Microcomputer revolution



The microcomputer revolution (or computer revolution or digital revolution) is an expression used to describe the rapid progress of microprocessor-based computers, from esoteric leisure projects to the trivialization of houses in industrial societies during the 1970s and 1980. Prior to 1977, the only population contact with computers was utility bills, banking and payroll services, or computer-generated spam. In a decade, computers have become common consumer goods. The advent of affordable personal computers has had a lasting impact on education, business, music, social interaction and entertainment.

The ancestors mini-computers of the modern personal computer used the technology of integrated circuit (chip) early, which reduced the size and the cost, but they contained no microprocessor. That meant they were still big and hard to manufacture, just like their mainframe predecessors. After the commercialization of the computer on chip, the cost of manufacturing a computer system dropped dramatically. The arithmetic, logic and control functions that previously occupied several expensive circuit boards were now available in an integrated circuit, allowing them to be produced in large volume. At the same time, advances in solid-state memory development have eliminated the large, expensive and energy-hungry magnetic core memory used in previous generations of computers. After the introduction of the Intel 4004 in 1971, the costs of microprocessors fell rapidly. In 1974, the US electronic magazine Radio-Electronics described the Mark-8 computer kit, based on the Intel 8008 processor. In January of the following year, Popular Electronics magazine published an article describing a kit based on the Intel 8080 , a processor a little more powerful and easier to use. The Altair 8800 was remarkably well sold, although the initial memory size was limited to a few hundred bytes and no software was available. However, the Altair kit was much less expensive than an Intel development system at the time and was therefore purchased by amateurs who formed user groups, including the Homebrew Computer Club, and companies interested in developing microprocessors. Expansion memory cards and peripherals were soon listed by the original manufacturer, and later by compatible manufacturers. The very first Microsoft product was a BASIC 4 kbyte paper tape interpreter, which allowed users to develop programs in a higher-level language. The alternative was to hand-assemble the machine code that could be directly loaded into the microcomputer’s memory using a front panel of toggle switches, pushbuttons, and LED displays. While the hardware front panel imitated those used by the first mainframes and minicomputers, after a very short time, the terminal interaction was the preferred man-machine interface, and the front panels went out.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, from about 1977 to 1983, it was widely predicted that computers would soon revolutionize many aspects of home and family life as they had business practices in the previous decades. Mothers would keep their recipe catalog in “kitchen computer” databases and turn to a medical database for help with child care, fathers would use the family’s computer to manage family finances and track automobile maintenance. Children would use disk-based encyclopedias for school work and would be avid video gamers. Home automation would bring about the intelligent home of the 1980s. Using Videotex, NAPLPS or some sort of as-yet unrealized computer technology, television would gain interactivity. The personalized newspaper was a commonly predicted application. Morning coffee would be brewed automatically under computer control. The same computer would control the house lighting and temperature. Robots would take the garbage out, and be programmable to perform new tasks by the home computer. Electronics were expensive, so it was generally assumed that each home would have only one multitasking computer for the entire family to use in a timesharing arrangement, with interfaces to the various devices it was expected to control. All this was predicted to be commonplace sometime before the end of the decade, but virtually every aspect of the predicted revolution would be delayed or prove entirely impractical. The computers available to consumers of the time period just weren’t powerful enough to perform any single task required to realize this vision, much less do them all simultaneously. The home computers of the early 1980s could not multitask. Even if they could, memory capacities were too small to hold entire databases or financial records, floppy disk-based storage was inadequate in both capacity and speed for multimedia work, and the graphics of the systems could only display blocky, unrealistic images and blurry, jagged text. Before long, a backlash set in—computer users were “geeks”, “nerds” or worse, “hackers”. The North American video game crash of 1983 soured many on home computer technology. The computers that were purchased for use in the family room were either forgotten in closets or relegated to basements and children’s bedrooms to be used exclusively for games and the occasional book report. In 1977, referring to computers used in home automation at the dawn of the home computer era, Digital Equipment Corporation CEO Ken Olsen is quoted as saying “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home” It took another 10 years for technology to mature, for the graphical user interface to make the computer approachable for non-technical users, and for the internet to provide a compelling reason for most people to want a computer in their homes. Predicted aspects of the revolution were left by the wayside or modified in the face of an emerging reality. The cost of electronics dropped precipitously and today many families have a computer for each family member. Encyclopedias, recipe catalogs and medical databases are kept online and accessed over the world wide web not stored locally on floppy disks or CD-ROM. TV has yet to gain substantial interactivity; instead, the web has evolved alongside television, but the HTPC and internet video sites such as YouTube, Netflix and Hulu may one day replace traditional broadcast and cable television. Our coffee may be brewed automatically every morning, but the computer is a simple one embedded in the coffee maker, not under external control. As of 2008, robots are just beginning to make an impact in the home, with Roomba and Aibo leading the charge. This delay wasn’t out of keeping with other technologies newly introduced to an unprepared public. Early motorists were widely derided with the cry of “Get a horse!” until the automobile was accepted. Television languished in research labs for decades before regular public broadcasts began. In an example of changing applications for technology, before the invention of radio, the telephone was used to distribute opera and news reports, whose subscribers were denounced as “illiterate, blind, bedridden and incurably lazy people”. Likewise, the acceptance of computers into daily life today is a product of continuing refinement of both technology and perception.

During the 1980s, while many households were buying their first computers, the dominant operating system used by businesses was MS-DOS running on IBM PC compatible hardware. Impelled by increasing component standardization, and the move to offshore manufacturing, such hardware dropped drastically in price towards the end of the decade, until systems with specs similar to the IBM PC XT were selling for under $1000 by 1988, when just under 20% of US households had a computer. These white box PCs would consolidate the diverse microcomputer market. Many consumers began using DOS-based computers at work, and saw value in purchasing compatible systems for home use as well. The prior home computer architectures from companies such as Commodore and Atari were abandoned in favor of the more “compatible” IBM PC platform. Some pioneering models of low cost PCs intended for home use were the Leading Edge Model D, Tandy 1000 and Epson Equity series. Many games advertised Tandy-compatible graphics as supported hardware. The advent of 3D graphics in games and the popularization of the World Wide Web caused computer use to surge during the 1990s — by 1997 US computer ownership stood at 35% and household expenditure on computer equipment more than tripled. Many competing computer platforms and CPU architectures fell out of favor over the years until by 2010 the x86 architecture was the most common in use for the desktop computer. needs to be better integrated into flow. this is the 1st time sw development has been mentioned in article; it’s a bit abrupt. Software development for modern personal computers is now so complex that few users achieve the level of proficiency required to complete non-trivial application software. Arbitrary software updates arrive without notice to the user, often disrupting use of the computer. In a development that may herald the beginning of a new revolution, there is a recent trend of controlling software availability through an intervening third party such as the Apple App Store. –>



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