A History of Modern Computing (History of Computing) by The MIT Press

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This engaging history covers modern computing from the development of the first electronic digital computer through the dot-com crash. The author concentrates on five key moments of transition: the transformation of the computer in the late 1940s from a specialized scientific instrument to a commercial product; the emergence of small systems in the late 1960s; the beginning of personal computing in the 1970s; the spread of networking after 1985; and, in a chapter written for this edition, the period 1995-2001. The new material focuses on the Microsoft antitrust suit, the rise and fall of the dot-coms, and the advent of open source software, particularly Linux. Within the chronological narrative, the book traces several overlapping threads: the evolution of the computer's internal design; the effect of economic trends and the Cold War; the long-term role of IBM as a player and as a target for upstart entrepreneurs; the growth of software from a hidden element to a major character in the story of computing; and the recurring issue of the place of information and computing in a democratic society. The focus is on the United States (though Europe and Japan enter the story at crucial points), on computing per se rather than on applications such as artificial intelligence, and on systems that were sold commercially and installed in quantities.

This book delivers exactly what its title promises: a straightforward and comprehensive account of the electronic digital computer's first five decades. Starting with the historic ENIAC of 1945, Ceruzzi moves nimbly through one epochal generation of computing technology after another: the gargantuan, vacuum-tube-filled mainframes of the early '50s; the sleeker, transistorized minicomputers of the '60s; the personal computers conjured up by hobbyists in the '70s; and the computer networks that have come to span offices and the globe in the last 10 years.

Ceruzzi places all of these developments in the context of the social phenomena that shaped them: the imperatives of Cold War research, the evolving needs of information-swamped businesses, and the quirks and dreams of counter-cultural computer hackers. But unlike some popular books about computing history, this one refuses to acknowledge any particular individual, group, or institution as its protagonist. The tale it tells is complex: a weave of high-level projects, lowbrow tinkerings, and sweeping socioeconomic transformations, with a crash course in the basics of computer architecture tossed in for good measure. The mix doesn't make for great drama, but it does offer something perhaps more valuable--the sober, subtle feel of real history unfolding. --Julian Dibbell

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