16. July 2007

Things We Like to know about Computing.

The term ‘computer’ originally referred to a person who performed numerical calculations, often with the help of a mechanical calculating device.


What distinguishes modern day computers from all other machines is that they can be programmed. To put it simply, a program or a list of instructions can be given to the computer, which stores the program, and executes it at a later point in time.
Early electronic computers were actually about the size of a large room, and used about as much power as that of several hundred computers put together.

Today, most people think ‘personal computer’ or ‘laptop computer’ when they think computer. However, in actuality, the most common form of computer in use today is the ’embedded computer’, which is a small device used to control other devices.


The distinction of being the first portable computer goes to the ‘Xerox NoteTaker’, developed at Xerox PARC in 1976. The first commercially available portable computer was the ‘Osborne 1’ developed in 1981. However the first true laptop was the ‘GRiD Compass 1101’, designed by Bill Moggridge in 1979-1980, and released in 1982. The ‘GRiD Compass 1101’ first introduced the now popular clamshell design. It had a 320 x 200 pixels plasma display and a 384 kibibyte bubble memory, and costed about $8,000 to $10,000. The ‘GRiD Compass 1101’ was used heavily by the US Military and by NASA on the Space Shuttle during the 1980s.


The first ‘luggable’ machine from Apple Computer was the 1989 Macintosh Portable which sported a clear matrix display and a long battery life among others.


A typical modern computer is capable of executing billions of instructions every second, and will nearly never make a mistake over years of operation.


The central processing unit (CPU) of a computer comprises it’s control unit, Arithmetic and Logic unit or ALU, registers, and basic input and output devices or I/O. Early CPUs were made up of separate components. However with the introduction of the first microprocessor (Intel 4004) and the first widely-used microprocessor (Intel 8080) in 1970, this class of CPUs has almost completely taken over all other CPU implementation methods.


In the event software is stored in hardware that cannot be easily modified, it is sometimes called ‘firmware’ to indicate it comes under a grey area somewhere between hardware and software.


Apple Computer’s Macintosh or Mac computer system derives it’s name from McIntosh, a popular type of apple. And, a computer scientist by the name Jef Raskin is credited with this nomenclature.


The term ‘booting’ or ‘bootstrapping’ a computer derives from the story of Baron Munchhausen who at one instance, pulled himself out of a swamp by the straps on his boots.


The term, ‘Bug’ as we know today refers to a fault in a computer program that prevents it from working correctly. The term is often but erroneously credited to Grace Hopper, who in 1946 after joining the Harvard Faculty at the Computation Laboratory traced an error in the Harvard Mark II to a moth trapped in a relay. The bug was instantly removed and taped to the log book.


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I’ve worked in IT for over 10 years and today I learnt why we use the term “booting”, brilliant thanks for the post

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10. Jerome not found Wrote on 15. June 2011 at 6:29 am

Excellent Post! I’ve always wondered where the term booting came from! Thanks for sharing.

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