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Computing History: A Brief Timeline

Computing History: What will shopping habits will be like in the next 20 years? Will we shop online for all our goods and services? How will today’s local small businesses compete? Are there businesses that won’t ever need a database or visibility on the Internet? Well, let’s see.

Computing History


This tutorial covers the following objectives:

  • Computing History: List the major transformations in computing that have occurred since the 1970’s.
  • Define and give an example of these terms: hardware, operating system, software
  • Identify examples of businesses that use database software and explain how it is essential to their success
  • Explain the overall mission of the Oracle Corporation

Purpose of the Computing History Article

  • History provides perspective for where we are today in information technology.
  • If we know where we have come from, it is easier to understand where we are today, and where we are likely to go in the future.
  • Your first job upon graduation may not exist 20 years later!

Computing History: Key Terms

  • Hardware: the physical components of a computer such as keyboard, mouse, screen, disk drive, etc.
  • Software: programs which instruct the computer’s hardware what to do.
  • Operating system: a software program which directly controls and manages the computer’s hardware.
  • Application: a software program which runs specific tasks on behalf of computer users
  • Client: a workstation or desktop computer. Clients interact directly with human computer users.
  • Server: a powerful computer that receives requests from clients, runs each request, and sends the results back to the client.
  • Every time you request information from a Web page, your client computer sends the request to a database on the server.
  • The server retrieves the data from the database, converts it into useful information, and sends the information back to the client.
  • If you pursue a career in IT, you will hear and use these terms nearly every day!

In a 2-tier system, clients communicate directly with servers. While in a 3-tier system, clients communicate with a third computer in the middle, which forwards the requests to the servers. The middle-tier computer is often called an application server or web server.

History of Computer Systems


  • The database software resided in the mainframe computer. You may check the History of the Database article.
  • Almost all of the computer processing was done on these large mainframe computers.
  • Some of these computers were larger than your classroom!
Computing History
  • Smaller computers, or “dumb terminals,” were used to access the large mainframe and execute commands.
  • The terminals depended on the mainframe and displayed the results only after the processing was completed in the mainframe.
  • They were not capable of much processing on their own.

One disadvantage of this system is that if the mainframe computer fails, no work can be done.


  • As personal computers (PCs) became faster and widely available, processing moved from the mainframes to the desktop.
  • Because the PCs had their own software and were capable of doing some processing on their own, they came to be known as “smart clients” or “workstations.”.
History of Computer Systems 1980s
  • Having the processing power within the client machine ushered in a wave of graphical user interface (GUI) applications.
  • Many of the common applications today (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) were born during this era.

Contrast a GUI application (like anything on the Internet) with a non-GUI application that is just all text. Displaying graphics requires more memory and processor speed (for example video games). The earliest PCs were not equipped with enough “muscle” for GUI interfaces.

The Problem of Isolated, Non-integrated Systems

  • Having multiple applications on multiple client workstations created new problems.
  • In this example, different software on different systems requires integration.
  • This is usually troublesome and expensive.
  • If an upgrade is made to a software application, each and every server plus each and every client must be upgraded. This is actually a problem that a lot of companies face if they have disparate systems that evolved separately.
  • Think of a school district updating school grades on one system and attendance on another.
The Problem of Isolated, Non-integrated Systems
  • When a student graduates, all this information needs to be brought together.
  • Without an integrated system, this can be a painful process, especially if there are thousands of students who attend thousands of days of school!
  • Who will pull all that data together? How?

1990’s and Beyond

  • Oracle’s mission is to use the Internet and fast processing servers to meet the needs of organizations in storing data and producing information.
  • The software that manages the data is on the database server.
  • It performs processing for storage and retrieval.
  • Applications for business operations sit on the application server.
1990's and Beyond
  • It interacts with, processes, develops, or manipulates the data for document creation.
  • Clients provide access to and visual display of the information on the servers.
  • Clients can have applications of their own, but the essential business applications are accessed from the clients using an Internet browser.

An example would be a program that manages human-resource data or school records. Ideally, client users only need a browser to use the application, which then accesses the database. Advances in processing power allow this type of transaction to take place quickly and efficiently.

This allows changes or upgrades to be made on the servers once instead of having to change and maintain many software applications on many client machines. The current tutorial shows only one database server and one application server, but there could be several of these.

Grid Computing: A New Model

  • In the grid-computing model, all of an organization’s computers in different locations can be utilized just like a pool of computing resources.
  • Grid computing builds a software infrastructure that can run on a large number of networked servers.
  • A user makes a request for information or computation from his workstation and that request is processed somewhere in the grid, in the most efficient way possible.
Grid Computing: A New Model
  • Grid computing treats computing as a utility, like the electric company.
  • You don’t know where the generator is or how the electric grid is wired.
  • You just ask for electricity and you get it.
  • Grid Computing improves performance and reliability for Oracle’s system structures using database servers, application servers, and client browsers.

Cloud Computing:

  • Cloud computing allows businesses to access software and hardware from a cloud provider.
  • These services are located remotely and delivered to users using web technologies.
Cloud Computing

Databases support the operation of businesses across all sectors of industry, including:

  • Finance and Banking
    • Maintaining customer records and transaction details
  • Retailing
    • Stock control
  • Telecommunications
    • Call logs
  • Airline
    • Travel reservations

Behind the scenes, computers are working to display the information on the web. For example if you have previously purchased something from them, they “know” you the next time you visit the site. They make recommendations based on products you bought before. Where is all this information stored? Answer: in a database


Key terms used in this tutorial included:

  • Application
  • Client
  • Grid computing
  • Hardware
  • Infrastructure
  • Operating system
  • Server
  • Software
  • Cloud Computing


In this article about the computing history, you should have learned how to:

  • Computing History: List the major transformations in computing that have occurred since the 1970’s.
  • Define and give an example of these terms: hardware, operating system, software
  • Identify examples of e-businesses that use database software and explain how it is essential to their success
  • Explain the overall mission of the Oracle Corporation

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