Photos: The technical history tour

Photos: The technical history tour

Summary: Join us on a whistlestop trip around the places where technological history was made

TOPICS: Tech Industry

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  • CERN, Geneva, Switzerland — The web

    The European centre for high energy physics is one of the world's finest temples to classical Big Science. That it's also the birthplace of the web is one of those accidents of time and place that will always haunt those who try and fund research. But being a pure research institute, there was no commercial reason for Tim Berners-Lee or CERN to keep the idea to themselves, and as with TCP/IP this gave the open standard an unassailable advantage. The rest is history.

    Real-life visiting potential: 7/10. Not the easiest place to visit outside a group, and you should move quickly if you want to sort something out. Next November they turn on the experiment, so lots of stuff will be closed to the public that isn't now.

  • PARC, Palo Alto, California — Mice, Ethernet, laser printers, WIMPs

    Xerox PARC — the Palo Alto Research Center — is another place that causes despair among those who fund pure research. The quantity and quality of its inventions during its heyday are unmatched: Ethernet, the laser printer, colour computer graphics, graphical user interfaces, Wysiwyg word processing, use of the mouse, object-oriented programming — and are behind most of what we do on our desktops these days. Yet, famously, Xerox found it impossible to make any money at it, or at least anywhere near as much as everyone else did.

    Real life visiting potential: 3/10. Occasional talks open to the public, but most of the site is firmly off-limits.

  • University of Helsinki Computing Department — Linux.

    Finland has at least two good claims to techno-historical fame, but the University of Helskini's computing department wins out over Nokia. There are other mobile phone makers, but there's never been anything quite like Linux. Started in 1991 by recently-liberated QL owner Linus Torvalds on his brand new 80386 PC, the GPL's operating system has changed the world in the 16 years since and acquired a huge army of fans and contributors. However, it retains something of the flavour of the land that gave it birth — a flinty determination to see things through coupled with a unique sense of community.

    Real-life visiting potential: 5/10. We're sure they'll be delighted to see you, but there'll be absolutely nothing to do.

Topic: Tech Industry

Rupert Goodwins

About Rupert Goodwins

Rupert started off as a nerdy lad expecting to be an electronics engineer, but having tried it for a while discovered that journalism was more fun. He ended up on PC Magazine in the early '90s, before that evolved into ZDNet UK - and Rupert evolved with them into an online journalist.

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  • Greaybeards rejoice!

    We're a select breed!

    Born at the end of the second world war into a world of valves ("vacuum tubes" for the linguistically lattitudinally challenged) we've been privileged to live through the birth and the first sixty years of the "semiconductor era" which has not only been the engine behind the "technological revolution" but has also changed the face of humanity irrevocably.

    We've seen the point-contact diode and all the spin-off diodes (Zener, Shockley, Tunnel, Gunn, LED, Photo, Varicap, SCR, Hall effect, etc.) the junction transistor and it's spin-offs (unijunction, Darlington, field effect, MOSFET, etc.) develop into today's analogue and digital integrated circuits of mind-numbing complexity.

    For those of us who made technology of our life, in whatever speciality, it's been a roller-coaster of a ride, we've had to hang on by our fingertips and had to run like crazy just to stand still... but it's been thrilling, breathtaking, breakneck and as exciting and as full of possibilities as a new-born baby... and it's only "just" starting!
  • technical tour addenda

    sorry, but you can't mention xerox parc and microsoft without putting in 1, Infinite Loop. After all - it's because of that company that we are now using computers to read this site!