August 14: What happened in Computer History on this date

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Physicist John Atanasoff of Iowa State College completes a paper in which he describes the world’s first electronic digital computing device, which will be later be known as the Atanasoff Berry Computer (ABC). The device, which he designed with Clifford Berry, is designed to solve systems of multiple linear equations simultaneously and will be first tested in 1942. Despite the revolutionary nature of the design, Atanasoff won’t be credited for either the paper or recognized as the inventor of the first electronic digital computer until 1972, at the conclusion of the lengthy court case Honeywell v. Sperry Rand, in which J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly will claim that the design of the ABC is prior art and that their own ENIAC was the first electronic digital computer.


International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) announces its PC Network local area network, the PC/IX for the PC/AT, based on UNIX System III from AT&T. Code-name: Ringmaster (at IBM) and Octopus (at Microsoft) Price: US $695.

IBM announces the IBM PC/AT computer, featuring a 6MHz 80286 processor, a 5.25-inch 1.2 MB floppy drive, 256 or 512 kB RAM, an optional 20MB hard drive, and either a monochrome or color monitor. The system also premieres the MS-DOS 3.0 operating system, which improves on previous versions with support for 1.2 MB floppy disks and hard disks larger than 10MB. The XENIX operating system from Microsoft is offered as an alternative. The company will be unable to trademark the “AT” in PC/AT, which was originally an abbreviation for “advanced technology,” and as a result, the system will become one of the most cloned machines in the history of IBM. The mistake will cost IBM dearly. In the next year, Compaq, which thrived on AT clones, surpassed IBM with an 80386 processor, marking the beginning of the end of IBM’s market dominance. Code-name: Bigtop (at IBM) and Salmon (at Microsoft) Price: US $4,000 - US $6,700.


Rod Brock, owner of Seattle Computer Products (SCP), the company that developed the 86-DOS, notifies Microsoft of his intentions to sell all rights to the operating system, which is currently licensed to Microsoft royalty-free, for an additional US $20 million. The letter comes in response to a proposal Paul Allen sent on June 25th. Microsoft, which had, only two days prior, entered into negotiations with IBM to supply a CP/M operating system clone for the upcoming IBM PC, will quickly agree to the purchase.


Daniel T. Depew, age 28, and Dean Ashley Lambey, age 34, of Richmond, Virginia are arrested and accused of conspiring to kidnap, then sexually molest and murder a young boy for a pornographic snuff film. The arrest is the result of an undercover investigation conducted by police in San Jose, California. The two men initially contact undercover agents, whom they offered twelve thousand dollars for a boy, through a computer bulletin board service (BBS), bringing considerable public attention to the case, which is considered to be among the first computer bulletin board entrapment cases in the nation. Ultimately, Depew will be sentenced to thirty-three years in prison and Lambey to thirty years after pleading guilty separately. While the Internet angle is slight, it is played up significantly by the media.


The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Scotland Yard jointly announce the arrest of a twenty-four year-old man, who allegedly released the computer virus “Leaves worm” or “W32-Leave.worm,” which was first discovered July 9th. The arrest, which was made in the United Kingdom, was quietly made on July 23rd and kept secret to avoid compromising the investigation. The suspect has been charged with “designing and propagating malicious code." The worm infects Windows systems.

Microsoft releases Windows XP Build 2542, the first build of their next-generation operating system to require product testers to enter product keys.


Graphics processor manufacturer ATI Technologies publicly announces that it has been chosen to develop custom graphics components for Microsoft’s next Xbox video game system.

The households of approximately fifty million people in eight eastern US states and a Canadian province lose power in the largest blackout in North American history. Speculation immediately arises that the incident is the result of a terrorist attack. Specifically, rumors circulate that the black out is the result of Chinese hackers gaining access to the computers that run the nation’s power grid. Though the rumors will later turn out to be baseless, government officials will not deny the possibility, lending them credibility. A later, 228-page report released by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) examining the root causes of the black-out will reveal that no hackers were involved in the situation in any way. It will reveal that a glitch in the Unix-based XA/21 energy management system developed by General Electric Energy did hamper response time when the appropriate alarms failed to trigger.


In a press conference, Dell and Sony admit to major flaws in several Sony batteries that have resulted in the battery overheating and catching fire, particularly in a very highly publicized incident in Illinois. Together, the two companies initiate the largest computer-related recall in history, which will exchange over 4.1 million laptop batteries. The recall will prompt Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry to order an investigation of the batteries.

Microsoft holds its first Game Technology Conference at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center in Seattle. At the event, security development engineer David Weinstein offers warnings of the danger of organized crime on MMORPG servers. These groups steal account information and sell them off in “black markets” both in-game and on Internet sites such as eBay.

MP3 Rocket, a Gnutella client based on LimeWire, is released.