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developerWorks: From Monolithic to Grid: A Lighthearted History Lesson

Nov 04, 2003, 07:00 (1 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Rawn Shah)

"The very first computers were monolithic in design. Teams of men and women in suits worked in the mid-1940s to late-1960s in highly secured rooms like priests and acolytes in some mysterious temple. There was very little reach into civilian, secular life, and the work they performed was an esoteric science. The major feature of computing was the mainframe computer that took up a few hundred square feet of space, plus working space for its human masters and for the specialty air-cooling systems, the heavy printers, and the oh-so-crucial spare-parts room (where they kept cans of insecticide to literally debug the system).

"Applications were mostly mathematical equations that required more iterations than the human mind can follow without drooping into boredom. The input went in either by manually toggling switches (like turning on a room light switch), or typing into a big typewriter-like device. The output arrived on a specialty printer the size of a large desk, mostly in the form of punch-cards. Each card had 80 characters per line, and ten lines on which letters could be punched out to indicate a command or a parameter. And it was slow. A good scientific calculator that fits in your pocket today is probably several magnitudes faster and more complex..."

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