August 17: Computer History Occurring Today Through the Years

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This Day in Computer History


The United States National Bureau of Standards officially dedicates the Standards Western Automatic Computer (SWAC), one of the first digital computers in history, at the Bureau’s Institute for Numerical Analysis at the University of California, Los Angeles. The computer was designed and its construction was overseen by Harry Huskey, whom history will hail as a pioneer in the computer field. Completed in July, the SWAC will hold the title of the world’s fastest computer for roughly eleven months, until the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) in Princeton, New Jersey brings its own IAS computer online on June 10, 1952. The system boasts 256 words worth of memory and seven functions: addition, comparison, data extraction, input, multiplication, output, and subtraction. It accomplishes its tasks by employing some 2,300 vacuum tubes, a magnetic storage drum, and a Williams Tube, which is a modified Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) capable of electrostatic bit storage. Among its many uses, the SWAC will be used to search for Mersenne prime numbers, to solve linear and differential equation, and to study X-ray crystallography. It will remain in active service until December 1967.


A British patent for “A Computer Arranged for the Automatic Solution of Linear Programming Problems,” applied for on May 21, 1962 is granted. (GB1039141) It’s often cited as the first software patent in history, though a similar patent was granted in Belgium on November 21, 1963. The patent covers a technique for memory management for the simplex algorithm.


Royal Philips Electronics manufactures the world’s first compact disk (CD) at the Polygram recording company’s factory in Langenhagen, Germany. The first CD to be produced is The Visitors album by the ABBA music group, which will be released in November 1982 along with about another one hundred fifty titles on CD, mostly classical music. The format was co-developed by engineers at Philips and Sony, in a collaborative effort that began in 1979. The original capacity for a CD was originally intended to be hold one hour of audio content, with a diameter of 115mm, but the two companies agreed to extended the capacity to 74 minutes in order for a single disk to hold an unabridged performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. In 1985, the two companies will establish the CD-ROM format for data storage.


Version 4.06 of Netscape Communicator web browser is released.


The Nielson/NetRatings market research firm reports that over fifty percent of United States homes or approximately 144 million people now have access to the Internet.

United States District Judge Lewis Kaplan of New York bars the publisher of 2600: The Hacker Quarterly, Eric Gordon Corley (better known by his handle “Emmanuel Goldstein”), from publishing methods to circumvent DVD encryption that would allow movies to be copied and shared on the Internet.


The United States Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia refuses the Microsoft Corporation’s motion to delay the antitrust case brought against the company during an appeal to the Supreme Court.


Federal law enforcement authorities search the computers of a San Diego security firm that used the Internet to access government and military computers without authorization over the summer. Investigators from the FBI, the Army, and NASA visit the offices of ForensicTec Solutions Inc., seeking details about how the company gained access to computers at Fort Hood in Texas and at the Energy Department, NASA, and other government facilities. The searches began hours after it was reported that ForensicTec consultants used free software to identify vulnerable computers and then peruse hundreds of confidential files containing military procedures, e-mail, Social Security numbers, and financial data, according to records maintained by the company. While ForensicTec officials said they wanted to help the government and “get some positive exposure for themselves,” authorities pursue the matter as a criminal case.


In an appeal examining the extent of a distributor’s liability in peer-to-peer file-sharing cases, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issues a partial ruling supporting the position of the Grokster and StreamCast networks. “Under the circumstances presented by this case, we conclude that the defendants are not liable for contributory and vicarious copyright infringement and affirm the district court’s partial grant of summary judgment.”

Version 7.2 of the Netscape Mail and Newsgroups email and news client is released.


The Zotob computer worm continues to cause fatal computer crashes worldwide. The worm only crashes computers running Windows 2000 as well as early versions of Windows XP, rebooting infected computers endlessly. Among the major organizations affected by the worm are ABC Television, CNN, and the New York Times. Because the three are among the largest media outlets in the nation, the worm, which has a relatively narrow distribution when compared to previous viruses, received a disproportionate amount of news coverage, making the outbreak seem like a major incident.


Dell announces that, beginning in September, Dell Dimension desktop computers will feature AMD processors and that later in the year Dell will release a multi-processor servers featuring AMD Opteron processors,. The move represents a break from the company’s long tradition of using only Intel processors. Two year prior, Dell President and Chief Operating Officer Kevin Rollins had very publicly reaffirmed Dell’s commitment to an exclusively Intel product line, claiming that Dell would not use Opterons or Athlon processors. In a presentation to students at the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business in February 2004, Rollins said that, “If you look at the corporate market, which is where 85 percent of our business is today, the corporate user has not yet found confidence in AMD and so most of the corporations use Intel.” The unexpected transition of Dell’s most popular line of consumer systems to a AMD processor sets industry analysts to speculating as to the future of the world’s largest processor manufacturer, Intel.