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Timeline of computing 1980-1989

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This article presents a detailed timeline of events in the history of computing from 1980 to 1989. For a narrative explaining the overall developments, see the related History of computing.

Computing timelines: 500 BC-1949, 1950-1979, 1980-1989, 1990-present

1980 Mycron releases the first commercial 16-bit microcomputer, the Mycron 2000. This computer is used by Digital Research as the development platform for the CP/M-86 operating system.
1980 "DOS addresses only 1 Megabyte of RAM because we cannot imagine any applications needing more." Microsoft on the development of DOS.
1980 - June Commodore released the VIC-20 which had 2.5k of usable memory and was based on the 6502 processor. Magazines became available which contained the code for various utilities and games. A 5.25 inch disk drive was available, along with a cassette storage system which used standard audio cassette tapes. Also available were a number of games, a color plotter which printed on 6" wide paper tape, a graphics tablet (the Koala pad). A TV screen served as monitor.
1980 - October Development of MS-DOS/PC-DOS began. Microsoft (known mainly for their programming languages) were commissioned to write the Operating System for the PC, Digital Research failed to get the contract (there is much legend as to the real reason for this). DR's Operating System, CP/M-86 was later shipped but it was actually easier to adapt programs to DOS rather than to CP/M-86, and CP/M-86 cost $495. As Microsoft didn't have an operating system to sell they bought Seattle Computer Product's 86-DOS which had been written by Tim Paterson earlier that year (86-DOS was also know as QDOS, Quick & Dirty Operating System, it was a more-or-less 16bit version of CP/M). The rights were actually bought in July 1981. It is reputed that IBM found over 300 bugs in the code when they subjected the operating system to scrutiny and re-wrote much of the code. Tim Paterson's DOS 1.0 was 4000 lines of assembler.
1980 - Early Sinclair ZX80 was released for under 100.
1981 Richard Feynman proposed quantum computers[?]. The main application he had in mind was the simulation of quantum systems, but he also mentioned the possibility of solving other problems.
1981 The Xerox 8010 ('Star') System, the first commercial system to use a WIMP (Windows, Icons, Menus and Pointing Devices) graphic user interface. Apple incorporated many of the ideas therein in the development of the interface for the Apple Macintosh (see January 1984)
1981 Sinclair ZX81 was released, for a similar price to the ZX80 (see 1980).
1981? Introduction of 80186/80188. These are rarely used on PCs as they incorporate a built in DMA and timer chip - and thus have register addresses incompatible with other IBM PCs.
1981 - August 12 IBM Announced PC, the standard model was sold for $2880. It used the Intel 8088 CPU running at 4.77mhz, containing 5000 transistors. This had 64Kb of RAM, a mono display and the cassette drive was an optional extra. Two 160Kb single sided floppy drives could be added. The machines success was largely due to the openness of its specification, anyone could produce new and improved parts or models of the computer - the original IBM PC usually had an INTEL processor, Tandon disk drives and an operating system from Microsoft. 100,000 orders were taken by Christmas. The first one sold in the U.K. cost 2080. An option of operating systems was actually available, but IBM/Microsoft's PC-DOS was by far the cheapest at $39.95.
1981 - August 12 MDA (Mono Display Adapter, text only) introduced with IBM PC.
1981 - August 12 MS-DOS 1.0., PC-DOS 1.0.
Microsoft (known mainly for their programming languages) were commissioned by IBM to write the operating system, they bought a program called 86-DOS from Tim Paterson which was loosely based on CP/M 80. The final program from Microsoft was marketed by IBM as PC-DOS and by Microsoft as MS-DOS, collaboration on subsequent versions continued until version 5.0 in 1991. Compared to modern versions of DOS, version 1 was very basic, the most notable difference was the presence of just 1 directory, the root directory, on each disk. Subdirectories were not supported until version 2.0 (March, 1983). MS-DOS (and PC-DOS) was the main operating system for all IBM-PC compatible computers until 1995 when Windows '95 began to take over the market, and Microsoft turned its back on MS-DOS (leaving MS-DOS 6.22 from 1993 as the last version written - although the DOS Shell in Windows '95 calls itself MS-DOS version 7.0, and has some improved features like long filename support). According to Microsoft, in 1994, MS-DOS was running on some 100 million computers world-wide.
1981 "640k ought to be enough for anybody." -- Bill Gates
1981 The game Pacman[?] was written. Originally it was going to be called Puckman, but the name was changed to reduce the damage that could be done by changing the P to an F with a black marker.
1982 The TCP/IP protocol established. This is the protocol that carries most of the information across the Internet.
1982 Introduction of the BBC Micro. Based on the 6502 processor it was a very popular computer for British schools up to the development of the Acorn Archimedes (in 1987). In 1984 the government offered to pay half the cost of such computers in an attempt to promote their use in secondary education.
1982 - January Commodore 64 released, costing just $595.
1982 - February 1 80286 Released. It supports clock frequencies of up to 20 MHz and implements a new mode of operation, protected mode - allowing access to more memory (up to 16 Mbytes compared to 1 MB for the 8086. The virtual address space can appear to be up to 1 GB through the use of virtual memory). It includes an extended instruction set to cope with this new mode of operation. At introduction the fastest version ran at 12.5 MHz, achieved 2.7 MIPs and contained 134,000 transistors.
1982 Compaq released their IBM PC compatible Compaq Portable.
1982 MIDI, Musical Instrument Digital Interface, (pronounced "middy") published by International MIDI Association (IMA). The MIDI standard allows computers to be connected to instruments like keyboards through a low-bandwidth (around 30 kbps) protocol.
1982 Red Book on Audio CDs was introduced by Sony and Philips. This was the beginning of the Compact Disk[?], it was released in Japan and then in Europe and America a year later.
1982 - March MS-DOS 1.25, PC-DOS 1.1
1982 - April The Sinclair ZX Spectrum was announced, released later in the year. It is based on the Z80 chip from Zilog, it ran at 3.5 MHz and had an 8 colour graphics display. You could buy a 16 Kb version for 125 or a 48 Kb version for 175 - remarkable prices when compared to the 1000+ IBM PC.
1982 - May IBM launch the double-sided 320K floppy disk drives.
1982 - December IBM buy 12% of Intel.
1983 - January IBM PC gets European launch at Which Computer Show.
1983 Borland Formed.
1983 Apple introduced its Lisa. The first personal computer with a graphical user interface, its development was central in the move to such systems for personal computers. The Lisa's sloth and high price ($10,000) led to its ultimate failure. The Lisa ran on a Motorola 68000 microprocessor and came equipped with 1 megabyte of RAM, a 12-inch black-and-white monitor, dual 5 1/4-inch floppy disk drives and a 5 megabyte Profile hard drive. The Xerox Star -- which included a system called Smalltalk that involved a mouse, windows, and pop-up menus -- inspired the Lisa's designers.
1983 - Spring IBM XT released, it was fitted with the 8086 (which could be replaced with an NEC V20 or V30) and had room for an 8087 maths co-processor to be installed. It also had a 10Mb hard disk, 128K of RAM, one floppy drive, mono monitor and a printer, all for $5000.
1983 - March MS-DOS 2.0, PC-DOS 2.0
Introduced with the IBM XT this version included a Unix style hierarchical sub-directory structure, and altered the way in which programs could load and access files on the disk.
1983 - May MS-DOS 2.01
1983 - October IBM released PC Junior in an attempt to get further into the home market, it cost just $699. Cheaper alternatives from other companies were more preferable to the home buyer, but businesses continued to buy IBM.
1983 - October PC-DOS 2.1 (for PC Jr). Like the PC Jr this was not a great success and quickly disappeared from the market.
1983 - October MS-DOS 2.11, MS-DOS 2.25
Version 2.25 included support for foreign character sets, and was marketed in the Far East.
1984 Turbo Pascal introduced by Borland (see PASCAL, 1967).
1984 Richard Stallman quit his job at MIT in order to start the GNU project, a free and improved replacement for Unix protected by a copyleft license. GNU will eventually produce an editor (emacs), a compiler and debugger (gcc and gdb[?]) and a complete suite of system utilities, among many other things. Its own kernel, the Hurd, is delayed and Linux is later adopted.
1984 Hewlett-Packard release the immensely popular LaserJet printer, by 1993 they had sold over 10 million LaserJet printers and over 20 million printers overall. HP were also pioneering inkjet technology.
1984 - January Apple Macintosh released. Based on the 8 MHz version of the Motorola 68000 processor. The 68000 can address 16 Mb of RAM, a noticeable improvement over Intel's 8088/8086 family. However the Apple achieved 0.7 MIPs and originally came with just 128Kb of RAM. It was fitted with a monochrome video adapter and was the first successful mouse-driven computer with a graphic user interface[?]. Based on the Motorola 68000 microprocessor, the Macintosh included many of the Lisa's features at a much more affordable price: $2,500. Applications that came as part of the package included MacPaint, which made use of the mouse, and MacWrite, which demonstrated WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) word processing.
1984 AT released. This incorporates a larger bus for expansion slots, the ISA standard was eventually made (in 1991) to cope with this - but not until some ATs had been produced with buses that run far quicker the 8.33 MHz laid down in the ISA standard. Some ATs ran the bus at 12.5 MHz which causes some expansion cards to run hot, therefore becoming less efficient and slower therefore eventually 'tripping over' and violently crashing the computer.
1984 DNS (Domain Name Server) introduced to the Internet, which then consisted of about 1000 hosts.
1984 - August MS-DOS 3.0, PC-DOS 3.0
Released for the IBM AT, it supported larger hard disks as well as High Density (1.2 MB) 5*" floppy disks.
1984 - September Apple released a 512Kb version of the Macintosh - but there were no other major enhancements over the original (see Jan. 1984).
1984 - October Sinclair ZX Spectrum+ released. Similar specifications to the 48 Kb version of the original ZX (see April 1982) it cost 179.
1984 - End Compaq started the development of the IDE interface (see also 1989). IDE = Intelligent Drive Electronics. This standard was designed specially for the IBM PC and can achieve high data transfer rates through a 1:1 interleave factor and caching by the actual disk controller - the bottleneck is often the old AT bus and the drive may read data far quicker than the bus can accept it, so the cache is used as a buffer. Theoretically 1MB/s is possible but 700KB/s is perhaps more typical of such drives. This standard has been adopted by many other models of computer, such the Acorn Archimedes A4000 and above. A later improvement was EIDE, laid down in 1989, which also removed the maximum drive size of 528MB and increased data transfer rates.
1985 - January Postscript introduced by Adobe Systems. It is a powerful page description language used in the Apple Laserwriter printer. Adopted by IBM for their use in March 1987.
1985 - January Amiga 1000, the first Amiga computer appeared.
1985 Tetris was written by Russian Alexey Pazhitnov. It was later released for various western games machines, the jewel in the crown being its inclusion with Nintendo's Gameboy in 1989. Alexey made nothing from the game, since under the Communist Regime it was owned by the people - although after the collapse of Communism he was able to move to the USA where he now works for Microsoft.
1985 CD-ROM, invented by Phillips, produced in collaboration with Sony.
1985 EGA released.
1985 - March MS-DOS 3.1, PC-DOS 3.1
This was the first version of DOS to provide network support, and provides some new functions to handle networking.
1985 - May Sinclair ZX Spectrum 128 announced, released in February 1986. See Feb. 1986.
1985 - October 17 80386 DX released. It supports clock frequencies of up to 33 MHz and can address up to 4 GB of memory (and in theory virtual memory of up to 64 terabytes, which was important for marketing purposes). It also includes a bigger instruction set than the 80286. At the date of release the fastest version ran at 20 MHz and achieved 6.0 MIPs. It contained 275,000 transistors.
1985 - November Microsoft Windows launched. Not really widely used until version 3, released in 1990, Windows required DOS to run and so was not a complete operating system (until Windows '95, released on August 21, 1995). It merely provided a G.U.I. similar to that of the Macintosh., in fact so similar that Apple tried to sue Microsoft for copying the 'look and feel' of their operating system. This court case was not dropped until August 1997.
1985 - December MS-DOS 3.2, PC-DOS 3.2 This version was the first to support 3*" disks, although only the 720KB ones. Version 3.2 remained the standard version until 1987 when version 3.3 was released with the IBM PS/2.
1985 - End LIM EMS standard, a memory paging scheme for PCs, was introduced by Lotus, Intel and Microsoft. The first version introduced was version 3.2!
1986 - January Apple released another enhanced version of the Macintosh (the Macintosh Plus) - this one could cope with 4 Mb of RAM and had a SCSI adapter.
1986 - February Sinclair ZX Spectrum 128 released. It had 128 Kb of RAM, but little other improvement over the original ZX (except improved sound capabilities). Later models were produced by Amstrad - but they showed no major advances in technology.
1986 - April Apple released another version of the Macintosh (the Macintosh 512Ke) which was basically the same as the 512K of Sept. 1984.
1986 - September Amstrad Announced Amstrad PC 1512, a cheap and powerful PC. Cost was just under 1000, it included a slightly enhanced CGA graphics adapter, 512Kb RAM (upgradable to 640Kb), 8086 processor (upgradable to NEC V30) and a 20Mb hard disk (optional). Amstrad had previous success with the PCW. To ensure the computer was accessible they made sure the manuals could be read by everyone, and also included DR's GEM desktop (a WIMP system) and a mouse to try to make to machine more user friendly. It was sold in many high street shops and was a complete success, being bought by Business and Home users alike. N.B. This was the author's family's first Home computer, with a Monochrome monitor and hard disk it cost just under 1000.
1987? Introduction of Acorn Archimedes.
1987 Connection Machine, an interesting supercomputer which instead of integration of circuits operates up to 64,000 fairly ordinary microprocessors - using parallel architecture - at the same time, in its most powerful form it can do somewhere in the region of 2 billion operations per second.
1987 Microsoft Windows 2 released. It was more popular than the original version but it was nothing special mind you, Windows 3 (see 1990) was the first really useful version.
1987 Fractal Image Compression Algorithm invented by English mathematician Michael F. Barnsley, allowing digital images to be compressed and stored using fractal codes rather than normal image data.
1987 - March 2 Macintosh II & Macintosh SE released. The SE was still based on the 68000, but could cope with 4 Mb of RAM and had a SCSI adapter, similar specifications to the Macintosh Plus of Jan. 1986. The Macintosh II was based on the newer Motorola 68020, that ran at 16 MHz and achieved a much more respectable 2.6 MIPs (comparable to an 80286). It too had a SCSI adapter but was also fitted with a colour video adapter.
1987 - April 2 PS/2 Systems introduced by IBM. The first 4 models were released on this date. The PS/2 Model 30 based on an 8086 processor and an old XT bus, Models 50 and 60 based on the 80286 processor and the Model 80 based on the 80386 processor. These used the 3*" 'microfloppies', storing 1.44Mb on each (although the Model 30 could only use the low 720Kb density). These systems (except the Model 30, released in September 1998) included a completely new bus, the MCA (Micro Channel Architecture) bus, which did not catch on as it did not provide support for old-style 16-Bit AT bus expansion cards. The MCA bus did show many improvements in design and speed over the ISA bus most PCs used, and IBM (if no-one else) still use it in some of their machines. The PS/2 series were very successful - selling well over 2 million machines in less than 2 years.
1987 VGA released (designed for the PS/2) by IBM.
1987 MCGA released (only for low end PS/2s, i.e. the Model 30) by IBM.
1987 The 8514/A introduced by IBM. This was a graphics card that included its own processor to speed up the drawing of common objects, to take the load othe main CPU.
1987 - April MS-DOS 3.3, PC-DOS 3.3
Released with the IBM PS/2 this version included support for the High Density (1.44MB) 3*" disks. It also supported hard disk partitions, splitting a hard disk into 2 or more logical drives.
1987 - April OS/2 Launched by Microsoft and IBM. A later enhancement, OS/2 Warp provided many of the 32-bit enhancements boasted by Windows '95 - but several years earlier, yet the product failed to dominate the market in the way Windows '95 did 8 year later.
1987 - August AD-LIB soundcard released. Not widely supported until a software company, Taito, released several games fully supporting AD-LIB - the word then spread how much the special sound effects and music enhanced the games. Adlib, a Canadian Company, had a virtual monopoly until 1989 when the SoundBlaster card was released.
1987 - October/November Compaq DOS (CPQ-DOS) v3.31 released to cope with disk partitions >32Mb. Used by some other OEMs, but not Microsoft.
1987 - End LIM EMS v4.0
1988 First optical chip developed, it uses light instead of electricity to increase processing speed.
1988 XMS Standard introduced.
1988 EISA Bus standard introduced.
1988 WORM (Write Once Read Many times) - disks marketed for first time by IBM.
1988 - June 16 80386 SX released as a cheaper alternative -to the 80386 DX. It had a narrower (16 bit) time multiplexed bus. This reduction in pins, and the easier integration with 16 bit devices made the cost savings.
1988 - July/August? PC-DOS 4.0, MS-DOS 4.0
Version 3.4 - 4.x are confusing due to lack of correlation between IBM & Microsoft and also the USA & Europe. Several 'Internal Use only' versions were also produced. This version reflected increases in hardware capabilities, it supported hard drives greater than 32 MB (up to 2 GB) and also EMS memory. This version was not properly tested and was bug ridden, causing system crashes and loss of data. The original release was IBM's, but Microsoft's version 4.0 (in October) was no better and version 4.01 was released (in November) to correct this, then version 4.01a (in April 1989) as a further improvement. However many people could not trust this and reverted to version 3.3 while they waited for the complete re-write (version 5 - 3 years later). Beta's of Microsoft's version 4.0 were apparently shipped as early as '86 & '87.
1988 - September IBM PS/2 Model 30 286 released, based on an 80286 processor and the old AT bus - IBM abandoned the MCA bus, released less than 18 months earlier! Other IBM machines continued to use the MCA bus.
1988 - October Common Access Method committee (CAM) formed. They invented the ATA standard in March 1989.
1988 - October Macintosh IIx released. It was based on a new processor, the Motorola 68030. It still ran at 16 MHz but now achieved 3.9 MIPs. It could now cope with 128 MB of RAM.
1988 - November MS-DOS 4.01, PC-DOS 4.01
This corrected many of the bugs seen in version 4.0, but many users simply switched back to version 3.3 and waited for a properly re-written and fully tested version - which did not come until version 5 in June 1991. Support for disk partitions >32Mb.
1989 World Wide Web, invented by Tim Berners-Lee who saw the need for a global information exchange that would allow physicists to collaborate on research (he was working at CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory in Switzerland, at the time). The Web was a result of the integration of hypertext and the Internet. The hyperlinked pages not only provided information but provide transparent access to older Internet facilities such as ftp, telnet, Gopher, WAIS and Usenet. He was awarded the Institute of Physics' 1997 Duddell Medal for this contribution to the advancement of knowledge. The Web started as a text-only interface, but NCSA Mosaic later presented a graphical interface for it and its popularity exploded as it became accessible to the novice user. This explosion started in ernest during 1993, a year in which web traffic over the Internet increased by 300,000%.
1989 CD-I released by Phillips and Sony.
1989 - January Macintosh SE/30 released. Like the SE of March 1987 it only had a monochrome display adapter but was fitted with the newer 68030 processor.
1989 - March Command set for E-IDE drives was defined by CAM (formed Oct. 1988). This supports drives over 528MB in size. Early controllers often imposed a limit of 2.1GB, then later ones 8.4GB. Newer controllers support much higher capacities. Drives greater in size than 2.1GB must be partitioned under DOS since the drive structure (laid down in MS-DOS 4) used by DOS and even Windows '95 prevents partitions bigger than 2.1GB. EIDE controllers also support the ATAPI interface that is used by most CD-ROM drives produced after its introduction. Newer implementations to EIDE, designed for the PCI bus, can achieve data transfer at up to 16.67 MB/s. A later enhancement, called UDMA, allows transfer rates of up to 33.3 MB/s.
1989 - March The Macintosh IIcx released, with the same basic capabilities of the IIx.
1989 - April 10 80486 DX released by Intel. It contains the equivalent of about 1.2 million transistors. At the time of release the fastest version ran at 25 MHz and achieved up to 20 MIPs. Later versions, such as the DX/2 and DX/4 versions achieved internal clock rates of up to 100 MHz.
1989 - September Macintosh IIci released based on a faster version of the 68030 - now running at 25 MHz, and achieved 6.3 MIPs. Macintosh also released the portable - which went back to the original 68000 processor (but now ran it at 16 MHz to achieve 1.3 MIPs). It had a monochrome display.
1989 - November Release of Sound Blaster Card, by Creative Labs, its success was ensured by maintaining compatibility with the widely supported AD-LIB soundcard of 1987.

Computing timelines: 500 BC-1949, 1950-1979, 1980-1989, 1990-present

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