Thursday, March 10, 2011

Advantages of Cloud Computing– Part X – The Innovators


In Part VIII we talked about the future. Now we’re going to talk about how we’ll get there.

To demonstrate how new technologies follow along similar stages, from initial vision to market acceptance, I have chosen to explore the period from 1972 to 1982, the evolution of the personal computer; but you may choose just about any technology you want and the only variances you will find will be the speed in which these stages occurred. Even so, the time period of a single decade, from conception to market acceptance, is common in almost all of them.

First there were the innovators, the guys that had the vision and pursued a technology to turn their vision into reality. Innovators are rarely motivated by money. They are first enthused by their curiosity. What starts the process is often the announcement of a new technology that sparks their interest. In the case of the personal computer it was the appearance of the Intel 8080 microcomputer chip in 1972. Not very impressive in size, it measured only about two inches long, an inch wide, around a quarter of an inch thick and had forty pins sticking out of the bottom making it resemble some kind of beetle, but to a group of educated nerds weaned on ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’, ‘Buck Rogers’ and ‘The Jetsons’, it represented an opportunity to create something irresistibly dynamic and literally out-of-this-world.

For the next several years, Xerox scientist at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) used the 8080 to create the first microcomputer. At the same time a company called Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) began working on the first minicomputer.

In 1974, two guys in Albuquerque, NM used the 8080 to develop their microcomputer to be sold in kits to hobbyists. They called it the ‘MITS Altair 8800’, and a college dropout by the name of Bill Gates and his friend Paul Allen wrote a version of BASIC that allowed the 8080 to do something interesting.

Soon after the arrival of the first Altair 8800 computer to their area, ‘The Homebrew Computer Club’ was formed in 1975 and their initial meeting was held in a garage at Menlo Park in Santa Mateo County, California to exchange information about all aspects of microcomputer technology.  From its ranks came familiar names like George Morrow, Adam Osborne, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Money was of no consequence to these guys. They scrounged parts wherever they could find them and begged, borrowed or stole whatever else they needed to get the job done, prompting Bill Gates to write a scathing letter to the club admonishing the practice of the unauthorized copying of his Altair BASIC software program.

In 1976, the Apple 1 was built in a garage by two high school outcasts, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs.  Using a chip, similar to the Intel 8080, Wozniak created the first assembled microcomputer to be sold to the general public. He carried it to the Home Brew Computer Club to show it off. Hundreds of small microcomputer companies began popping up on a site within the San Francisco, California peninsular, better known as ‘Silicon Valley’.

If I were asked to identify one aspect of capitalism American style, I think the story of how new technologies evolve is one of the things that makes us unique. Innovation is driven not by money, but the desire to show off, to fit in with a group, to become a part of something bigger than yourself.

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