Timeline of Computer History

SRI Packet radio research van, 1970s

Birth of modern mobile networks

In 1973, ARPA funds the outfitting of a packet radio research van at SRI to develop standards for a Packet Radio Network (PRNET). As the unmarked van drives through the San Francisco Bay Area, stuffed full of hackers and sometimes uniformed generals, it is pioneering wireless, packet-switched digital networks, including the kind your mobile phone uses today. A related set of experiments test out Voice Over IP (like the later Skype). The van will also play a huge role in 1977 as a major birthplace of the Internet.

Demon Seed by Dean Koontz

Dean Koontz publishes Demon Seed

Author Dean Koontz's Demon Seed is one of the most influential computer horror stories ever written. It told the story of the computer Proteus and its dangerous obsession with Susan, a wealthy recluse. Proteus imprisoned Susan in her home after taking over her home control system, and attempted to impregnate her. A best seller, Demon Seed was adapted as a film in 1977 by Donald Cammell and starred Julie Christie.

IBM 3340 data module

IBM 3340 data module

IBM's 3340 data module is introduced. It was based on “Winchester” technology that put the read/write heads, platters and access mechanism in a sealed removable unit. Low-mass heads landed safely on the lubricated platter surface when the power was off. Most hard disks do that now, but are no longer removable. Winchester technology drive arrays were IBM’s last storage system with large removable disk packs. Strings of two to eight 3340 drives could be attached to an IBM mainframe computer, providing a storage capacity of up to 280 million bytes per string.

EIN (European Informatics Network), 1973

Inventing the Internet

Early networks successfully connected computers. But different kinds of networks couldn’t link to each other, limiting the size of online communities. So, the next challenge has been creating “networks of networks,” a process called internetworking or internetting.

France’s CYCLADES and Britain’s NPL network are experimenting with internetworking by 1973 with the European Informatics Network (EIN). Xerox PARC begins linking Ethernets with other networks using its PUP (PARC Universal Packet) protocol the same year. Both these efforts will influence the development of ARPA’s TCP/IP internetworking protocol, first sketched out in 1973 by Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn. ARPA has a practical need to link its original ARPAnet with its newer networks like the Packet Radio Network (PRNET) and Satellite Network (SATNET). In 1977 Cerf and Kahn will link the three networks and prove the efficacy of their TCP/IP protocol in a dramatic round-the-world transmission from a moving vehicle, the SRI Packet Radio Research van.

Robert Metcalfe and Dave Boggs, creators of Ethernet

Linking the Office: Ethernet and Local Networks

Computers have to communicate down the hall, as well as globally. Local area networks (LANs) evolved from the early links to peripheral devices such as terminals and printers. 1973 marks the birth of the standard that will eventually prevail: Ethernet. Created as part of Xerox PARC’s sweeping vision of an “office of the future” comprised of connected PCs, Ethernet adapts techniques from the wireless ALOHAnet to treat cables as a passive medium, like the air (“ether”) between radio stations. But it will have stiff competition from various local network standards including IBM’s formidable Token Ring and Datapoint’s ARCNET.


Micral is released

Based on the Intel 8008 microprocessor, the Micral is one of the earliest commercial, non-kit personal computers. Designer Thi Truong developed the computer while Philippe Kahn wrote the software. Truong, founder and president of the French company R2E, created the Micral as a replacement for minicomputers in situations that did not require high performance, such as process control and highway toll collection. Selling for $1,750, the Micral never penetrated the U.S. market. In 1979, Truong sold R2E to Bull.

TV Typewriter

The TV Typewriter plans are published

Designed by Don Lancaster, the TV Typewriter is an easy-to-build kit that can display alphanumeric information on an ordinary television set. It used $120 worth of electronics components, as outlined in the September 1973 issue of hobbyist magazine Radio Electronics. The original design included two memory boards and could generate and store 512 characters as 16 lines of 32 characters. A cassette tape interface provided supplementary storage for text. The TV Typewriter was used by many small television stations well in the 1990s.

Wang 2200

Wang Laboratories releases the Wang 2200

Wang was a successful calculator manufacturer, then a successful word processor company. The 1973 Wang 2200 makes it a successful computer company, too. Wang sold the 2200 primarily through Value Added Resellers, who added special software to solve specific customer problems. The 2200 used a built-in CRT, cassette tape for storage, and ran the programming language BASIC. The PC era ended Wang’s success, and it filed for bankruptcy in 1992.