Essay, Research Paper: Computer Industry In US


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Only once in a lifetime will a new invention come about to touch every aspect of
our lives. Such a device that changes the way we work, live, and play is a
special one, indeed. A machine that has done all this and more now exists in
nearly every business in the U.S. and one out of every two households (Hall,
156). This incredible invention is the computer. The electronic computer has
been around for over a half-century, but its ancestors have been around for 2000
years. However, only in the last 40 years has it changed the American society.
From the first wooden abacus to the latest high-speed microprocessor, the
computer has changed nearly every aspect of people's lives for the better. The
very earliest existence of the modern day computer's ancestor is the abacus.
These date back to almost 2000 years ago. It is simply a wooden rack holding
parallel wires on which beads are strung. When these beads are moved along the
wire according to "programming" rules that the user must memorize, all
ordinary arithmetic operations can be performed (Soma, 14). The next innovation
in computers took place in 1694 when Blaise Pascal invented the first
"digital calculating machine". It could only add numbers and they had
to be entered by turning dials. It was designed to help Pascal's father who was
a tax collector (Soma, 32). In the early 1800s, a mathematics professor named
Charles Babbage designed an automatic calculation machine. It was steam powered
and could store up to 1000 50-digit numbers. Built in to his machine were
operations that included everything a modern general-purpose computer would
need. It was programmed by--and stored data on--cards with holes punched in
them, appropriately called "punch cards". His inventions were failures
for the most part because of the lack of precision machining techniques used at
the time and the lack of demand for such a device (Soma, 46). After Babbage,
people began to lose interest in computers. However, between 1850 and 1900 there
were great advances in mathematics and physics that began to rekindle the
interest (Osborne, 45). Many of these new advances involved complex calculations
and formulas that were very time consuming for human calculation. The first
major use for a computer in the U.S. was during the 1890 census. Two men, Herman
Hollerith and James Powers, developed a new punched-card system that could
automatically read information on cards without human intervention (Gulliver,
82). Since the population of the U.S. was increasing so fast, the computer was
an essential tool in tabulating the totals. These advantages were noted by
commercial industries and soon led to the development of improved punch-card
business-machine systems by International Business Machines (IBM),
Remington-Rand, Burroughs, and other corporations. By modern standards the
punched-card machines were slow, typically processing from 50 to 250 cards per
minute, with each card holding up to 80 digits. At the time, however, punched
cards were an enormous step forward; they provided a means of input, output, and
memory storage on a massive scale. For more than 50 years following their first
use, punched-card machines did the bulk of the world's business computing and a
good portion of the computing work in science (Chposky, 73). By the late 1930s
punched-card machine techniques had become so well established and reliable that
Howard Hathaway Aiken, in collaboration with engineers at IBM, undertook
construction of a large automatic digital computer based on standard IBM
electromechanical parts. Aiken's machine, called the Harvard Mark I, handled
23-digit numbers and could perform all four arithmetic operations. Also, it had
special built-in programs to handled logarithms and trigonometric functions. The
Mark I was controlled from prepunched paper tape. Output was by card punch and
electric typewriter. It was slow, requiring 3 to 5 seconds for a multiplication,
but it was fully automatic and could complete long computations without human
intervention (Chposky, 103). The outbreak of World War II produced a desperate
need for computing capability, especially for the military. New weapons systems
were produced which needed trajectory tables and other essential data. In 1942,
John P. Eckert, John W. Mauchley, and their associates at the University of
Pennsylvania decided to build a high-speed electronic computer to do the job.
This machine became known as ENIAC, for "Electrical Numerical Integrator
And Calculator". It could multiply two numbers at the rate of 300 products
per second, by finding the value of each product from a multiplication table
stored in its memory. ENIAC was thus about 1,000 times faster than the previous
generation of computers (Dolotta, 47).ENIAC used 18,000 standard vacuum tubes,
occupied 1800 square feet of floor space, and used about 180,000 watts of
electricity. It used punched-card input and output. The ENIAC was very difficult
to program because one had to essentially re-wire it to perform whatever task he
wanted the computer to do. It was, however, efficient in handling the particular
programs for which it had been designed. ENIAC is generally accepted as the
first successful high-speed electronic digital computer and was used in many
applications from 1946 to 1955 (Dolotta, 50). Mathematician John von Neumann was
very interested in the ENIAC. In 1945 he undertook a theoretical study of
computation that demonstrated that a computer could have a very simple and yet
be able to execute any kind of computation effectively by means of proper
programmed control without the need for any changes in hardware. Von Neumann
came up with incredible ideas for methods of building and organizing practical,
fast computers. These ideas, which came to be referred to as the stored-program
technique, became fundamental for future generations of high-speed digital
computers and were universally adopted (Hall, 73). The first wave of modern
programmed electronic computers to take advantage of these improvements appeared
in 1947. This group included computers using random access memory (RAM), which
is a memory designed to give almost constant access to any particular piece of
information (Hall, 75). These machines had punched-card or punched-tape input
and output devices and RAMs of 1000-word capacity. Physically, they were much
more compact than ENIAC: some were about the size of a grand piano and required
2500 small electron tubes. This was quite an improvement over the earlier
machines. The first-generation stored-program computers required considerable
maintenance, usually attained 70% to 80% reliable operation, and were used for 8
to 12 years. Typically, they were programmed directly in machine language,
although by the mid-1950s progress had been made in several aspects of advanced
programming. This group of machines included EDVAC and UNIVAC, the first
commercially available computers (Hazewindus, 102). The UNIVAC was developed by
John W. Mauchley and John Eckert, Jr. in the 1950s. Together they had formed
the Mauchley-Eckert Computer Corporation, America's first computer company in
the 1940s. During the development of the UNIVAC, they began to run short on
funds and sold their company to the larger Remington-Rand Corporation.
Eventually they built a working UNIVAC computer. It was delivered to the U.S.
Census Bureau in 1951 where it was used to help tabulate the U.S. population (Hazewindus,
124). Early in the 1950s two important engineering discoveries changed the
electronic computer field. The first computers were made with vacuum tubes, but
by the late 1950s computers were being made out of transistors, which were
smaller, less expensive, more reliable, and more efficient (Shallis, 40). In
1959, Robert Noyce, a physicist at the Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation,
invented the integrated circuit, a tiny chip of silicon that contained an entire
electronic circuit. Gone was the bulky, unreliable, but fast machine; now
computers began to become more compact, more reliable and have more capacity (Shallis,
49). These new technical discoveries rapidly found their way into new models of
digital computers. Memory storage capacities increased 800% in commercially
available machines by the early 1960s and speeds increased by an equally large
margin. These machines were very expensive to purchase or to rent and were
especially expensive to operate because of the cost of hiring programmers to
perform the complex operations the computers ran. Such computers were typically
found in large computer centers--operated by industry, government, and private
laboratories--staffed with many programmers and support personnel (Rogers, 77).
By 1956, 76 of IBM's large computer mainframes were in use, compared with only
46 UNIVAC's (Chposky, 125). In the 1960s efforts to design and develop the
fastest possible computers with the greatest capacity reached a turning point
with the completion of the LARC machine for Livermore Radiation Laboratories by
the Sperry-Rand Corporation, and the Stretch computer by IBM. The LARC had a
core memory of 98,000 words and multiplied in 10 microseconds. Stretch was
provided with several ranks of memory having slower access for the ranks of
greater capacity, the fastest access time being less than 1 microseconds and the
total capacity in the vicinity of 100 million words (Chposky, 147). During this
time the major computer manufacturers began to offer a range of computer
capabilities, as well as various computer-related equipment. These included
input means such as consoles and card feeders; output means such as page
printers, cathode-ray-tube displays, and graphing devices; and optional
magnetic-tape and magnetic-disk file storage. These found wide use in business
for such applications as accounting, payroll, inventory control, ordering
supplies, and billing. Central processing units (CPUs) for such purposes did not
need to be very fast arithmetically and were primarily used to access large
amounts of records on file. The greatest number of computer systems were
delivered for the larger applications, such as in hospitals for keeping track of
patient records, medications, and treatments given. They were also used in
automated library systems and in database systems such as the Chemical Abstracts
system, where computer records now on file cover nearly all known chemical
compounds (Rogers, 98). The trend during the 1970s was, to some extent, away
from extremely powerful, centralized computational centers and toward a broader
range of applications for less-costly computer systems. Most continuous-process
manufacturing, such as petroleum refining and electrical-power distribution
systems, began using computers of relatively modest capability for controlling
and regulating their activities. In the 1960s the programming of applications
problems was an obstacle to the self-sufficiency of moderate-sized on-site
computer installations, but great advances in applications programming languages
removed these obstacles. Applications languages became available for controlling
a great range of manufacturing processes, for computer operation of machine
tools, and for many other tasks (Osborne, 146). In 1971 Marcian E. Hoff, Jr., an
engineer at the Intel Corporation, invented the microprocessor and another stage
in the development of the computer began (Shallis, 121). A new revolution in
computer hardware was now well under way, involving miniaturization of
computer-logic circuitry and of component manufacture by what are called
large-scale integration techniques. In the 1950s it was realized that
"scaling down" the size of electronic digital computer circuits and
parts would increase speed and efficiency and improve performance. However, at
that time the manufacturing methods were not good enough to accomplish such a
task. About 1960 photoprinting of conductive circuit boards to eliminate wiring
became highly developed. Then it became possible to build resistors and
capacitors into the circuitry by photographic means (Rogers, 142). In the 1970s
entire assemblies, such as adders, shifting registers, and counters, became
available on tiny chips of silicon. In the 1980s very large scale integration (VLSI),
in which hundreds of thousands of transistors are placed on a single chip,
became increasingly common. Many companies, some new to the computer field,
introduced in the 1970s programmable minicomputers supplied with software
packages. The size-reduction trend continued with the introduction of personal
computers, which are programmable machines small enough and inexpensive enough
to be purchased and used by individuals (Rogers, 153). One of the first of such
machines was introduced in January 1975. Popular Electronics magazine provided
plans that would allow any electronics wizard to build his own small,
programmable computer for about $380 (Rose, 32). The computer was called the
Altair 8800. Its programming involved pushing buttons and flipping switches on
the front of the box. It didn't include a monitor or keyboard, and its
applications were very limited (Jacobs, 53). Even though, many orders came in
for it and several famous owners of computer and software manufacturing
companies got their start in computing through the Altair. For example, Steve
Jobs and Steve Wozniak, founders of Apple Computer, built a much cheaper, yet
more productive version of the Altair and turned their hobby into a business (Fluegelman,
16). After the introduction of the Altair 8800, the personal computer industry
became a fierce battleground of competition. IBM had been the computer industry
standard for well over a half-century. They held their position as the standard
when they introduced their first personal computer, the IBM Model 60 in 1975 (Chposky,
156). However, the newly formed Apple Computer company was releasing its own
personal computer, the Apple II (The Apple I was the first computer designed by
Jobs and Wozniak in Wozniak's garage, which was not produced on a wide scale).
Software was needed to run the computers as well. Microsoft developed a Disk
Operating System (MS-DOS) for the IBM computer while Apple developed its own
software system (Rose, 37). Because Microsoft had now set the software standard
for IBMs, every software manufacturer had to make their software compatible with
Microsoft's. This would lead to huge profits for Microsoft (Cringley, 163). The
main goal of the computer manufacturers was to make the computer as affordable
as possible while increasing speed, reliability, and capacity. Nearly every
computer manufacturer accomplished this and computers popped up everywhere.
Computers were in businesses keeping track of inventories. Computers were in
colleges aiding students in research. Computers were in laboratories making
complex calculations at high speeds for scientists and physicists. The computer
had made its mark everywhere in society and built up a huge industry (Cringley,
174). The future is promising for the computer industry and its technology. The
speed of processors is expected to double every year and a half in the coming
years. As manufacturing techniques are further perfected the prices of computer
systems are expected to steadily fall. However, since the microprocessor
technology will be increasing, it's higher costs will offset the drop in price
of older processors. In other words, the price of a new computer will stay about
the same from year to year, but technology will steadily increase (Zachary, 42)
Since the end of World War II, the computer industry has grown from a standing
start into one of the biggest and most profitable industries in the United
States. It now comprises thousands of companies, making everything from
multi-million dollar high-speed supercomputers to printout paper and floppy
disks. It employs millions of people and generates tens of billions of dollars
in sales each year (Malone, 192). Surely, the computer has impacted every aspect
of people's lives. It has affected the way people work and play. It has made
everyone's life easier by doing difficult work for people. The computer truly is
one of the most incredible inventions in history.
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