Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Anniversary of milestone in computer technology

It was on this day in 1951, reports Garrison Keillor in Writers' Almanac, that the world's first commercially produced
electronic digital computer was unveiled, known as the UNIVAC. It
weighed eight tons, and used 5,000 vacuum tubes. It cost a quarter
million dollars, but it could perform a thousand calculations per
second, the fastest rate in the world at the time. The first one was
bought by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The president of IBM thought that computers were far too complex, and
would never sell. But with the invention of the microchip in 1971, all
the processing power of those thousands of vacuum tubes could be
crammed into a tiny space.

In 1975, an engineer named Ed Roberts was one of the first people to
try to market a computer to ordinary people. It didn't sell very well.
You had to know how to turn hundreds of little switches. But it was an
inspiration to Stephen Wozniak, who went on to found Apple, and also a
young student at Harvard named Bill Gates.


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