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A new history of modern computing
Haigh T., Ceruzzi P., MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2021. 544 pp.  Type: Book (978-2-625429-00-8)
Date Reviewed: Mar 4 2022

When Ceruzzi’s earlier work [1] was first published, in 1998, mobile phones were just phones and not at all “smart,” the Internet was still largely a curiosity, and most of the entrepreneurs and founders of today’s Internet tech giants were still in school. In the intervening years, technology developments and the rapid growth of the Internet have dramatically changed the face of modern computing. This new book by Haigh and Ceruzzi, part of MIT Press’ “History of Computing” series, is a comprehensive rejuvenation of Ceruzzi’s earlier work, reflecting the dramatic changes that have occurred in modern computing, particularly as a result of the meteoric rise of the Internet.

An introduction provides background for the book and describes the layout. Each of the 15 chapters covers a particular aspect of the development of computing, although the layout is basically chronological. Many books covering the history of computing start with early mechanical calculating devices; here, however, the authors begin in the 1940s, with programmable electronic computers such as the electronic numerical integrator and computer (ENIAC), used mainly in the war effort, and then move to the early commercialization of these devices.

Chapter 2 looks at the development, starting in the 1950s, of the computer as a scientific tool. Machines developed by IBM, the RAND corporation, and Cray are discussed, as well as innovations such as magnetic core memory, high-level programming languages, and compilers. Chapter 3 moves on to discuss the development of the computer for managing business, including the processing and sorting of data, managing databases, and generating reports. The rise of the software development industry is examined. Moving back to the Second World War in chapter 4, the development of the computer as a real-time control system is discussed. Progress is tracked from analogue systems used as bomb sights in aircraft, as gun directors, and in flight simulators, to the miniaturization of components for use in missiles, and finishes with the flow-on effects from the Apollo space program. Chapter 5 covers the development of computers as interactive tools and the architectures that supported timesharing systems. The development of the UNIX operating system and growth of software engineering as a discipline are discussed.

The development of the computer as a communications platform is examined next. Chapter 6 covers communications between computers and the development of packet switching, which was the foundation for early academic and commercial networks, as well as applications such as electronic mail. Chapter 7 looks at the use of computing technology by individuals. Personal electronic calculators, early personal computers, video games, and games consoles are discussed. The growth of computer use in the business office is covered next. The development of word processing and the IBM personal computer (PC) are discussed in detail. Chapter 8 looks at the dramatic developments at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Centre (PARC) that led to computer graphics, the development of the graphical user interface, and Ethernet networking. This chapter also looks at the rise of Apple, while chapter 10 discusses the rise of Microsoft, Microsoft Office, Microsoft Windows, and Intel-based PCs.

Chapter 11 considers the growth of the computer as a universal media device. The digitization of music, images, and video is covered along with the development of compact discs and digital cameras. The metamorphosis of portable music players, cameras, and game consoles into today’s digital mobile phone is discussed. Haigh and Ceruzzi move on, in chapter 12, to discuss the development of the World Wide Web, web publishing in general, the development and competitive struggle between graphical web browsers, and the triumph of open-source software such as Linux. Networks of computers are the focus of chapter 13. The concentration of large numbers of computers in data centers, the development of virtualization that allowed for the rise of cloud computing, and the consequential development of web-based applications and commercial offerings of software as a service (SaaS) are discussed. The transition from personal computers to the proliferation of mobile devices is covered in chapter 14. The evolution from simple pagers and personal digital assistants, from tablets to today’s ubiquitous smartphone, are examined. The final chapter is a short epilogue discussing the social impact of computer technology on society and whether its evolution has met initial, altruistic expectations.

A comprehensive list of notes, thorough bibliography, and detailed index make this an excellent and up-to-date reference book for students of computing history as well as anyone interested in the history of modern computing.

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Reviewer:  David B. Henderson Review #: CR147413
1) Ceruzzi, P. E. A history of modern computing. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1998.
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