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Pondering IT history

Ross O. Storey | April 12, 2010
The IT Family: Grandaddy IBM, Uncle HP, Gen X Microsoft & Apple, teenager Google and toddler Twitter.

Earlier this month, one of the worlds pioneering software giants, Microsoft, quietly celebrated its 35th birthday. I only know this because I was reminded by a certain App on my 3G phone and then looked it up on Wikipedia. What is now a global IT colossus was founded by Bill Gates and Paul Allen in Albuquerque and its Windows operating system we are up to Windows 7.0.

Its hard to imagine that Microsoft is just three and a half decades old about the same age as one of my favourite singers, Alanis Morrissette, or actors Drew Barrymore, Leonardo Di Caprio and Joaquin Phoenix or Penelope Cruz or Victoria Beckham. Depending on what definition you accept, Microsoft is a Generation X, born before 1980. Generation Y people (born after 1980) tend to regard Xers as old.

Not that Microsoft made much of a big deal about its 35th birthday. Its relative youth got me thinking about just how frenetic the development of innovation and creativity has been in this period of transformation from the 20th to the 21st centuries. It prompted me to do a little digging to find out the precise ages of some of the big boys in IT.

Now, Apple was established in Cupertino, California, on 1 April 1976 (April Fools day) meaning  Steve Jobs Steve Wozniaks brainchild is just a year younger than Microsoft. Theyve been long-time friends but have started to increasingly tread on each others toes as they endeavour to encroach each others territory.

Of course, the grand-daddy of information technology is IBM nicknamed Big Blue - which is one of the only IT companies which can trace its origins aback to the 1880s and its employees have won five Nobel Prizes since.

Another current computing giant, HP, was born back in 1939 the year World War Two started - when Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard developed an audio oscillator in a garage in Palo Alto, California. After Walt Disney bought several of these oscillators for their latest movie, Fantasia, the company was off and running.

Arguably, Google was born in 1997 which makes it just 13 years old (just entering teenage-hood) when Stanford University students Larry Page and Sergey Brin chose the name which a bit of Web research will tell you is a play on the word googol, a mathematical term for the number represented by the numeral 1 followed by 100 zeros. They chose Google because they believe the name reflects their mission to organise a seemingly infinite amount of information on the Web. At least, that was their original goal. They have since moved on to software-as-a-service, the Chrome Web browser, the mobile phone operating system Android and even an electricity generation power station.


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