A brief history of old computers

It is impossible to tell when the first old computer was made because, as it turns out, all computers were new when they were made. Well, except, perhaps, for the original IBM PC, which already looked old back in 1981. Not everyone is of the same opinion, of course: some people say that it’s like the IBM PC had just arrived from the future, since every time you turned it on it would ask what today’s date was.

In the 19th century, Charles Babbage designed several mechanical calculators, one of which, the Analytical Engine, is considered a precursor to modern computers. Babbage approached the British government for funding, but after several years and multiple hearings it was never granted as Babbage was forced to admit that his machine couldn’t run Microsoft Office.

Modern computers are made out of transistors and integrated circuits, but that hasn’t always been the case. For example, in the 40s, electromechanical computers used the same type of relays that were used in telephone switches, and until the 60s, digital computers used vacuum valves. Nowadays, these vacuum valve computers are highly sought after by audiophiles.

Old home computers used audio cassettes to store their software, which could take a very long time to load. Sometimes people would put the wrong tape in the player, and depending on the type of music it could take them up to half an hour to realize their mistake. For a few years, computers could also store data in compact discs, but real enthusiasts preferred vinyl.

In the 80s, home computers could be programmed in the Basic programming language. Nowadays they can be programmed in any of several Complex programming languages.

It is true that old computers were slower than today’s, but they could perfectly do whatever tasks we asked of them at the time. At least right until the moment we used someone’s new computer and our old one suddenly became unacceptably slow.

I’ll finish this piece with an example that illustrates how technology has become more important and influential in our lives: in 1952 a UNIVAC computer was able to successfully predict the result of the US presidential election, and nowadays voting computers can determine the result of the presidential election. Who knows what the future may bring us?

(Comments in the Google+ post.)