The Evolution of Computers and Software

Many people think computers are a fairly recent invention, but the truth is the concept of the computer dates all the way back to 1822. This is when Charles Babbage, an English mathematician, conceived of the idea of a calculating machine driven by steam. In 1890, a man by the name of Herman Hollerith developed a punch card system for use during the census. He would then go on to establish the company which would eventually be known as IBM. Throughout the 1900s, computers continued to evolve from large machines and in the 2000s, they continued getting smaller, to the point of fitting in one’s pocket. Along with the evolution of the computer came changes in software throughout the years. Writing software first began in the 1940s, and late in the next decade, the term software engineering was coined. As the Internet developed in full force, the number of computer users jumped to millions throughout the world. With the Internet came viruses and security issues, which forced programmers to learn a whole new set of skills. Software engineering is still considered a new field that continues to evolve on a regular basis.

Babbage’s Difference Engine

Charles Babbage, a mathematician from England born in 1791, is credited with designing the first automatic computing machine. Although he designed it, he was unable to actually build it. The idea of the steam-driven calculating machine was to have the ability to compute tables of numbers. His project was funded by the English government. It failed, and the first Babbage Difference Engine wasn’t built until 2002 in London.

Herman Hollerith’s Punch Card System

Considered the first statistical engineer, Herman Hollerith developed a punch card system to help with the 1890 census. Thanks to his efforts, the government was able to do the census in much less time, saving millions of dollars. His punch card system was a step towards automated computation. In 1896, Hollerith founded the Tabulating Machine Company which became part of IBM in 1924.

J.V. Atanasoff and Clifford Barry’s Information Storing Computer

The father of the computer, John Vincent (J.V.) Atanasoff was born in 1903. He taught at Iowa State College in the 1940s, and with the help of one of his students, the first electric digital computer was designed. His electrical engineering student, Clifford Barry is credited with creating what they called the ABC computer, a large system weighing over 700 pounds. The computer was not considered a general purpose computer, as it could only do what it was created to do, which was solve a specific set of linear equations.

John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert’s Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator

The Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator (ENIAC) is considered the first general purpose computer. It was invented by John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert at the University of Pennsylvania in 1946. The initial goal of the computer was to calculate artillery firing tables for the U.S. Army’s Ballistic Research Laboratory and to help fight against the German forces in WWII. The massive machine weighed over 50 tons and cost around $500,000 to make.


FORTRAN is known as one of the oldest computer programming languages. Published in 1957, its main function was to translate math formulas into codes. Common Business-Oriented Language (COBOL) was developed in 1959 by Grace Hopper. It was primarily developed for use in business, finance, and administrative systems for companies and governments.

Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce’s Integrated Circuit

Jack Kilby is credited with having invented the first solid circuit as a new employee of a company in Dallas called Texas Instruments. His invention was patented and made public in 1960. Around the same time, another man in a different part of the country was working on building a whole circuit on a single chip. In 1961, Robert Noyce’s integrated circuit was patented. Both men are credited with building the first integrated circuit, but it was Kilby who received the Nobel Prize in the year 2000 for its invention.

Douglas Engelbart’s Modern Computer

Known as the father of the computer mouse, Doublas Engelbart also oversaw the creation of the On-Line System (NLS). This system, developed at the Stanford Research Institute, allowed for instant communication over computer networks. Done with a computer mouse and graphical user interface, this kind of personal computing paved the way for the Apple Macintosh computer. Engelbart’s inspiration for the invention is thought to have come from the radar consoles he used while in the Navy during WWII.

Intel’s First DRAM Chip

The first Dynamic Random Access Memory (DRAM) Chip was released in 1970 by Intel. The Mountain View, California, company was just a few years old when the DRAM Chip was released. Known as the i1103, it became the best-selling semiconductor chip in the world. The i1103 became commercially available for use on the HP 9800 series computer.

IBM’s Floppy Disk

The first floppy disk, or diskette, was used in 1967 by IBM. The disks became an affordable and reliable way to load microcode into their mainframe computers. The floppy disk became commercially available in 1971. Throughout the years, the floppy disk decreased in size and increased in the amount of memory space available.

The IBM 5100

In 1975, the first portable computer became available. Known as the IBM 5100, it weighed over 50 pounds and cost anywhere from $8,975 to nearly $20,000. The size of a small suitcase, it could be transported in a large carrying case. It was not very successful and was discontinued in 1978.

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak’s Apple 1 and Apple 2

The first Apple computer known as Apple-1 was created by the Apple Computer Company, which formed in 1976. It was designed and built by Steve Wozniak. His friend, Steve Jobs came up with the idea of selling the computer. The Apple-2 was introduced in 1977.

The First IBM Personal Computer

The first personal computer (PC) was released by IBM in 1981. The operating system was developed with the help of Bill Gates from Microsoft. It ran on a 4.77 MHz Intel 8088 microprocessor and contained 16 kilobytes of memory. The first PC cost nearly $1,500.

The Birth of Microsoft Windows

In 1983, a company called Microsoft Corporation announced a Graphical User Interface (GUI) for its operating system. The product was first called Interface Manager. Marketing professionals convinced Bill Gates to change the name to Windows. Microsoft 1.0 was introduced in 1985.

Tim Berners-Lee’s HTML

The basics for hypertext were first proposed in 1945. It wasn’t until 1990 that hypertext markup language (HTML) was created. Tim Berners-Lee was the lead author of the new computer language. Its primary function was to create documents on the World Wide Web.

The Pentium Processor

Replacing the 486, Intel’s Pentium processor was introduced in 1993. With it, the use of music and graphics on PCs became highly advanced. Through the years, the Pentium has evolved to help produce faster speeds for both personal computers and servers for multiple users.

Mac OSX and Windows XP

A series of Unix-based graphical interface operating systems, Mac OSX was developed and designed by Apple in the late 1990s. The operating system has been pre-installed on all Macintosh computers since 2002. Windows XP is an operating system produced by Microsoft. Development began in the late 1990s, and it was first released in 2001.

Apple Ipad/Tablet Computers

The first system for tablet computers was demonstrated back in 1956 with the use of handwriting recognition in the place of a keyboard. In 1987, Apple dabbled in the development of a tablet computer, but didn’t get very far. In 1999, Microsoft developed its first tablet, but it didn’t gain popularity due to ongoing technical problems. The introduction of Apple’s iPad in 2010 renewed interest in the tablet computer market and has since proven to be extremely successful.