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Computers Through Time

Desktop computers have come a long way since their creation in 1962 and launch in 1964.  Clunky, heavy, technical and involved are a few words that can be used to describe the world’s first personal computers.  In the 54 years since, computers have become intuitive, sleek and lightweight, user-friendly, and a “must-have” in millions of homes around the world.


It is important to understand the difference between an early computer and an early desktop computer.  The first computers invented were not created for the masses and surely could not sit on a desktop.  In fact, these computers typically were used to store secret information used by the government in times of war and could take up an entire wall.  Early desktop computers, like the ones we are discussing in this blog, were designed with the average person in mind.  This new type of computer was “designed to be a part of your personal entourage,” according to Mario Bellini, an Italian architect that worked on the first desktop computer.


In this blog, we are going to walk through the first few decades of desktop computer evolution and see how the things we take for granted today, like email and color graphics, were once just ideas.


Let’s start at the beginning.  From 1962-1964, when the first desktop computer, Programma 101, was developed and launched by Italian company Olivetti, the world was captivated.  As the first commercial computer that could sit on top of your desk – it was costly. In 1962, Programma 101 was priced at $3,200 – equivalent to $24,764 nowadays and, in essence, was a glorified calculator.  It did not have a display, and it did not include the full alphabet on its “keyboard”.  It did, however, have a printer attached to the unit which consisted of a narrow ream of paper, not unlike what we see for receipts today.


Since its launch at the 1964 New York State Fair, Programma 101 went on to be an instrumental tool in some major moments in history.  When Apollo 11’s mission to land on the moon became a reality, NASA turned to Programma 101 to help with the accuracy of their calculations.  Programma 101 was also said to have been used by the United States military to find bombing coordinates during the Vietnam War.  Another addition to Programma 101’s resume was when it was used by ABC network to help predict the 1968 Presidential Election,  when Richard Nixon ran against and defeated Hubert Humphrey.


Seeing the potential personal computers had to offer, inventor Douglas Engelbart engineered some of the most influential computer and internet functions of all time.  These developments included hypertext, a computer mouse, networked computing systems, and video conferencing – all of which we still use today. The first mouse was made of wood with two perpendicular wheels.  The mouse has since evolved into sleek designs, wireless options, and even built in track pads using the same concept as the original design. Engelbart was awarded the National Medal of Technology, the United States highest technology achievement award, by President Bill Clinton in 2000 for his contribution to the foundations of personal computing – “More than any other person, he created the personal computing component of the computer revolution”.


In 1976, over a decade after the Programma 101 was released, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak sold their first circuit board, the Apple I, and thus the company Apple was born.  After selling some of their most prized possessions to fund their invention, Jobs and Wozniak got their first purchase order for 50 Apple I computers.  The Apple I computer was unlike most other computers of its time because the circuit board came already assembled making it more appealing to less tech-savvy customers.  It, however, did not come with a case (some people put them into briefcases), a power supply and switch, keyboard, or video display – crucial elements to our present day computers.


The Apple I circuit board was just the start of what was to come from Apple.  In 1984, Apple released a television commercial during the Super Bowl to draw attention to their latest personal computer, the Apple Macintosh – later renamed Macintosh 128k for its RAM size.  Macintosh was so named by Jef Raskin who wanted to name the Apple computer after his favorite apple, Mcintosh.  Legally, the name had to be changed so they landed on Macintosh with an “a”.  The Macintosh 128k came equipped with two software components, MacPaint and MacWrite, that spotlighted some computer features that had been previously underutilized.  MacPaint, a design tool, required the computer mouse to function and MacWrite was a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) word processer using a graphical user interface instead of the previously popular command prompts.


The computer industry changed once again in 1984 when Michael Dell, then a student at the University of Texas, launched his computer company PC Limited.  PC Limited got its start creating computer upgrades from existing stock components and selling them to customers with IBM compatible computers.  Dell, who was originally studying pre-med, dropped out of school to focus on his business which spawned his own computer design Turbo PC.  By 1992, Michael Dell built his business into an empire that was named among the top Fortune 500 companies – Dell Computer Corporation.


With how far personal computers have come, it’s easy to forget about the times when basic computer features, like a screen, were not standard. If you would like more information on how Revolution Group’s Technology Services Division experts stays up-to-date on computer hardware and software, give us a call at 614-212-1111 or fill out the form below.


Click the image to see our Computers Through Time infographic

Computers Through Time