Justin Heiner
Trends In Technology
Research Paper
5-21-97

From Mark One to Mach Five

Picture this scene: You're in a large room filled with electronic components. The room is larger than two of the rooms in your house put together. You walk up and down the aisles pondering the greatness of this huge machine that is stacked up in rows fu ll of vacuum tubes throughout the room. You wonder how this miraculous machine can do a whole calculation in just under thirty minutes, some of the time. It's amazing what this new invention can do! It doesn't matter if it miscalculates ten percent of the time. The marvelous part of this whole scene is that it does calculate. It calculates by itself with only some human help. If you saw this scene in this day and age, you would probably think that these people are crazy for trying to make a huge mac hine calculate the simplest of algebra problems. Even after these computers figured out the answer, they still needed to have a human recheck the answer to make sure that it is true. The computers were unreliable, inefficient, and extremely large. It's amazing how something that tremendously large and "stupid" could give birth to the computers that we have in our homes today. If it weren't for the laboring of these geniuses in the 1950's creating computers the size of rooms to do simple tasks, we woul d not have the supercomputers that we have today.

The earliest computers were slow, clumsy, expensive, filled up huge rooms, and literally weighed tons. The UNIVAC is a good example of this type of computer. "In 1968 you could pick up a 1.3 MHz CPU with half a megabyte of RAM and 100 megabyte hard driv e for a mere 1.6 million [dollars]."(UNIVAC Memories). The 100 megabyte hard drive itself weighed in at 2.25 tons and cost 130,000 dollars. Compare that to today's prices. I'm willing to bet that a 100 megabyte hard drive doesn't cost 130,000 dollars a nymore. A decent 100 megabyte hard drive will cost you about forty to fifty dollars now, maybe more if you try to get a new one. Also, these old computers took around thirty minutes to process one equation. Even after it was done, you still had to run i t through the machine again or check its answer by hand to make sure that it processed the question correctly. These machines were so unbelievably large and clumsy that they took up the full space of rooms.

When there was more demand for computers that did more work than just equations, the scientists and engineers creating the computers worked on making them take up less room. With the creation of the microchip came smaller computers. Vacuum tubes were no longer in use because they were obsolete. Computers didn't have to take up full rooms anymore. They just had to take up some of the room. Punch cards were no longer necessary in most cases, and the computers could be programmed by software, and not th e changing of circuits on the hardware. These exciting new computers were called Mainframes. They could take care of multiple users at one time and contained a set of built in instructions called an Operating System. People used these to program instru ctions into the computer and give multiple equations. These computers were considered lightning fast and very reliable. Of course, we now think that the Pentium is lightning fast and very reliable despite the fact that Windows 95 crashes every ten minu tes on a number of computers.

Some years later, the Atari company came out and dazzled the civilized world with high-tech games such as Space Invaders and Asteroids. International Business Machines (IBM) and Intel started development on a new machine called the Microcomputer. This d ream would be years away from becoming reality, but the idea was formed long before the product. Intel came out with a one kilobyte ram chip. One of these fancy chips cost a great deal of money and was used mainly for the new and high-tech computers. T he Apple computer company, a garage operation, created the first actual hit in the personal computer industry. They came out with the Apple computer, and later they developed the Apple ][. There was an Apple ]|[ at one time, but it sold very few compute rs and wasn't very popular. The product was discontinued almost immediately.

Before the introduction of the Personal Computer, two enterprising individuals, Paul Allen and Bill Gates, worked for companies reporting bugs in exchange for time working on mainframes and using the programs that they were troubleshooting. Gates and All en decided to copyright the name MicroSoft just in case they would want to start a corporation later on in life. In the meantime, though, they spent their time on mainframes using programs and writing small programs. Bill Gates and Paul Allen started be coming recognized when they created an implementation of the programming language called BASIC and sold it to various companies on various operating systems. It was at this time that Gates and Allen decided to go together and start the company, the Micro Soft Corporation. Allen and Gates were asked to make an operating system for this new computer that IBM was coming out with based on an Intel chip that had been in development for years. The only problem was that this new operating system had to be comp leted in around two months. MicroSoft, consisting mainly of Bill Gates and Paul Allen at this time, started on this overwhelming project. In two months, they had created what they called QDOS (Quick and Dirty Operating System). To everybody's surprise, the operating system was nearly flawless, unlike today, where the operating system crashes every ten minutes if you click the wrong button, etc. Also, as an interesting fact, the program EDLIN (EditLine) was created as only a temporary text editor to be replaced in the next version of the operating system. Instead, the editor was included through MS-DOS 6.0.

A few years later, the 8080 and the Commodore 64 came out. These computers did not come out at the same time, of course. There were earlier Intel chips than the 8080 chip, but they were of little importance to the computer industry. When the Intel i80x chips came out was when the actual MicroSoft corporation became dominant in the computer world. The Central Processing Unit (CPU) for the PC was mainly developed by Intel at this time. The Computers were built by IBM, and the operating system for the P C was MS-DOS. MS-DOS is the same operating system as 86-DOS which was the same operating system as QDOS. The reason why there were so many name changes in the DOS was because of the situation that they were in. When QDOS came out, it was just a quick o perating system before MicroSoft had been Incorporated fully. It was changed to 86-DOS when the new version came out, because nobody wanted an operating system called Quick and Dirty. It was changed to MS-DOS (MicroSoft Disk Operating System) when it be came clear that the program would be revised many times and be included in most computers. The Commodore 64, as I have mentioned earlier, came out near the same time as the i80x computer. The Commodore 64 was of great importance to the computer world be cause it was visualized as the ultimate personal computer. It had many uses, it was software programmable, it fit nicely onto a desktop, and it had many programs for it. This computer later became obsolete when the i80x chip became popular in the comput er industry.

Apple decided to break the current standards, so they came out with the Macintosh, a fully graphical user interface (GUI). The computer was slow, black and white, but it was dubbed one of the best and easiest computers to produce graphics from. When Mic roSoft decided to get into the action of making software, they changed the name of the company to the Microsoft Corporation and moved into Bellevue, and later they moved to Redmond where they now operate. At this time, the leaders in the Personal Compute r were Apple with their Macintosh, and IBM, Microsoft, and Intel with their DOS based PC. Of course, Microsoft wanted to follow along with what everybody else was doing, so they created a nifty little program called Windows. The first versions were EGA (Enhanced Graphics Adapters), which meant that they had the capability of displaying 16 different colors. There were also very little programs that ran on Windows. Microsoft decided to let IBM have an opportunity to buy Windows, but IBM wasn't intereste d in this slow moving, uninteresting program.

When newer computers came out, like the i80286 and the i80287, Microsoft was able to make more high powered programs that would run quicker and somewhat more efficiently, but were considerably larger and took more RAM (Random Access Memory) to operate. A n interesting fact that ties in with this is a quote that Bill Gates said. He said to the press when the 8086 was still popular, "No computer program will ever require more than 640 kilobytes of RAM". Apparently, he was dead wrong. His own creation, Wi ndows 95 requires a minimum of 12 megs of RAM to run efficiently, and another of his creations, Windows NT, requires a minimum of 16 megs of RAM and a recommended 32 megs of RAM to run well.

Windows 3.0 was in production from the late 1980's to the early 1990's. This program was a breakthrough for Microsoft. The program was good enough to run on an i80286 and would run even better on the top of the line i80386 computers. Windows 3.1 came o ut during the time when people were still using i80386 based computers. The i80486 had just come out, but it was still priced high enough to be out of the price range for most computer users. Windows 3.1 was capable of running multimedia programs and di splaying millions of colors on the screen at one time. There were literally hundreds of programs out for Windows at this time, and more were being produced every day. Windows was becoming Microsoft's trademark product.

During this time when Microsoft was advancing the Windows product, the Apple Computer Corporation was developing their Macintosh. The hard drive on a common Macintosh was about 40 megs. The operating system was under 10 megs in size. Most current share ware programs were less than 100k in size, and the expensive programs took up, at the most, 4 disks. Compared to the PC, which had to have hundreds of megs to store the programs, the Macintosh was a good competitor for graphics developers because they we re fairly inexpensive and very powerful.

The PC world was astonished when the i80586 (Pentium) came out. At this time, it was more common to use a name instead of a set of numbers to describe CPU's. The Pentium ran almost twice as fast as a typical i80486 and ran numerous more high end program s. Around the time that the Pentium came out, Windows 95 was released. The first version that was released to the public was slow and buggy. Everybody bought it, and most people hated it. The only reason that people used Windows 95 instead of the norm al MS-DOS was because so many programs were being released for Windows 95, and Microsoft was stopping the production of Windows 3.1 programs. This forced people to buy high-end i80486's or Pentiums. Microsoft came out with a standard in computers, which said that all computers that were "Designed for Windows 95" had to meet certain specifications. Plug-and-play was another standard. This made it so that it was easier to configure hardware, at a loss of capability with DOS programs.