displayed the first microcomputers, IBM, and based on the known processor 8088, and including the popular Pentium (I, II, II, ..) and Celeron.

The fifth generation (1982 - 1989) stands out from the former by the creation in 1982 by Seymouy Cray's first computer with parallel processing capability. During this period also formalized efforts to the development of Artificial Intelligence, mainly driven by the Japanese government for his project "Fifth Generation."

The sixth generation (1990 to present) is characterized by the increasing power of computers to enable simultaneous operation of hundreds of microprocessors, the development and massive application of networks, and integration of the Internet.

As we can see, dividing the history of computer generations is quite arbitrary, especially for the fifth and sixth generation, where the boundaries between them are unclear and seem to blend, but remains a useful resource for understanding the historical context in exciting world of computing.