This Month in Tech History: May – Review Geek

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The month of May contains several milestones in the history of technology. From the rebirth of Apple’s desktop line of computers to a landmark lawsuit against Microsoft, the birth of telecommunications as we know it and the release of two of the most influential video games of all time. Read on for the details.

May 1, 1964: Launch of BASIC

The BASIC programming language holds a special place in the hearts of millions of older computer users. In the 70s and 80s, the easy-to-use nature of BASIC introduced computing to anyone willing to learn.

Created by Dartmouth College professors John G. Kemeny and Thomas E. Kurtz, they aimed BASIC to make computer programming accessible to students who were not pursuing degrees in STEM fields. They first implemented the programming language in 1964 on a time-sharing operating system, allowing multiple users to access a computer’s processing power through separate terminals.

From there, BASIC found a home in the mini computer market, where he helped spur the growth of text-based computer games, laying the foundation for the video game industry to come. When the personal computer revolution began to gain momentum, many computer manufacturers included a BASIC interpreter with every machine. Thus, BASIC has become the go-to programming language for millions of budding software developers. And while it’s become a nostalgic memory for most, it’s still a great choice for students to learn the basics of programming before moving on to more complex languages.

May 6, 1998: Apple announces the iMac

An original iMac from 1998 in blue
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One of Steve Jobs’ top priorities when he returned to Apple in 1997 was to revive the company’s dying computer line. A little over a year later, he announced the iMac during a special event at De Anza College in Cupertino. The iMac replaced the Macintosh Performa and the Power Macintosh as Apple’s flagship desktop offering. Jobs described the iMac as “the marriage of Internet excitement with Macintosh simplicity”.

The iMac was the first Apple product to use the “i” moniker. In his keynote, Jobs explained that “i” stands for “internet, individual, instruct, inform and inspire.” By any measure, iMac excelled in all of these categories. And it was a smash hit with computer enthusiasts and Apple fans who had patiently stuck with the company through the turbulent 1990s.

The original iMac sold over five million units in less than three years, marking the start of Apple’s comeback and paving the way for other revolutionary devices like the iPod, iPhone , iPad, etc.

May 12, 1936: Dvorak keyboard layout patented

The QWERTY keyboard layout is used on virtually all computers in the English-speaking world. However, this is not the only layout available. In the early 1900s, August Dvorak considered QWERTY to be inefficient for typing and prone to generating typos.

Dvorak and his brother-in-law William Dealey spent 14 years developing a keyboard layout optimized for speed, accuracy, and comfort to correct these issues. The central element of the design is to place the most commonly used keys on the home row, which requires far less finger movement. In the 1960s, Dvorak developed one-handed versions of the layout for left and right hands.

Although Dvorak and Dealey failed to replace QWERTY, their layout was not a flop either. It was adopted enough to survive and adapt throughout the 20th century. This is the only non-QWERTY English keyboard layout included in today’s desktop operating systems. And he continues to have a dedicated user base of sidekicks that keep him alive.

May 17, 2009: Minecraft released

A village in 'Minecraft'
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The best-selling video game of all time, Minecraft, made its public debut after just a week of development and private testing. Its creator, Markus Persson, was inspired to create the game by playing Infiniminer with colleagues. MinecraftThe sandbox setting and open world of made it appealing to players interested in building an entire world for themselves. Over the next two years, Persson refined the game based on feedback from test players. After several development builds, the game was ready for prime time and officially released on November 18, 2011.

But the game was a hit even before its full release. It sold over a million copies within a month of its beta release in early 2011. Upon its official release, the game had over 16 million registered users. And in three years, it would sell more copies than any video game in history. Today, Minecraft has sold over 238 million copies.

May 18, 1998: Microsoft sued for violating antitrust laws

In 1998, the United States Department of Justice filed a landmark lawsuit against the software giant for violating the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. The lawsuit alleged that Microsoft had used its monopoly position in the PC market to support its web browser, Internet Explorer, by bundling with the Windows operating system.

The suit came on the heels of the browser wars of the 1990s in which Internet Explorer emerged victorious over Netscape Navigator. Include Internet Explorer for free with Windows as a key weapon used by Microsoft to eviscerate Netscape’s market share throughout the 1990s.

Although the Justice Department filed the lawsuit in 1998, the lawsuit did not take place until 2001. The judge found that Microsoft had committed monopolization that violated antitrust law and recommended that the company be dissolved. However, an appeals court later overturned this decision. Eventually, Microsoft settled the matter with the Justice Department by promising to reform its anti-competitive business practices.

May 22, 1980: Happy birthday, Pac man!

A close up of a 'Pac-Man' arcade machine
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One of the most influential and successful arcade games of all time, Pac man, was designed by Toru Iwatani to appeal to both male and female gamers. And it worked. Its simple design and fun gameplay meant anyone could enjoy it.

Pac man broke longtime arcade favorites like space invaders and Asteroids and became the top-selling arcade game in the United States and Japan by the end of 1980. By 1982, over 400,000 Pac man units shipped to arcades around the world and raised billions of dollars in quarters.

Its success in the arcade led to the game becoming a sensation in the emerging video game console and PC gaming markets. Namco has created ports of the game for every platform, from Apple and Atari to Commodore, Nintendo, and more. And Pac man continues to go strong today; it’s available on iOS, Android, Xbox, Playstation, and more. If you have a gaming device, chances are you can play Pac man above.

May 24, 1844: first telegraph transmission in Morse code

Before Twitter, the Internet, email, television, telephone, and even radio, there was the telegraph. Telegraphy was the world’s first true long-range communication technology. With roots dating back to the 1700s, the optical telegraph relied on visual signals relayed through a series of towers that dotted the European countryside. It was not until the invention of the electric telegraph in the 1830s that the technology took on a form that we would recognize today as one of the earliest forms of telecommunications.

However, it required specialized code to convey the messages succinctly and efficiently. Samuel Morse and fellow inventors Joseph Henry and Alfred Vail stepped in to meet this need by developing Morse code. Simple substitution cipher enabled telegraph operators to extract messages that traveled hundreds of miles almost instantaneously, forever revolutionizing human communication.

The first Morse code telegraph message was sent by Morse himself from the United States Capitol in Vail, which received it at the B&O Railroad Depot in Baltimore, about 40 miles away. Morse chose an Old Testament quote, “What has God done,” to usher in a new era of technology.

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