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January 12, 2011

2000 Years of Computing on Display at Computer History Museum

Tiffany Trader

The Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., reopens its doors this week after undergoing a $19 million, 25,000-square-foot building renovation. The gem at the heart of this giant undertaking is a major new exhibit that traces the history of computing from the ancient abacus to the personal digital assistant (PDA) of the 90s. The details of the exhibition, titled “Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing,” were the subject of a recent article at Computerworld.

John Hollar, museum CEO, shared with Computerworld the impetus for the project:

“Many times, people coming to the museum have very basic questions: ‘How did that computer on my desk get there? How did that phone I’ve used for so long get so smart?’ It’s an exhibition that’s primarily aimed at a nontechnical audience, though there’s a ton of great history and information for the technical audience as well.”

The show’s 19 galleries house documents, video presentations, and more than 5,000 images and 1,100 artifacts. Some of the presentations on display are designed for hands-on use. For example, visitors will be able to pick up a 24-lb. Osborne computer or play a game of Pong, Pacman or Spacewar.

Among other noteworthy artifacts are a 1956 IBM 305 computer and its 350 hard drive, the first commercially-available machine of its type. The machine holds 5MB of data and occupies almost an entire room.

Also on display are “the console of a 1950 Univac 1, the first computer to become a household name; a complete installation of an original IBM System/360, which dominated mainframe computing for 20 years; and a Cray-1 supercomputer, which reigned as the world’s fastest from 1976 to 1982.”

During the next year, the museum will host a special lecture series, called “Revolutionaries,” which will spotlight prominent technology innovators speaking about the developments and discoveries that have influenced our world.

A permanent installation, “Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing” opens to the public tomorrow, Jan. 13.

Full story at Computerworld