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Sunday, August 10, 2014

After all, what is a computer?

Before we answer this question, let us first settle on what is computing.

Computing is a human activity performed by human brain.  Most preliminary answer is about computing arithmetic sums.

As this activity is tedious and is mastered only after some training and education,  it is a learnt behaviour. 

Always looking to make life easier, human beings have tried to find support for this activity through devices. A long series of inventions and innovations have made the journey very interesting.

Abacus was a mechanical device.
From mechanical devices, we moved to electrical devices. There were unit record machines. With punched papers being read by the machines and being converted to electrical signals,  these were really electro mechanical devices. Due to advent of electronics, this phase was short lived.

From electric we moved to electronic devices in 1945. And the first computer was born.

What was the purpose of computer?

Well the purpose was computing.

Initially,  the computer was for complex calculation for scientists. So computers were for computing. Some of the professionals in 80s were so proud that they viewed with disdain any attempts to use a computer for other uses like word processing as below the dignity of the profession and the holy MACHINE.

IBM International Business Machines,  wanted to expand the use of this machine.  Such a big and costly machine only big organisations could have afforded. 

Business organisations did not need to do complex calculations.  But they need to do a lot of simple calculations repeatedly.  Hence the focus shifted to data processing.  So the development of computer happened in two different directions - high computing power for scientific calculations, leading to super computers and secondly applications for high data storage and quick processing for business needs. 

Next growth of computer came from making it affordable for medium sized businesses. Hence the focus was on middle sized machines. Some of the companies flourished in this market.

Attempts continued to make it smaller. Conventional attempts saw machines which could be ideal for small office or creating a business of data processing around this machine.

In the eighties HCL came up with HCL 8C in India. Ticket size about 1 to 2 lakhs. This sum was quite high during those days.  However a small business could afford it.

During the same time Personal Computer came on the scene.  PC made a computer a machine for individuals as opposed to organisations. 

It was still for computations. 

Wang created a word processor. 

When IBM PC came spread was very quick. What was the use of this machine?
Individuals did not have frequent need to do computing. So some other uses have to be founded. WORD PROCESSING WAS perhaps what individuals  could use it for. One could still detect a smirk on the face of computer professionals when they saw somebody using Wordstar on  PC.

However from here, two things happened. One the meaning of the word Computing began to change.  Second, this machine was no longer for mathematical or technical types of people only, it was useful for nontechnical types also.

From marketing perspective,  it was a huge expansion of the market. 

We did have other uses also. Spreadsheet was primarily computing. Database packages were also dignified uses. Painting and slide makers were other frivilous uses. These all led to market expansion.

Next major turning point was internet and email.  Computers became a communicating device. Now every house hold needed a computer. Some could afford it, some could not. Latter ones went to a cyber cafe and start using it.

Next big change has come from smart phones.

More later. Planning to sleep now.

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