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The History of Computer Technology

Updated on February 19, 2014
8 inch floppy disk and a 3 and 1/2 inch floppy disk
8 inch floppy disk and a 3 and 1/2 inch floppy disk

The picture to the right, do you know what those are? Do you remember using those back in the 1970s - 1980s? I remember both those disks. My kids see them and have no clue how it is even possible that computers used such a thing. Did you know that the 8 inch floppy was first used in 1971 and could only hold 79.7kB of storage??? The 3 1/2 inch floppy was better when it was released in 1982 at 200kB of storage and in 1987 it could actually hold up to 10MB. Why is this so crazy? Well, after looking on my computer, my pictures I take with my camera range from 1-5 MB per picture! I couldn't have put one picture on those floppy discs!!! My Word and Excel documents are a lot smaller, ranging from 14kB - 130kB so at least one of those would have fit, but I really could not imagine my life as it is today without the computer storage capacity that I have. I often think I would DIE without my computer LOL

So where did computer technology start? Well, there are a lot of ideas out there on when exactly it started but by definition, a computer is any device capable of performing mathematical equations or calculations, therefore the first devices date back to at least 300 BCE with the abacus, the calculating clock in the 1620's and the slide rule in the 1630's.

The Calculating Clock was the first machine that worked like a computer that was gear-powered. It was created by Wilhelm Schickard in 1623 and it operated by pulling or pushing rods set inside a glass case.

ENIAC | Source

The First Generation computers were from the years 1940-1956. These computers used vacuum tubes for circuitry and magnetic drums for memory. They were often enormous, taking up entire rooms, very expensive to operate and generated a lot of heat, which often caused malfunctions (something that still happens to computers today). These computers relied on the lowest level of programming language and they could only solve one problem at a time.

The ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator) computer was built between 1943 and 1945. It was so large that it spanned many rooms and used nearly 20,000 vacuum tubes to run it.

The Second Generation computers were from the years 1956-1963. The transistors replaced the vacuum tubes which allowed computers to become smaller, faster, cheaper, more energy-efficient and more reliable then the first generation computers. These machines moved from the cryptic binary machine language to the symbolic languages which allowed programmers to specify instructions in words rather then in numbers. These computers were also the first ones to store their instructions in memory, which changed from the magnetic drums in the first generations to the magnetic core technology.

The Third Generation computers came from the years 1964-1971. The hallmark of this third generation was the development of the integrated circuit. The transistors were miniaturized and placed on semiconductors (silicon chips), which drastically increased the speed and efficiency of the computers.

The third generations computers started using keyboards and monitors and interfaced with an operating system which allowed them to run multiple applications at one time. It wasn't until this generation that computers became available to a mass audience because they were smaller and cheaper then their predecessors.

The Fourth Generation computers started using microprocessors in 1971. A microprocessor is a chip that basically contains an entire computer (a 1940s era one) using an integrated circuit. The first microprocessor was made by Intel in 1971, called the Intel 4004 chip, and with this technology the home computer became a possibility. Intel is still, to this day, the main company for microprocessor chips.

In 1975 the first personal computer for home use was the Altair 8800. (pictured below) This computer contained an Intel 8800 microprocessor and it had to be assembled by the person who bought it (could you imagine getting the instruction book for that one LOL). Today the Altair is recognized as being the spark that lead to the microcomputer revolution.

Altair 8800
Altair 8800 | Source

1980 was a big year for Microsoft as this was the year that the first operating system was publicly released in a variant of Unix. The Unix variant would become home to the first verson of Microsoft's word processor, Microsoft Word, which was originally titled "Multi-Tool Word". It became notable for its concept of "What you see is what you get".

In 1981 IBM introduced it's first PC (personal computer) with model number 5150.

In 1984 Apple introduced the Macintosh.

All these small computers became more powerful and could be linked together to form networks. These networks eventually led to the development of the Internet.

The fourth generation computers also saw the development of the GUIs (graphical user interface), the mouse and many different handheld devices.

In 1990 Microsoft launched Windows 3.0 which had new features such as streamlined GUIs and improved protected mode ability for the Intel 386 processor. It sold over 100,000 copies in two weeks! And by 1993 Windows had become the most widely used GUI operating system in the world,

Fifth Generation computers are considered those with Artificial Intelligence. It will be everything from the present and beyond. Most of these are still in development, though there are some applications, such as voice recognition, that are being used today. The thing that will change the face of computers in years to come are the quantum computation and molecular and nanotechnology. The goal of the fifth generation computing is to develop devices that respond to natural language input and are capable of learning and self organizing.

How many technology devices do you use in a day?

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    • CassyLu1981 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Spring Lake, NC

      Simone - I'm glad you enjoyed it :) I can't wait to see what the next generation has in store for us! Thanks for the comment

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      What a fascinating history! I love all the fun facts in this Hub- and hadn't known about the different computer generations. What fun!

    • CassyLu1981 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Spring Lake, NC

      rfmoran - those were the days weren't they? Thanks for the votes and the comment :)

    • rfmoran profile image

      Russ Moran - The Write Stuff 

      7 years ago from Long Island, New York

      What a terrific Hub. It's like a walk down memory lane to a time when floppy discs were really floppy. Voted up and useful

    • CassyLu1981 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Spring Lake, NC

      lindacee - I don't remember those type, I do remember dial up and all that stuff. We were never allowed online very long because it took up our phone line LOL. Thanks for reading and the comment :)

    • lindacee profile image

      Linda Chechar 

      7 years ago from Arizona

      Wow, this brings back memories! I remember the first time I used computer technology on the job. We used an acoustic coupler modem to transmit data -- we had to place the phone receiver in the modem cradle to make the connection. Rather cumbersome, but it got the job done. What a comprehensive look at the history of technology that makes Hubbing (and most other things) possible! Very enjoyable read!

    • CassyLu1981 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Spring Lake, NC

      spartucusjones - Thanks for stopping to read and for the comment :)

    • spartucusjones profile image

      CJ Baker 

      7 years ago from Parts Unknown

      Very through and well researched hub! Technology has definitely evolved over the years!

    • CassyLu1981 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Spring Lake, NC

      leahlefler - do you remember how big the boxes were to store those disks! We had several in our house growing up, and going through them to find the one you needed was a huge pain! Espically for those of us who didn't rearrange everythig LOL.

      Our lives are filled with tech everywhere. There's a new TV series coming out about losing all the tech stuff in our lives, I think it's called the Revolution I think, I'm going to watch it when it comes out just to see how much in our lives would really be that different :)

      Thanks for the comment and stopping to read :)

    • CassyLu1981 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Spring Lake, NC

      Riverfish24 - Thanks :)

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 

      7 years ago from Western New York

      I remember those 8" floppy disks! My grandmother ran a home office (word processing business) and had those behemoths in her office. I never really used them personally, as I was too young - but I remember the 5 1/4" and 3 1/2" disks!

      I really had to think about the number of technological devices I use in a day. My life is really filled with technology - from the microwave to the computer to my son's hearing aids. Our lives are really filled with tech!

    • Riverfish24 profile image


      7 years ago from United States

      Great Hub and Information! nice work.

    • CassyLu1981 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Spring Lake, NC

      watergeek - Wow, making an abacus in high school, that must have been FUN! When I went to collage I learned VB (visual basics) as my programming language too. It was my favorite class because it was always keeping my brain thinking about every possible "what if" and attention to detail :) In twenty years, I can't even imagine where computer technology will be let alone solar technology! God willing, I'm here to find out :) Thanks for the comment and sharing your history :)

    • CassyLu1981 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Spring Lake, NC

      tillsontitan - I remember playing Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego and having to change the discs LOL Thanks for the comment :) (I'm not sure why this hub went to a new layout, wish I knew how to change it back).

    • CassyLu1981 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Spring Lake, NC

      teaches12345 - I know I would die (not literally) from not having my technology :) We do, as a family, have one day a month where we are allowed no technology and we have to be outside, in the mountains, or something and that is a ton of fun but I would NOT want to do it every day! Thanks for the comment :)

    • CassyLu1981 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Spring Lake, NC

      krsharp05 - Learning about all this "history" was really neat for me. I went to collage for Computer Technology and I don't remember learning anything about the history of it. Thanks for stopping by and the comment :)

    • CassyLu1981 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Spring Lake, NC

      Lawrence Da-vid - I did type in Grace Hopper into Google and wow, I would have loved to been her, or at least sit down and talk with her about all she had known. Amazing! Thanks for the comment and shared info :)

    • watergeek profile image

      Susette Horspool 

      7 years ago from Pasadena CA

      LOL. I'm hep to the memory lane. I made an abacus in high school. In my 2nd year of college (1970) I took a class in computer programming, where we learned Basic . . . the first language that used punchcards. In 1973 I majored in business management at Cal State Long Beach, intending to learn to program computers for business use . . . but they weren't being used for business yet, except sometimes for statistics. I was told I'd have to major in math or engineering in order to learn how. It's really cool how quickly computer technology has progressed. (Can you imagine what solar technology could be like twenty years from now?)

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      7 years ago from New York

      What a trip down memory lane! I remember playing computer games with my kids and we had to constantly switch the 8" floppy to get to the next level...does that tell you how old I am? Very educational hub. Voted interesting. (Would have voted up if there was a button.)

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      7 years ago

      What would we ever do without technology today? I stated I use 4-6 but if I really counted, it is probably much higher. Good history lesson and well thought out.

    • krsharp05 profile image

      Kristi Sharp 

      7 years ago from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota.

      CassyLu, this is great information about computer technology. I had no idea that ENIAC was so large! I love the photos of the floppy discs, boy do they bring back memories. -K

    • Lawrence Da-vid profile image

      Lawrence Da-vid 

      7 years ago

      For computer history? type Grace Hopper into your search engine then read. Grace was, until her departure from this life, a co-heart, a co-worker, and an excellent friend.


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