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The Industrial Era

1978 - 1979

The Third Generation of computers really gets started now. IBM is entering the micro computer market. Most PC manufacturers start to adhere to the open systems architecture.
The first commercial successful software is to be released: VisiCalc, Wordstar and the first Operating systems for microcomputers appear on the market.


pre history | antiquity | pre industrial era | industrial era

1947 1949 1950 1952 1955 1958 1961 1963 1965 1969 1970 1972 1974
1976 1978 1980 1981 1982 1984 1986 1989 1991 1993 1994 1996 2000
2002 2005 2007                    



pre history
pre-industrial era
Industrial era
Videogame timeline




The Xerox Corporation created a TCP enhancement: Internet Protocol (IP), a separate program that handles the routing of individual messages.

Combined with the TCP protocol from 1979, the two became known as TCP/IP and represented the standard system used in most large networks.

INTEL introduced the 16-bit-8086 chip and the coprocessor 8087.

These chips were causing much excitement. But were not quickly accepted mainly because they were too advanced.(33) In later years though other chips, with a higher magnitude of possibilities, would dominate the market for years to come. It used 16 bit registers, a 16 bit databus, and 28.000 transistors using 3 micron technology. It can access 1 MB of memory. Speed is 0.33 MIPS. Later speeds included 8 and 10 MHz, 0.66 and 0.75 MIPS.

PC's grew into complete systems: keyboard, display, floppy drives, memory, BIOS etc. and memory was expanded up to 16 Kb.

The first 64 Kb (8 Kb) RAM memory chip were being produced in mass by IBM.

A new breed of programs is introduced: the OPERATING SYSTEM (OS)

The Datamaster system/23, with model number 5110, is designed by IBM engineers.

David J. Bradley, Dennis Gibbs a.o. wrote the operating system for it. System 23 had two 8 inch diskettes, a video screen, and a keyboard integrated into one single case. The experience gained with this project proved to be of great importance for the development of the PC in 1980.


Another one of the first micro computer developments in this field was CP/M (1973); Control Program for Micro computers and developed by Gary Kildall of Digital Research.

An operating System lightens the burdens of a programmer to rewrite a program every time it is going to be used on a different machine, within the limits of a compatible CPU off course.
This so called OS was because of its compactness attractive enough to be accepted by all other manufacturers as a de facto standard.
Now the software industry really could take off and make affordable programs, meaning the price of software could come down. Software was still expensive and only businesses could afford to buy software packages like WordStar and VisiCalc

One question remains: will the hardware industry also start to standardize.

Computer Headware announces WHATSIT the first database manager.


Personal Software released VisiCalc for the Apple II and sells it for U$100.

bricklin and frankstonDan Bricklin and Bob Frankston (USA) develop the first commercial spreadsheet: 'VisiCalc'. The first "useful" (read business type) program for Personal Computers. Of which the next year 900.000 copies will be sold and distributed by Software Ants. Initially available only for Apple II, the program was an instant success.

This combination pushed the sales of the Apple II sky high. A perfect combination and though the Apple II was expensive, the software made it worthwhile.

frankston and bricklin

bricklin demo
Dan Bricklin showing VisiCalc on the computer fair to a selected public

In May Sofware Arts demonstrated VisiCalc at the 4th Westcoast Computer Fair.




Micro Pro Int. announced Word Master a word processor precursor to Word Star

The first BBS (Bulletin Board System) created by Ward Christen (USA), member of a Chicago user group went "on air" this year.

He writes the BBS program for a do it your self computer (a Northstar Horizon CP/M-machine) that can answer a 110-bps-modem. Members (often a computer club) dial up a BBS to leave a message or download software(34). In the future the functionality of a BBS will not expand much beyond the basics: download directories, interest groups, and electronic mail (e-mail).

There is a lot of resistance in the United Kingdom against the overpriced American computers for private use.

Responding on this signal in the market a company called Lynx (subsidiary of NASCO USA) introduces an affordable "computer kit". Instead of using a monitor people have to use their own television. For data storage a cassette recorder is used. The operating system is embedded in an 8Kbyte EPROM(35). The kit consists of a: Mostek Z80 processor, QWERTY keyboard, 16Kbyte of memory and sold for 250 Sterling Pound. (App. 750 U$)

Oracle's first version of the Oracle database management system (DBMS) is released and becomes the standard database for mainframe and Client/Server networking.(25)

Packaged with this first version is the SQL query language making it relatively easy to retrieve data by (structured) queries.

Niklaus Wirth developed Modula -2 derived from Pascal with a few improvements. It is implemented one year later on the PDP-11 using the Medos -2 operating system.(25)

TI's speak and spell

Texas Instruments introduced a computer for kids, the Speak & Spell talking learning aid, for ages 7 and up.

In fact a revolutionary idea to have the kids type in the words and the machine spoke it aloud. It meant the perfect learning aid, taking into account the state of the art speech synthesis at that time. Soundbit

Epson announces the MX-80 dot matrix printer, which establish a new standard in high performance printing for a low price.

The machine is created by  Chris Rutkowski and will be put on the market in 1980. Chris still has one of the very first machines: serial nr. 0000002 and it sits in a box in his garage. According to Chris number #1 never came to America (38)

Atari 400

Atari announced the Atari 400 and 800 personal computers both with a 6502 CPU

Houston Inst. announced the Hi Plot plotter.

Summagraphics announced Bit Pad the first digitizer.

The first "hypermedia" presentation, the Aspen Movie Map, is created by MIT researchers.(3)


One of these famous quotes to get a smile on your face:

"To err is human, but to really foul things up requires a computer."

    — Farmer's Almanac, 1978






Microsoft develops a database, an electronic file system


Oracle introduces the first commercial SQL relational database management system.


Texas Instruments introduces the TI 99/4 (not the 4A) for an initial price of US$ 1500.

ti 99/4a
picture: courtesy www.silicon.org (6)

It uses the TI 9940 16 bits processor. This is another example of a high tech innovation that is too expensive to become a success. But TI refuses to bring down the price, instead started to develop the 99/4A a cheaper model.


Motorola introduces the powerful 16bit 6800 chip which operates internally with 32bit registers.


This processor is used in graphical orientated computers.


Intel introduces the 8088 which uses a 8 bit data bus, but inside still operates on a 16 bit architecture.

intel 8088
picture courtesy Intel

The development makes the acceptance of the 8086/8087 easier because they can be used on the much cheaper 8bit versions. This chip will form the basis of the IBM PC.


Sinclair Research introduces the ZX80 on the market.

sinclair zx80

The machine has 1 Kb of memory, 3.25 MHz clock speed, weighs under 300 grams and sells for a relatively very low price. The system uses music cassettes to store data and memory can be expanded up to 16Kbyte. Equipped with an on board BASIC the computer can be directly connected to your television. The keyboard is made from foil contacts with a slightly rugged surface. By pressing the foil which covered the entire "keyboard" surface a contact is closed that is surface mounted right on the PCB. No mechanical parts are present. (1)
While te machine can not display images during calculating or storing / loading data the screen is blanked out during that process.


In this year two games are introduced: Space Invaders and Pacman.

space invaders  pacman
space invaders & pacman

In the game Space Invaders the earth is under attack by aliens and you have to safe the planet. At first this game was only introduced in amusement arcades but later on it will become available at all kinds of computers even programmers will make this game available on mainframes.
In the game Pacman you have to eat as many dots as possible before you get caught by ghosts. Both games will last for decades in different versions, and gain eternal fame.

see our timeline of VideoGames

MicroPro, founded by Rob Barnaby and Seymon Rubenstein, develop the program WordStar.


This program will become the most widely spread word processor in this decade. It is written by Rob Barnaby and made available for Intel 8088, Z-80 base CP/M systems ( ported by Seymour Rubenstein)


Xerox, DEC and Intel introduced the "Ethernet" standard for local networks.


This network standard made use of a coax cable to send messages / signals between computers.   Ethernet shall be quickly adopted by almost every network manufacturer. Even Intel designed a special chip controller for this type of network.

Hayes Microcomputers Products announced the Micromodem 100 the first commercial modem. It could transmit at 110 to 300 bps.  

CompuServe and The Source on-line services open.


The first Computerized Bulletin Board System (CBBS) opened to the public in Chicago.


Three students on two universities of North Carolina  (USA)  used the Unix to UNIX Copy Program (uucp) to put messages in a newsgroup. Usenet was born. By 1991 Usenet hosts more than 35,000 nodes. (25)


Magic Wand, a word processor program became a competitor for Word Star. (25)


Wayne Ratliff developed the Vulcan database program based on the concept of JPLDIS, a database program that ran on JPL computers.

The marketing will not bring the results expected and after a deal some years later on with George Tate (from Ashton-Tate) the package will be renamed into dBase II. (2) There was no dBase I but both tought it better to skip a nomination for marketing reasons. The Ashton-Tate company will blow new life into the marketing effort and the program will become a huge success. Mainly because the interfacing is so easy to understand and open ended. In its final version dBase II allows up to 65,000 records, and up to 32 fields of 1Kb each. (25)


Texas Instruments releases the first 16-bit processor on the market: 9900


The Ada programming language is developed by US Department of Defense.

A highly structured, modular language based on Pascal. Easy to learn, very readable but not very efficient. (25)


The first Atari microcomputers Atari 400 and 800 are introduced on the market.

atari 400atari 800
Atari 400 Atari 800

They offer 8 Kb RAM (expandable to 48 Kb), a full Keyboard, Sound and Graphics chips that were designed by Jay Miner.


1979-82 Bjarne Stroustrup of Bell Laboratories in New Jersey introduces "C with Classes."


PROMPTII is adopted by the CCTA (the forerunner of the OGC), as the default method for all government information systems projects in the UK.(3)


April, Kevin McKenzie of Arpanet's MsgGroup poses the following suggestion:

15-Apr-79 12:05:26-PST,1142;000000000000
Mail-from: MIT-MC rcvd at 12-Apr-79 1740-PST
Date: 12 APR 1979 1736-PST
Subject: MSGGROUP#1015 METHICS and the Fast Draw(cont'd)
To: ~drxal-hda at OFFICE-1
cc: msggroup at MIT-MC, malasky at PARC-MAXC

In regard to your message a few days ago concerning the loss
of meaning in this medium:

I am new here, and thus hesitate to comment, but I too have
suffered from the lack of tone, gestures, facial expressions
etc. May I suggest the beginning of a solution? Perhaps we could extend the set of punctuation we use, i.e:

If I wish to indicate that a particular sentence is meant
with tongue-in-cheek, I would write it so:

"Of course you know I agree with all the current
administration's policies -)."

The "-)" indicates tongue-in-cheek.

This idea is not mine, but stolen from a Reader's Digest article I read long ago on a completly different subject. I'm sure there are many other, better ways to improve our punctuation.

Any comments?

Kevin (5)

At first the so called emoticons are not readily accepted but a few decades later they will be the standard form of expression in Internet mail and chat traffic. Combinations of emoticons to express one's mood will likewise become popular.

extract from an article of Wikipedia (7)

An emoticon is a textual expression representing the face of a writer's mood or facial expression. Emoticons are often used to alert a responder to the tenor or temper of a statement, and can change and improve interpretation of plain text. The word is a portmanteau or fusion of the English words emotion (or emote) and icon. In web forums, instant messengers and online games, text emoticons are often automatically replaced with small corresponding images, which came to be called emoticons as well.
The use of emoticons can be traced back to the nineteenth century and were commonly used in casual and/or humorous writing. Digital forms of emoticons on the Internet were included in a proposal by Scott Fahlman in a message on 19 September 1982.

According to the same article in Wikipedia the first smiley's like :-) and :-( are introduced on September 19, 1982



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