Timeline of Computer History


Early Atari 400/800 advertisement

Atari introduces its Model 400 and 800 computers

Shortly after delivery of the Atari VCS game console, Atari designs two microcomputers with game capabilities: the Model 400 and Model 800. The 400 served primarily as a game console, while the 800 was more of a home computer. Both faced strong competition from the Apple II, Commodore PET, and TRS-80 computers. Atari's 8-bit computers were influential in the arts, especially in the emerging DemoScene culture of the 1980s and '90s.


Intel 4 Mbit bubble memory array

Bubble memory

Intel introduces its 4 Mbit bubble memory array. A few magnetic bubble memories reached the market in the 1970s and 1980s and were used in niche markets like video games and machine tool controllers. The introduction of cheaper, faster and higher density memory solutions rendered bubble memory obsolete. Each silver square, or "bubble," on this board stored 1 Mbit.


Apple II personal computer, 1977

Computing for One: Personal computers vs. Networks

Until the late 1970s the momentum in computing has been all about togetherness – users first sharing computers, then linking over networks and soon networks of networks. But the rise of the personal computer from the mid 1970s makes something once unthinkable an everyday reality: a standalone computer for just one person. While the new machines can be connected to networks and to each other, a lot of users both at home and work don't bother. They run their own programs off of floppy disks. The “personal computer revolution” begins to push back against the centralized control of network system administrators, a trend that won't fully reverse until the 2000s and the emergence of “the cloud.”


Richard Bartle and Roy Trubshaw circa 1999


The first Multi-User Domain (or Dungeon), MUD1, goes on-line. Richard Bartle and Roy Trubshaw, two students at the University of Essex, write a program that allows many people to play against each other on-line. MUDs become popular with college students as a means of adventure gaming and for socializing. By 1984, there will be more than 100 active MUDs and variants around the world.


Die shot of Motorola 68000

Image by Pauli Rautakorpi

Motorola introduces the 68000 microprocessor

The Motorola 68000 microprocessor exhibited a processing speed far greater than its contemporaries. This high performance processor found its place in powerful work stations intended for graphics-intensive programs common in engineering.


CompuServe screen

North America: Rise of Online Services and BBSs

Personal computers have started to slowly take off in North America by the end of the 1970s, a decade earlier than most other parts of the world. Connecting them to remote servers can be a nightmare of endless settings and false starts, accompanied by the squawks and squeals of an expensive, finicky modem. Most computer owners don't bother, but by 1979 a subset of brave or stubborn ones are subscribing to early online services like MicroNet (later CompuServe Information Service) and The Source, or connecting to Bulletin Board Services (BBSs) hosted on somebody else’s minicomputer or PC. By 1990 more than two million North Americans will be online for discussion groups, shopping, news, chat, e-mail, and more; the early online services have been joined by AOL, Prodigy, and others. This dial-up world pioneers much of what we do on the Web, though in a more communal setting.



Rise of Professional and Geek Networks

From the late 1970s on academics and geeks continue expanding “techie” online communities like Usenet (a message board conceived by Duke University students) and BITNET (a network for file and email exchange). One of the most durable online communities, Usenet provides topic-oriented “newsgroups” for collaborative discussion, and its community and ethos will shape the early Web.

As networked computers arrive in offices through the 1970s and 1980s, professional information systems continue to blossom. LEXIS (which has roots in the computer utilities of the 1960s) provides access to legal cases. NEXIS adds a massive searchable database of news articles. There are a number of industrial purchasing systems based on “Electronic Data Interchange” standards for computerized transactions. DIALOG provides pricey information for businesses, and dozens of more specialized services address particular niches.


Texas Instruments TI 99/4 microcomputer

Texas Instruments TI 99/4 is released

Based around the Texas Instruments TMS 9900 microprocessor running at 3 MHz, the TI 99/4 has one of the fastest CPUs available in a home computer. The TI99/4 had a wide variety of expansion boards, with an especially popular speech synthesis system that could also be used with TI's Speak & Spell educational game. The TI 99/4 sold well and led to a series of TI follow-on machines.


The Stanford Cart

The Stanford Cart

The Stanford Cart was a long-term research project undertaken at Stanford University between 1960 and 1980. In 1979, it successfully crossed a room on its own while navigating around a chair placed as an obstacle. Hans Moravec rebuilt the Stanford Cart in 1977, equipping it with stereo vision. A television camera, mounted on a rail on the top of the cart, took pictures from several different angles and relayed them to a computer.


Bob Frankston (L) and Dan Bricklin (R)

Visicalc is developed

Harvard MBA candidate Dan Bricklin and programmer Bob Frankston develop VisiCalc, the program that turned the personal computer into a business machine. Initially developed for the Apple II, whose sales it boosted, VisiCalc automated the recalculation of spreadsheets, allowing users to ask “What if?” questions of their financial information.


The Shockwave Rider book cover


John Shoch and Jon Hupp at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center create the computer "worm," a short program that searches a network for idle processors. Initially designed to provide more efficient use of computers and for testing, the worm has the unintended effect of invading networked computers, creating a security threat. Shoch took the term "worm" from the 1976 book The Shockwave Rider, by John Brunner, in which an omnipotent "tapeworm" program runs loose through a network of computers.