Computer History Museum: Safeguarding the Legacies and Lore of IT

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Computer History Museum: Safeguarding the Legacies and Lore of IT

by Chris Preimesberger

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Always something new happening here

The Computer History Museum is preparing for a major new exhibition, "Revolution: The First 2,000 Years of Computing," launching in January 2011. "Revolution" will be the first major museum exhibition in the world to trace the history of computers and information technology from the abacus to the Internet. Check the Computer History Museum Web site now and then to find out more.

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Chess playing with the computer masters

The history of computer chess is a five-decade-long quest to solve a difficult intellectual problem. The story starts in the earliest days of computing and reflects the general advances in hardware and software over this period. This on-line exhibition at the CHM—not to mention the actual exhibit—contains documents, images, artifacts, oral histories, moving images and software related to computer chess from 1945 to 1997. (Photo courtesy of the Computer History Museum)

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The Babbage Computing Engine

As an ongoing exhibit, the CHM is showing an example of the first computing machines. Computer pioneer Charles Babbage (1791-1871; his photo is on the wall at left), designed the first automatic computing engines. Babbage designed mechanical computers but failed to successfully build working models. The first complete Babbage Engine was completed in London in 2002, 153 years after it was designed. Difference Engine No. 2, built faithfully to the original drawings, consists of 8,000 parts, weighs 5 tons, and measures 11 feet long. (Photo courtesy of the Computer History Museum)

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Twin Babbage Engine

An identical Babbage engine completed in March 2008 is the one display at the Computer History Museum. Go here to see a presentation on how this machine works. (Photo courtesy of the Computer History Museum)

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Precision is king

The engineering precision displayed in the design of the Babbage computer is amazing to see up close. The CHM's mission is to create interest in this extraordinary object, its designer and the team of people who decided to invest time, money and effort to build it. This is a sight no Victorian ever saw. (Photo courtesy of the Computer History Museum)

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A rare conference on PLATO, the first e-learning platform

On June 2-3, 2010, CHM will host the first-ever conference on the history of the pioneering PLATO computer education system. This photo is of Dr. Donald Bitzer, creator of PLATO, who will be a featured speaker at the conference, as will Microsoft CTO Ray Ozzie. Dr. Bitzer was director of CERL, the Computer-based Education Research Lab, which was the home of PLATO at the University of Illinois. PLATO provided e-learning, online community, and multiplayer games long before the Internet took off. Go here for more background. (Photo courtesy of the PLATO History Foundation)

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A different kind of Avatar

Avatar is one of the most famous and popular games on PLATO. It is one of the precursors of today's "World of Warcraft" and "Everquest." It is a multiplayer "Dungeons and Dragons"-type game where one player and others go down into the dungeon and fight monsters and get gold and other goodies. The game was probably the most sophisticated ever written on PLATO—the University of Illinois students who worked on it spent two years in stealth mode before opening it for open play time. (Photo courtesy of the PLATO History Foundation)

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PLATOs innovations were many

Hardware changed over the years as PLATO evolved: PLATO I (1960) ran on the ILLIAC I computer; PLATO II (1961-62) also ran on the ILLIAC; PLATO III (1963-1972) ran on a CDC 1604; PLATO IV (1972-1980s) ran on dual CDC CYBER mainfraimes. PLATO represents what might be the greatest untold story in the history of computing. Largely unknown today to the general public, PLATO's list of innovations and seminal influences is considerable. For the first time ever, the event June 2 and 3, 2010, will assemble many of the key people involved with the creation of PLATO. (Photo courtesy of the PLATO History Foundation)

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Fine Fellows, all

Each year, the CHM selects and honors a group of individuals who make a significant contribution to the IT industry. In 2009, the museum honored six people: Robert R. Everett, for his pioneering work on the MIT Whirlwind and SAGE computer systems; Don Chamberlin, for his fundamental work on structured query language (SQL) and database architectures; and four men (pictured here) who led the development of the first commercial microprocessor, the Intel 4004: (from left: Federico Faggin, Ted Hoff, Stan Mazor, and Masotoshi Shima. (Photo courtesy of the Computer History Museum)

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Bread truck becomes Internet icon

In 1977, this little bakery van—now maintained at the CHM—was refurbished by Stanford Research Institute (now SRI International) staff members to become the first mobile e-mail unit. On Nov. 22, 1977, the first radio-based three-network transmission using TCP (transmission control protocol) was sent from this van while it moved to different locations in the San Francisco Bay area. It was the first machine used to connect a terminal to a host across three very different packet networks. (Photo by Chris Preimesberger, eWEEK)

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Visible storage

A comprehensive exhibit showing various types of computer-related storage hardware is always on view at the CHM, including this button-intensive unit. Go here for a virtual tour of the exhibit. (Photo courtesy of the Computer History Museum)

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Gates a longtime benefactor

Microsoft Board Chairman Bill Gates is a longtime CHM supporter and has spoken numerous times at special events and press conferences there. (Photo courtesy of the Computer History Museum)

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