Timeline of Computer History

Then-Senator Al Gore, Jr.

100,000 hosts: The Internet Comes From Behind

At its official 1983 launch, the Internet had been a modest experimental network of networks owned by the U.S. government. As late as 1989, even insiders are betting against it – OSI is the official favorite for the future of internetworking, or connecting networks together. But in the meantime the Internet has quietly grown to 100,000 host machines, each with multiple users. By 1992 the Internet will have emerged as the new global standard, linking a million computers. In hindsight, the Internet has several key advantages, from a growing community of enthusiasts churning out working software and hardware, to free distribution with the UNIX operating system, to being built in to common hardware like Cisco routers.

But the decisive factor? Probably money—especially U.S. government support from the National Science Foundation’s NSFNET and other sources. At the instigation of computer pioneers, Senator Al Gore begins working in 1987 on what will become his High Performance Computing and Communication Act. When it is funded in 1991, the Act creates the National Information Infrastructure, which promotes and funds over $600 million worth of various networking initiatives. Gore famously calls it the “information superhighway.”

Deep Thought I circuit board

Computer defeats master chess player

David Levy is the first master chess player to be defeated by a computer. The program Deep Thought defeats Levy who had beaten all other previous computer counterparts since 1968.

Intel 80486 promotional photo

Computer History Museum

Intel introduces the 80486 microprocessor

Intel released the 80486 microprocessor and the i860 RISC/coprocessor chip, each of which contained more than 1 million transistors. The RISC microprocessor had a 32-bit integer arithmetic and logic unit (the part of the CPU that performs operations such as addition and subtraction), a 64-bit floating-point unit, and a clock rate of 33 MHz.

The 486 chips remained similar in structure to their predecessors, the 386 chips. What set the 486 apart was its optimized instruction set, with an on-chip unified instruction and data cache and an optional on-chip floating-point unit. Combined with an enhanced bus interface unit, the microprocessor doubled the performance of the 386 without increasing the clock rate.

Pseudopod scene from The Abyss

James Cameron's The Abyss is released

Director James Cameron's films The Terminator and Aliens were major science fiction successes. His follow-up film, The Abyss, stands as one of the most significant science fiction films of the 1980s. Telling the story of an oil rig team and their encounter with aliens, The Abyss featured impressive graphics for the time, but also introduced a new tool to the effects supervisor's tool chest, Photoshop. Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) used Photoshop extensively while doing the post-production work on The Abyss, including being used in the creation of the film's most famous effect – the Alien Pseudopod. The Abyss won the Academy Award for Best Special Effects in 1990.

Macintosh Portable

Macintosh Portable is introduced

Apple had initially included a handle in their Macintosh computers to encourage users to take their Macs on the go, though not until five years after the initial introduction does Apple introduce a true portable computer. The Macintosh Portable was heavy, weighing sixteen pounds, and expensive (US$6,500). Sales were weaker than projected, despite being widely praised by the press for its active matrix display, removable trackball, and high performance. The line was discontinued less than two years later.

Viola Internet hypertext system circa 1989

More than six Online Systems for the Internet

The Internet connects over a million people by the end of the 1980s and is growing fast. But because it is a closed, non-commercial network used mostly by geeks, it lacks online systems to help ordinary people navigate it. None of the companies making slick, easy-to-use online systems like Minitel in France, CompuServe, AOL, etc. want to invest in porting them to an academic network. In any case they have their own networks.

This vacuum at the top of the Internet creates an opportunity for small players to try and create or adapt their own online systems. Usenet is the first; though mostly for geeks its discussion groups are quite popular and it gets ported to run over the Internet by 1986. Others range from low-key commercial ventures like WAIS and Hyper-G to student projects like Viola, Lynx, and Gopher. Several use clickable hypertext links – including one small experiment ambitiously called the “WorldWideWeb.”

GameBoy game console

Nintendo releases the Game Boy handheld game console

Handheld electronic games had been popular for more than a decade by the time Nintendo introduces the Game Boy. The system used removable game cartridges to play on its 2.9-inch black and white screen. Game Boy's popularity was helped by its major release title, the puzzle game Tetris. Over nearly twenty years, more than one hundred million Game Boys were sold, making it one of the all-time, top-selling game systems.

Sony Vaio laptop

Sony Vaio series is begun

Maurice Wilkes with EDSAC


Fortran manual for the IBM 704


The Shockwave Rider book cover


Ken Thompson (L) and Dennis Ritchie (R)

C programming language is released