Tips 76


Computers  Engineering Research Associates of Minneapolis built the ERA 1101, the first commercially produced computer; the company's first customer was the U.S. Navy. It held 1 million bits on its magnetic drum, the earliest magnetic storage devices. Drums registered information as magnetic pulses in tracks around a metal cylinder. Read/write heads both recorded and recovered the data. Drums eventually stored as many as 4,000 words and retrieved any one of them in as little as five-thousandths of a second.



Computers  The precursor to the minicomputer, DEC's PDP-1 sold for $120,000. One of 50 built, the average PDP-1 included with a cathode ray tube graphic display, needed no air conditioning and required only one operator. It's large scope intrigued early hackers at MIT, who wrote the first computerized video game, SpaceWar!, for it. The SpaceWar! creators then used the game as a standard demonstration on all 50 computers.


Software & Languages  A team drawn from several computer manufacturers and the Pentagon developed COBOL, Common Business Oriented Language. Designed for business use, early COBOL efforts aimed for easy readability of computer programs and as much machine independence as possible. Designers hoped a COBOL program would run on any computer for which a compiler existed with only minimal modifications.

Howard Bromberg, an impatient member of the committee in charge of creating COBOL, had this tombstone made out of fear that the language had no future. However, COBOL has survived to this day.




Robots & AI  SRI International's Shakey became the first mobile robot controlled by artificial intelligence. Equipped with sensing devices and driven by a problem-solving program called STRIPS, the robot found its way around the halls of SRI by applying information about its environment to a route. Shakey used a TV camera, laser range finder, and bump sensors to collect data, which it then transmitted to a DEC PDP-10 and PDP-15. The computer radioed back commands to Shakey -- who then moved at a speed of 2 meters per hour.


Networks  Computer-to-computer communication expanded when the Department of Defense established four nodes on the ARPANET: the University of California Santa Barbara and UCLA, SRI International, and the University of Utah. Viewed as a comprehensive resource-sharing network, ARPANET's designers set out with several goals: direct use of distributed hardware services; direct retrieval from remote, one-of-a-kind databases; and the sharing of software subroutines and packages not available on the users' primary computer due to incompatibility of hardware or languages.


Networks  Citizens and Southern National Bank in Valdosta, Ga., installed the country's first automatic teller machine.



Components  Seagate Technology created the first hard disk drive for microcomputers. The disk held 5 megabytes of data, five times as much as a standard floppy disk, and fit in the space of a floppy disk drive. The hard disk drive itself is a rigid metallic platter coated on both sides with a thin layer of magnetic material that stores digital data. Along with the benefit of increased storage, hard disks have one major drawback: Permanent installation into the computer decreases their portability.

Seagate Technology grew out of a 1979 conversation between Alan Shugart and Finis Conner, who had worked together at IBM. The two men decided to found the company after developing the idea of scaling down a hard disk drive to the same size as the then-standard 5 1/4-inch floppies. Upon releasing its first product, Seagate quickly drew such big-name customers as Apple Computer and IBM. Within a few years, it had sold 4 million units


Components  The first optical data storage disk had 60 times the capacity of a 5 1/4-inch floppy disk. Developed by Philips, the disk stored data as indelible marks burned by a laser that could not be overwritten -- making it useful primarily for storing large quantities of information that would never need revision. Two years later, Philips created an erasable optical disk using special material, a laser, and magnetism to combine the capacity of an optical disk with the convenience of an option to erase and rewrite.

A laser beam recording a spiral of information on a photosensitive surface produces an optical disk. Two layers of clear plastic protect the metal surface on which the information is recorded. On erasable optical disks, also called magneto-optic disks, the entire metal surface is magnetized in one direction. Instead of recording information permanently by melting holes in the metal, the laser heats a spot to just below its melting point so a magnet can reverse the direction of the metal's magnetic flux. Reheating the disk to restore its original orientation erases it.



Software & Languages  Microsoft shipped Windows 3.0 on May 22. Compatible with DOS programs, the first successful version of Windows finally offered good enough performance to satisfy PC users. For the new version, Microsoft revamped the interface and created a design that allowed PCs to support large graphical applications for the first time. It also allowed multiple programs to run simultaneously on its Intel 80386 microprocessor.


Microsoft released Windows amid a $10 million publicity blitz. In addition to making sure consumers knew about the product, Microsoft lined up a number of other applications ahead of time that ran under Windows 3.0, including versions of Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel. As a result, PCs moved toward the user-friendly concepts of the Macintosh, making IBM and IBM-compatible computers more popular


Networks  The World Wide Web was born when Tim Berners-Lee, a researcher at CERN, the high-energy physics laboratory in Geneva, developed HyperText Markup Language. HTML, as it is commonly known, allowed the Internet to expand into the World Wide Web, using specifications he developed such as URL (Uniform Resource Locator) and HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol). A browser, such as Netscape or Microsoft Internet Explorer, follows links and sends a query to a server, allowing a user to view a site.


Berners-Lee based the World Wide Web on Enquire, a hypertext system he had developed for himself, with the aim of allowing people to work together by combining their knowledge in a global web of hypertext documents. With this idea in mind, Berners-Lee designed the first World Wide Web server and browser -- available to the general public in 1991. Berners-Lee founded the W3 Consortium, which coordinates World Wide Web development