Today, personal computers are a commonplace but not long ago, in 1955, there were just 250 of them used all over the world. Technology has fast developed over the years and there have been special improvements in the personal computing technologies. Every average family owns a personal computer today and we just cannot expect a modern office to run without a machine. Further, the computers of today are far superior compared to what we had 5 years ago. It was the first time in the early 1980s that personal computers got its true meaning. They could be used by a single individual for personal use in his own house. The first computers were huge and could only be afforded and operated by scientific institutions. However, now we use computers for almost everything – playing games, watching movies, maintaining our budget sheets, personal productivity and lot many things.
Personal computers have got more affordable over the years. Almost every household, shopping facility or office has a computer. Let’s look at the brief history how this world came into being.
Personal computers as a product for the masses were launched only in 1977. This was with the introduction of the microcomputers. Previously, we have had instances where bigger mainframes were operated as single user systems. However, the idea of it being commonplace wasn’t achieved until this year. Microprocessors in face reduced the cost of development of computers and they could finally be manufactured as consumer goods. The earliest personal computers were sold in a complete electronic kit package to technicians and hobbyist but the manufacturing was quite limited.
The first use of the term “personal computer” was probably in 1962 where John W. Mauchly stated in New York Times about his visions of future computing. His statement read “There is no reason to suppose the average boy or girl cannot be master of a personal computer". In 1968, Hewlett Packard came up with the Hewlett Packard 9100A, the first personal computer which they called the “Powerful Computing Genie”. This product attracted a lot many consumers. The next seven years saw a lot of talk on the idea of “personal computing” and was addressed be several magazines including ‘Creative Computing’ and ‘Byte’. By 1977, PET 2001 and Apple II were the new models for personal computers and the TRS-80 as the computer for personal financial management. More than half million microcomputers were sold by 1979 and the world was gradually gaining upon the idea of personal computers.
The first PC still would be the Kenbak-1 by John Blankenbaker which came with small scale integrated circuits and also won the “Earliest PC Contest” by The Computer Museum. This machine had a 256 byte of RAM and came with switches for input and output operations. However, it didn’t have a microprocessor wherein the title would go to Micral, designed by Andre Truong Trong Thi and Francois Gernelle from France in 1973. The microprocessor in the Micral was an Intel 8008.
To understand personal computers, we need to first define the term. Personal Computers can be said to be devices that are fully focused on individual requirements of work, entertainment and other activities. Technically, all personal computers have been based on microprocessor technology that enables integrating the entire CPU on a single chip. At workplaces, personal computers allow working with spreadsheets, accounting, database management, web surfing and similar things. At the home, they are the medium of study, research, designing, internet, gaming and others. Let’s take a brief look at the timeline of Personal Computers.
Alan Key from Xerox envisioned the first personal computer as the DynaBook tablet. As a consumer product, the target market for the DynaBook was children who would use the device to learn and collect information.
Today, Tablet PCs are also known as PDAs and come as smart devices integrated with touch screen technology, digital pen for input and wireless internet. Other improvements are integrated cameras, GPS navigation system and a whole lot of featured. There are more than a dozen Tablet PC manufacturers today and the devices are quite affordable for the common man.
Again in 1973, Xerox released a device named Alto, a computer meant for research purposes. This machine came with a fully functioning mouse, keyboard and even an Ethernet networking cable. The computer allowed data to be shared among peers. The Alto, named after Palo Alto Research Center wasn’t however released commercially, but it certainly did act as an inspiration for the current desktops.
Desktops comprise of three main components today – a PC, a CPU and a storage device. Various slimline models have evolved today, taking personal computing to amazing heights.
The notebook supported the idea of portability and the first machine was called the Osborne 1. This device was the size of a sewing machine and has a pretty bad batter life. This was the reason it become unpopular but it did lay the foundation of the present generation of Notebooks.
The idea of modern notebook is high portability and allowing something that would process just like a desktop or a laptop but fit comfortably in your bags. Flat panel technology has given rise to the most modern notebook devices and some products are even more extensively integrated and expensive than average computers.
Technology was fast developing and by 1985 we had the first Macintosh PC. The iMac came later between the 1990’s and 2002.
The first Netbook was released in 2007. The concept was highlighted with eMate 600 from Apple and the Psions OLPC X0-01. These were actually sub-compact laptops but soon the first Netbook was released by Asus and was named the Eee PC. The Eee PC weighed just 2 lbs and featured a substantial 7 inch display with keyboard, a solid state drive and customized Linux. The simplified user interface was an instant hit.
The term Netbook is used as an informal classification for personal computers but the popularity has increased with more manufacturers and high affordability. Netbooks ensure that work can be done from anywhere and the functioning is quite similar to a regular laptop.
The first laptop was probably the Grid Compass, designed by William Moggridge for Grid Systems Corporation. This was used by a space shuttle mission by NASA and came with a 340 kilo byte bubble memory system.
Today laptops are used everywhere as personal computers with better portability. They are similar to the desktop with better processing power and speeds but with a reduced size. However, the very portability features makes it impossible to connect it to peripheral devices at all times including printers, fax, and probably a projector system. However, they can also be used as desktops when kept in a permanent place.
Another important category of personal computers are PDAs. They are smaller devices that combine the functionalities of computing, telephone, and networking. These devices can be used as mobile phones fax and email senders, personal organizers, MP# players, video player, gaming devices and a lot more. The first PDA was in fact launched by Apple in 1993 as the PDA Newton Message Pad. Today we have really affordable devices that provide a range of services.
The computer hardware comprises of physical elements that make up the system. Modern personal computers work with the collaboration of CPU system, mother board, monitor, mouse and data storage devices, hard drive disks, RAM, graphics cards, memory cards, speakers, printers, fax and other units. All of these are elements that can be touched.
Most personal computer share the same hardware components these are some set elements without which the computer cannot work. While there could be more developed alternatives like touch pad for mouse or the digital pen for keypad input, it is basically the combination of the same set of physical elements. Each one of the hardware element is important for the overall functioning of the device. However, what runs the hardware is the software that controls the elements.
Software constitutes the elements / programming / coding that enable the hardware devices to function as they are supposed to. These are untouchable elements that form the core of every device. A speaker cannot function properly if software isn’t there to transmit the audio signals from the computer to it. Similarly, the computer’ mother board is a combination of circuits run by a software. The operating system is software; the internet browser is software, the word processor using which this article has been written is software.
Computers are both a luxury and a necessity in the modern lifestyle. It is used for research, education, personal management, entertainment and activities of all kind. Whether you want to shop online or save your latest data in a cloud based sharing platform, a computer is the key. Technology has ensured that every one of us has access to a computer of some kind. The world runs on internet and internet runs on computers. The advantages of personal computers are more than one can possibly list. Overall, they have made our life more manageable, easy, controlled and entertaining. There is no aspect of life where you don’t need a computer, weather its video calling your friends and relatives abroad or booking the train tickets. While technology will continue to grow, human beings will stick to the idea of personal computers as a partner for a lifetime.