Timeline of Computer History


The Difference Engine #2 at the Science Museum, London

Babbage's Difference Engine #2 is completed

Based on Charles Babbage's second design for a mechanical calculating engine, a team at the Science Museum in London sets out to prove that the design would have worked as planned. Led by curator Doron Swade the team built Babbage’s machine in six years, using techniques that would have been available to Babbage at the time, proving that Babbage’s design was accurate and that it could have been built in his day.


Linus Torvalds

Linus Torvalds releases the Linux kernel

Designed by Finnish university student Linus Torvalds, the Linux kernel is released to several Usenet newsgroups. Almost immediately, enthusiasts began developing and improving it, such as adding support for peripherals and improving its stability. In February 1992, Linux became free software or, as its developers preferred to say after 1998, “open source.” Linux also incorporated some elements of the GNU operating system and is used today in devices ranging from smartphones to supercomputers.


Morphing sequence from Black or White

Michael Jackson's Black or White video premieres

Michael Jackson's album Dangerous spawns several number one hits and classic music videos. The first video from Dangerous, Black or White, was directed by legendary film and video director John Landis. The video, including actors Macaulay Culkin and George Wendt, featured an extended sequence of morphing, a technique then only rarely used in big budget films. Pacific Data Images created the morphing segment, which included supermodel Tyra Banks. The video debuted in more than twenty countries simultaneously before an estimated five hundred million viewers, making it one of the most viewed movies with computer graphics up to that point in time.


Early commercial Internet Service Provider (ISP)

NSF lifts restrictions on commercial use of the Internet

After the National Science Foundation (NSF) changes its policy, the Internet is for the first time a publicly accessible network with no commercial restrictions. This removes the last major remaining advantage for competing networking and internetworking standards, from OSI to SNA to CompuServe’s own international network. Four years later the NSF will turn over the Internet’s backbone (main high speed lines and nodes) completely to private industry.


PGP overview

PGP is introduced

Pretty Good Privacy, or PGP, a public-key encryption program, is introduced and is used for securing texts, emails and files. Its inventor, software engineer Phil Zimmermann, created it as a tool for people to protect themselves from intrusive governments, businesses, and institutions around the world. Zimmermann posted PGP on the Internet in 1991 where it was available as a free download. The United States government, concerned about the strength of PGP, which rivaled some of the best secret codes in use at the time, prosecuted Zimmermann but dropped its investigation in 1996.


PowerBook 100 laptop computer

PowerBook series of laptops is introduced

Apple's Macintosh Portable meets with little success in the marketplace and leads to a complete redesign of Apple's line of portable computers. All three PowerBooks introduced featured a built-in trackball, internal floppy drive, and palm rests, which would eventually become typical of 1990s laptop design. The PowerBook 100 was the entry-level machine, while the PowerBook 140 was more powerful and had a larger memory. The PowerBook 170 was the high-end model, featuring an active matrix display, faster processor, as well as a floating point unit. The PowerBook line of computers was discontinued in 2006.


Browser family tree

Web browsers: a Cry for Help

Tim Berners-Lee’s 1990 GUI browser-editor runs only on rare NeXT computers. CERN refuses to fund other versions for common platforms. So the Web team writes a simple text-only browser for quick distribution, and then begs volunteers to write or adapt the needed GUI browsers for PCs, Macs, and UNIX machines. The team also provides code to start with; the WWW Common Library is essentially a build-your-own-browser toolkit written by Tim Berners-Lee and technical research assistant Jean-François Groff.

Eight volunteers respond, resulting in UNIX, Mac, and PC browsers. Viola and Midas are initially the most popular, eclipsed later by Mosaic. All of them leave out editing features, which are trickier to implement on machines other than the NeXT. Berners-Lee never regains control of his creation.