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Used in homes, hospitals, schools and offices, computers are an indispensable tool of modern life and it’s hard to imagine how people lived and worked without them. Here, CNBC looks at eight developments that have helped to shape the world we live in today.
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Developed by John Presper Eckert and John W. Mauchly, the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, or ENIAC, was built at the University of Pennsylvania in 1946. Described by the university as the “first general-purpose electronic computer,” ENIAC’s “operational characteristics” included memory and arithmetic.
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IBM launched its personal computer in August 1981. While IBM’s PC was not the first — others had been available since the 1970s — its version became incredibly popular and for many it set the standards of what a PC should be. Costing $1,565, the IBM 5150 had 40K of read-only memory and 16K of user memory. Other features included a built-in speaker and the the ability to run self-diagnostic checks. It also made use of Microsoft’s MS-DOS 1.0, a 16-bit operating system.
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With typical flamboyance, a bow-tie wearing Steve Jobs launched the first Macintosh in January 1984. With Vangelis’ “Chariots of Fire” playing in the background, the Apple co-founder showcased a number of the Macintosh’s capabilities, from its ability to “talk” to a drawing application that was able to produce sophisticated images.
Jobs had grand ambitions for the product. “Macintosh is targeted at two primary markets. The first is the 25 million ‘knowledge workers’ who sit behind desks, and particularly those in medium and small-sized businesses. And the second market is the college worker, we think that’s the knowledge worker of tomorrow and there are over 11 million college students in America alone.”
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Windows 1.0 was launched to market in November 1985 as an operating system with a graphical interface. Today, the latest versions of Windows are used by millions of people worldwide.
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In 1989 British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee submitted a proposal for a “distributed information system” at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, near Geneva, Switzerland. A year later, the world’s first website and server went live at CERN.
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Launched within weeks of each other in 1994, the Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation consoles blazed a trail in the video gaming industry. While the PlayStation has outlasted the Saturn through multiple iterations, including today’s PlayStation 4, both consoles had a significant impact and influence on home entertainment.
Unlike the Super Nintendo, Sega Mega Drive and other similar consoles, games for the Saturn and PlayStation came on CDs rather than cartridges. The consoles had enough power inside to showcase games including the visually stunning “Nights into Dreams” on the Saturn and “Final Fantasy VII,” an in-depth role-playing game on the PlayStation.
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The 21st century has seen the mass adoption of broadband internet across the developed world. Dial-up connections have become a relic of the past with users now accustomed to high-speed downloads, super-fast browsing, high-resolution streaming and a great deal more. In the U.K., for example, there were 25.3 million fixed broadband connections at the end of 2016, according to communications regulator Ofcom.
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Today’s homes are rapidly transforming into spaces where traditional computers dovetail alongside newer pieces of technology, from smartphones and smart TVs to virtual assistants and tablets. With the click of a button, a song being played on a computer in someone’s bedroom can be beamed to and displayed on a 72-inch TV in their living room via a high speed, wireless connection. This merging of physical and virtual worlds is known as the internet of things.