Timeline of computing 1980–89

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This article presents a detailed timeline of events in the history of computing from 1980 to 1989. For narratives explaining the overall developments, see the History of computing.


Date Place Event
 ? Norway Mycron released the first commercial 16-bit microcomputer, the Mycron 2000. This computer is used by Digital Research as the development platform for the CP/M-86 operating system.
June United States Commodore released the VIC-20, which had 3.5 KB of usable memory and was based on the MOS Technology 6502 processor. Magazines became available which contained the code for various utilities and games. A 5¼" disk drive was available, along with a cassette storage system which used standard audio cassette tapes. Also available were a number of games, a color plotter which printed on 6 in (152 mm) wide paper tape, a graphics tablet (the KoalaPad). A TV screen served as monitor. The VIC-20 became the first computer to sell 1 million units.
July United States Tandy released the TRS-80 Color Computer, based on the Motorola 6809E processor and using Microsoft Basic as its programming language. It was the first Tandy computer to support color graphics, and also supported cartridge programs and games, attempting to bridge both the home computing and video gaming markets.
October United States Development of MS-DOS/PC DOS began. Microsoft (known mainly for their programming languages) were commissioned to write the Operating System for the PC; Digital Research failed to get the contract (there is much legend as to the real reason for this). DR's Operating System, CP/M-86, was later shipped, but it was actually easier to adapt programs to DOS rather than to CP/M-86, and CP/M-86 cost $495. As Microsoft didn't have an operating system to sell, they bought Seattle Computer Product's 86-DOS which had been written by Tim Paterson earlier that year (86-DOS was also known as QDOS, Quick & Dirty Operating System, it was a more-or-less 16 bit version of CP/M). The rights were actually bought in July 1981. It is reputed that IBM found over 300 bugs in the code when they subjected the operating system to scrutiny and re-wrote much of the code.

Tim Paterson's DOS 1.0 was 4000 lines of assembler.

January UK Sinclair ZX80 was released for under £100.
22 May 1980 Japan The game Pac-Man was released.


Date Place Event
 ? United States Richard Feynman proposed quantum computers. The main application he had in mind was the simulation of quantum systems, but he also mentioned the possibility of solving other problems.
 ? United States The Xerox 8010 ('Star') System, the first commercial system to use a WIMP (Windows, Icons, Menus and Pointing Devices) graphic user interface. Apple incorporated many of the ideas therein in the development of the interface for the Apple Lisa (see January 1983)
 ? UK Sinclair ZX81 was released, for a similar price to the ZX80 (see 1980).
 ? United States Introduction of 80186/80188. These are rarely used on PCs as they incorporate a built in DMA and timer chip - and thus have register addresses incompatible with other IBM PCs.
 ? United States Symbolics introduced the LM-2 workstation, a Lisp-based workstation based on the MIT CADR architecture.
August 12 United States IBM announced their IBM Personal Computer. 100,000 orders were taken by Christmas. The design becomes far more successful than IBM had anticipated, and becomes the basis for most of the modern personal computer industry.

MDA (Monochrome Display Adapter), text only, introduced with IBM PC.

MS-DOS 1.0, PC DOS 1.0.

Microsoft (known mainly for their programming languages) were commissioned by IBM to write the operating system, they bought a program called 86-DOS from Tim Paterson which was loosely based on CP/M-80. The final program from Microsoft was marketed by IBM as PC DOS and by Microsoft as MS-DOS, collaboration on subsequent versions continued until version 5.0 in 1991.

Compared to modern versions of DOS, version 1 was very basic. The most notable difference was the presence of just 1 directory, the root directory, on each disk. Subdirectories were not supported until version 2.0 (March, 1983).

MS-DOS was the main operating system for all IBM-PC compatible computers until Microsoft released Windows 95. According to Microsoft, in 1994, MS-DOS was running on some 100 million computers world-wide.

September United States The TCP/IP protocol is established. This is the protocol that carries most of the information across the Internet. RFC 793


Date Place Event
December 1981 ("announced"/few machines)/January 1982 UK Introduction of the BBC Micro. Based on the MOS Technology 6502 processor, it was a very popular computer for British schools up to the development of the Acorn Archimedes (in 1987). In 1984 the government offered to pay half the cost of such computers in an attempt to promote their use in secondary education.
January United States Commodore unveils the Commodore 64 at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Built in just two months around the VIC-II Video Integrated Circuit and the SID Sound Interface Device chips, the C64 used the 6510 processor to access 64K of RAM plus 16K of switchable ROM. This "epitome of the 8-bit computer" sold up to 22 million units in the next decade.
February 1 United States 80286 Released. It implements a new mode of operation, protected mode - allowing access to more memory (up to 16 MB compared to 1 MB for the 8086).

At introduction the fastest version ran at 12.5 MHz, achieved 2.7 MIPS and contained 134,000 transistors.

 ? United States Compaq released their IBM PC compatible Compaq Portable.
 ? United States MIDI, Musical Instrument Digital Interface, (pronounced "middy") published by International MIDI Association (IMA). The MIDI standard allows computers to be connected to instruments like keyboards through a low-bandwidth (31,250 bit/s) protocol.
 ? Netherlands
Red Book on Audio CDs was introduced by Sony and Philips. This was the beginning of the Compact disc, it was released in Japan and then in Europe and America a year later.
March United States MS-DOS 1.25, PC DOS 1.1
April UK The Sinclair ZX Spectrum was announced, released later in the year. It is based on the Z80 microprocessor from Zilog, running at 3.5 MHz with an 8 color graphics display. The Spectrum sold with two memory options, a 16 KB version for £125 or a 48 KB version for £175.
May United States IBM launch the double-sided 320 KB floppy disk drive.
July UK
United States
Timex/Sinclair introduced the first computer touted to cost under $100 marketed in the U.S. (TS 1000). In spite of the flaws in the early versions, half million units were sold in the first 6 months alone, surpassing the sales of Apple, Tandy, and Commodore combined.
August United States The Commodore 64 is released, retailing at $595USD. The price rapidly dropped, creating a price war and causing the departure of numerous companies from the home computing market. Total C64 sales during its lifetime (from 1982–1994) are estimated at more than 17 million units[citation needed], making it the best-selling computer model of all time.
December United States IBM bought 12% of Intel.


Date Place Event
 ? United States Borland formed.
 ? United States Thinking Machines Corporation formed.
 ? Japan Epson QX-10 released; first Japanese computer sold in the US[1]
 ? United States Apple introduced its Lisa. The first personal computer with a graphical user interface, its development was central in the move to such systems for personal computers. The Lisa's sloth and high price ($10,000) led to its ultimate failure. The Lisa ran on a Motorola 68000 microprocessor and came equipped with 1 MB of RAM, a 12-inch black-and-white monitor, dual 5¼" floppy disk drives and a 5 MB Profile hard drive. The Xerox Star -- which included a system called Smalltalk that involved a mouse, windows, and pop-up menus -- inspired the Lisa's designers.
 ? USA Microsoft Word software released.[2]
 ? USA Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet software launched.[3]
January United States
IBM PC gets European launch at Which Computer Show.
Spring United States IBM XT released, similar to the original IBM PC but with a hard drive. It had a 10 MB hard disk, 128 KB of RAM, one floppy drive, mono monitor and a printer, all for $5000.
March United States MS-DOS 2.0, PC DOS 2.0

Introduced with the IBM XT this version included a Unix style hierarchical sub-directory structure, and altered the way in which programs could load and access files on the disk.

May United States MS-DOS 2.01
July United States David & Goliath Computers, Founded in Chappaqua, New York, by Dr Lee Konowe, assembling PC/XT clones and IBM compatible Expansion Chassis with eight slots. The PC's sold for under $1000. Upwards of 800 PCs and over 1000 Expansion Chassis were shipped.
September United States Richard Stallman announces the GNU Project, to create a free software alternative to proprietary Unixes, on Usenet. He works towards this goal over the next years, but GNU's own kernel, the GNU Hurd, is delayed indefinitely and GNU only becomes a complete usable alternative to Unix with the creation of the Linux kernel in 1991.
October United States IBM released the IBM PCjr in an attempt to get further into the home market; it cost just $699. Cheaper alternatives from other companies were more preferable to the home buyer, but businesses continued to buy IBM.

PC DOS 2.1 (for PCjr). Like the PCjr this was not a great success and quickly disappeared from the market.

MS-DOS 2.11, MS-DOS 2.25
Version 2.25 included support for foreign character sets, and was marketed in the Far East.

November United States Domain Name System (DNS) introduced to the Internet, which then consisted of about 1000 hosts. RFC 881 (now obsoleted by subsequent revisions)
December Serbia Detailed schematic diagrams for build-it-yourself computer Galaksija released in Belgrade. Thousands were soon assembled by computer enthusiasts.


Date Place Event
 ? United States Turbo Pascal introduced by Borland.
 ? United States Hewlett-Packard release the immensely popular LaserJet printer, by 1993 they had sold over 10 million LaserJet printers and over 20 million printers overall. HP were also pioneering inkjet technology.
 ? United States Motorola released the 68020 processor.
January United States Apple Macintosh released, based on the 8 MHz version of the Motorola 68000 processor. The 68000 can address 16 MB of RAM, a noticeable improvement over Intel's 8088/8086 family. However the Apple achieved 0.7 MIPS and originally came with just 128 KB of RAM. It came fitted with a monochrome monitor and was the first successful mouse-driven computer with a Graphical user interface. The Macintosh included many of the Lisa's features at a much more affordable price: $2,500.

Applications that came as part of the package included MacPaint, which made use of the mouse, and MacWrite, which demonstrated WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) word processing.

 ? United States IBM AT released, including a 6 MHz 80286 processor. This incorporates a 16-bit bus for expansion slots, which eventually became the Industry Standard Architecture - but not until some AT clones had been produced with buses that run far quicker the 8.33 MHz laid down in the ISA standard.
August United States MS-DOS 3.0, PC DOS 3.0

Released for the IBM AT, it supported larger hard disks as well as High Density (1.2 MB) 5¼" floppy disks.

September United States Apple released a 512KB version of the Macintosh, known as the "Fat Mac".
End United States Compaq started the development of the IDE interface (see also 1989). IDE = Intelligent Drive Electronics. This standard was designed specially for the IBM PC and can achieve high data transfer rates through a 1:1 interleave factor and caching by the actual disk controller - the bottleneck is often the old AT bus and the drive may read data far quicker than the bus can accept it, so the cache is used as a buffer. Theoretically 1 MB/s is possible but 700 kB/s is perhaps more typical of such drives. This standard has been adopted by many other models of computer, such the Acorn Archimedes A4000 and above. A later improvement was EIDE, laid down in 1989, which also removed the maximum drive size of 528 MB and increased data transfer rates.


Date Place Event
January United States PostScript introduced by Adobe Systems. It is a powerful page description language used in the Apple Laserwriter printer. Adopted by IBM for their use in March 1987.
 ? United States The Atari ST, an inexpensive 8 MHz Motorola 68000-based computer, appeared. Nicknamed the "Jackintosh", after Atari owner Jack Tramiel, it featured 512 KB of memory and used GEM graphical interface from Digital Research. It was priced under US$1,000.
 ? USSR Tetris was written by Russian Alexey Pazhitnov. It was later released for various western games machines, the jewel in the crown being its inclusion with Nintendo's Game Boy in 1989. Alexey made nothing from the game, since under the Communist Regime it was owned by the people - although after the collapse of Communism he was able to move to the USA where he now works for Microsoft.
 ? Netherlands
CD-ROM, invented by Philips, produced in collaboration with Sony.
 ? United States Enhanced Graphics Adapter released.
 ? UK Meiko Scientific formed.
March United States MS-DOS 3.1, PC DOS 3.1

This was the first version of DOS to provide network support, and provides some new functions to handle networking.

March United States Symbolics registered the symbolics.com domain, the first .com domain in the world.
April United States Expanded memory specification, a memory paging scheme for PCs, was introduced by Lotus and Intel.
June United States Commodore 128 was released. Based on a complex multi-mode architecture, this was Commodore's last 8-bit computer. Cost: $299.95 for each of the CPU unit and accompanying 1571 disk drive.
July United States Commodore released the Amiga, based on a 7.16 MHz Motorola 68000 and a custom chipset. It was the first home computer to feature pre-emptive multitasking operating system. It used a Macintosh-like GUI. Cost: US$1,295 for a system with a single 880 KB 3.5 in disk drive and 256 KB of RAM.
October 17 United States 80386 DX released. It supports clock frequencies of up to 33 MHz and can address up to 4 GB of memory (and in theory virtual memory of up to 64 TB, which was important for marketing purposes). It also includes a bigger instruction set than the 80286.

At the date of release the fastest version ran at 20 MHz and achieved 6.0 MIPS. It contained 275,000 transistors.

November United States Microsoft Windows launched. Not really widely used until version 3, released in 1990, Windows required DOS to run and so was not a complete operating system (until Windows 95, released on August 21, 1995). It merely provided a G.U.I. similar to that of the Macintosh. It was so similar that Apple tried to sue Microsoft for copying the 'look and feel' of their operating system. This court case was not dropped until August 1997.
December United States MS-DOS 3.2, PC DOS 3.2

This version was the first to support 3½" disks, although only the 720 KB ones. Version 3.2 remained the standard version until 1987 when version 3.3 was released with the IBM PS/2.


Date Place Event
January United States Apple released another enhanced version of the Macintosh (the Macintosh Plus personal computer)[3] - this one could cope with 4 MB of RAM (for the first time, upgradable via SIMMs) and it had a built-in SCSI adapter based on the NCR 5380.
February UK Sinclair ZX Spectrum 128 released. It had 128 KB of RAM, but little other improvement over the original ZX (except improved sound capabilities). Later models were produced by Amstrad - but they showed no major advances in technology.
April United States Apple released another version of the Macintosh (the Macintosh 512Ke) equipped with a double sided 3.5 inch Floppy Disk drive.
September UK Amstrad Announced Amstrad PC 1512, a cheap and powerful PC. Which included a slightly enhanced CGA graphics adapter, 512 KB RAM (upgradable to 640KB), 8086 processor (upgradable to NEC V30) and a 20 MB hard disk (optional). Amstrad had previous success with the PCW. To ensure the computer was accessible they made sure the manuals could be read by everyone, and also included DR's GEM desktop (a WIMP system) and a mouse to try to make to machine more user friendly. It was sold in many high street shops and was a complete success, being bought by Business and Home users alike.
November United States At Comdex Las Vegas Atari invited Gene Mosher to introduce his touchscreen point of sale graphic user interface with direct manipulation widget toolkit editing, including the Atari ST's 12" CRT with a Microtouch capacitance touchscreen overlay, 320x200 resolution graphics and a 16-color bitmapped display.[4]


Date Place Event
 ? United States Connection Machine, an interesting supercomputer which instead of integration of circuits operates up to 64,000 fairly ordinary microprocessors - using parallel architecture - at the same time, in its most powerful form it can do somewhere in the region of 2 billion operations per second.
 ? UK Fractal Image Compression Algorithm invented by English mathematician Michael F. Barnsley, allowing digital images to be compressed and stored using fractal codes rather than normal image data.
 ? United States Motorola released the 68030 processor.
 ? United States HyperCard software released.[5]
March 2 United States Macintosh II and Macintosh SE released. The SE was based on the 68000, but could cope with 4 MB of RAM and had an internal and external SCSI adapter. It offered a high performance PDS interrupt slot which provided some of the first expandability on a mac. The SE also offered the capability of displaying color with a third-party video card with its new ROM.

The Macintosh II was based on the newer Motorola 68020, that ran at 16 MHz and achieved a much more respectable 2.6 MIPS (comparable to an 80286). It too had a SCSI adapter but was also fitted with a colour video adapter.

 ? United States Commodore released the Amiga 500 and the Amiga 2000. The Amiga 500 was similar to the original Amiga 1000, but in an all-in-one case with 512 KB of RAM and at a lower price. The Amiga 2000 was built in a large PC-style case and included 1 MB of RAM and Zorro II expansion slots.
April 2 United States PS/2 Systems introduced by IBM. The first 4 models were released on this date. The PS/2 Model 30 based on an 8086 processor and an old XT bus, Models 50 and 60 based on the 80286 processor and the Model 80 based on the 80386 processor. These used the 3½" floppy disks, storing 1.44 MB on each (although the Model 30 could only use the low 720KB density). These systems (except the Model 30, released in September 1988) included a completely new bus, the MCA (Micro Channel Architecture) bus, which did not catch on as it did not provide support for old-style 16 bit AT bus expansion cards. The MCA bus did show many improvements in design and speed over the ISA bus most PCs used, and IBM (if no-one else) still use it in some of their machines. The PS/2 models were very successful - selling well over 2 million machines in less than 2 years.
 ? United States VGA released (designed for the PS/2) by IBM.
 ? United States MCGA released (only for low end PS/2s, i.e. the Model 30) by IBM.
 ? United States The 8514/A introduced by IBM. This was a graphics card that included its own processor to speed up the drawing of common objects. The advantages included a reduction in CPU workload.
April United States MS-DOS 3.3, PC DOS 3.3

Released with the IBM PS/2 this version included support for the High Density (1.44 MB) 3½" disks. It also supported hard disk partitions, splitting a hard disk into 2 or more logical drives.

April United States OS/2 Launched by Microsoft and IBM. A later enhancement, OS/2 Warp provided many of the 32 bit enhancements boasted by Windows 95 - but several years earlier, yet the product failed to dominate the market in the way Windows 95 did 8 years later.
June UK Introduction of Acorn Archimedes.
August Canada AD-LIB soundcard released. Not widely supported until a software company, Taito, released several games fully supporting AD-LIB - the word then spread how much the special sound effects and music enhanced the games.

Ad Lib, Inc., a Canadian Company, had a virtual monopoly until 1989 when the SoundBlaster card was released.

August United States LIM EMS v4.0
United States Compaq DOS (CPQ-DOS) v3.31 released to cope with disk partitions >32Mb. Used by some other OEMs, but not Microsoft.
December 9 United States Microsoft Windows 2 is released.


Date Place Event
 ?  ? First optical chip developed, it uses light instead of electricity to increase processing speed.
 ?  ? XMS Standard introduced.
 ?  ? EISA Bus standard introduced.
 ? United States WORM (Write Once Read Many times) - disks marketed for first time by IBM.
 ? USA Adobe Photoshop software created.[5]
June 16 United States 80386SX released as a cheaper alternative to the 80386DX. It had a narrower (16 bit) time multiplexed bus. This reduction in pins, and the easier integration with 16 bit devices made the cost savings.
United States PC DOS 4.0, MS-DOS 4.0

Version 3.4 - 4.x are confusing due to lack of correlation between IBM and Microsoft and also the USA & Europe. Several 'Internal Use only' versions were also produced.

This version reflected increases in hardware capabilities; it supported hard drives greater than 32 MB (up to 2 GB) and also EMS memory.

This version was not properly tested and was bug ridden, causing system crashes and loss of data. The original release was IBM's, but Microsoft's version 4.0 (in October) was no better and version 4.01 was released (in November) to correct this, then version 4.01a (in April 1989) as a further improvement. However many people could not trust this and reverted to version 3.3 while they waited for the complete re-write (version 5 – 3 years later). Beta's of Microsoft's version 4.0 were apparently shipped as early as 1986-1987.

September United States IBM PS/2 Model 30 286 released, based on an 80286 processor and the old AT bus - IBM abandoned the MCA bus, released less than 18 months earlier! Other IBM machines continued to use the MCA bus.
October  ? Common Access Method committee (CAM) formed. They invented the ATA standard in March 1989.
October United States Macintosh IIx released. It was based on a new processor, the Motorola 68030. It still ran at 16 MHz but now achieved 3.9 MIPS. It could be expanded to 128 MB of RAM and had 6 NuBus expansions slots.
November United States MS-DOS 4.01, PC DOS 4.01

This corrected many of the bugs seen in version 4.0, but many users simply switched back to version 3.3 and waited for a properly re-written and fully tested version - which did not come until version 5 in June 1991. Support for disk partitions >32 MB.


Date Place Event
 ? Switzerland World Wide Web, invented by Tim Berners-Lee who wanted to use hypertext to make documents and information seamlessly accessible over different kinds of computers and systems, and wherever they might be in the world. He was working in computing at CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory in Switzerland, at the time. The Web was a result of the integration of hypertext and networking, the best known vehicle being the Internet. The hyperlinked pages not only provided static information but also transparent access to databases and to existing Internet facilities such as ftp, telnet, Gopher, WAIS and Usenet. He was awarded the Institute of Physics' 1997 Duddell Medal for this contribution to the advancement of knowledge. The first Web browser was actually an integrated browser/editor with a GUI interface, written for the sophisticated but fairly rare NeXT Computer. Berners-Lee and his colleagues made offered a stripped down text-only browser as a downloadable demo, and asked the emerging Web community to write full GUI versions for other platforms. By early '93 there were GUI browsers for UNIX, and PC, including Erwise, Viola, Midas, and Cello, Samba, and Mosaic; Lynx was an important text-only browser. None of these included the editing features of the first NeXT browser, which were more labor-intensive to implement on non-NeXT platforms. Mosaic, written at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) was the first browser with full-time programmers and institutional support behind it. It was reliable and easy to install, and soon offered images embedded in the text rather than in separate windows. The Web's popularity exploded with Mosaic, which made it accessible to the novice user. This explosion started in earnest during 1993, a year in which Web traffic over the Internet increased by 300,000%. The bulk of the Mosaic programmers went on to found Netscape.
 ? USA Lotus Notes software launched.[5]
January United States Apple Computer Macintosh SE/30 released. Like the SE of March 1987 it only had a monochrome display adapter but was fitted with the newer 68030 processor.
March  ? Command set for E-IDE disk drives was defined by CAM (formed Oct. 1988).[citation needed] This supports drives over 528 MB in size. Early controllers often imposed a limit of 2.1 GB, then later ones 8.4GB. Newer controllers support much higher capacities. Drives greater in size than 2.1GB must be partitioned under DOS since the drive structure (laid down in MS-DOS 4) used by DOS and even Windows 95 prevents partitions bigger than 2.1 GB. EIDE controllers also support the ATAPI interface that is used by most CD-ROM drives produced after its introduction. Newer implementations to EIDE, designed for the PCI bus, can achieve data transfer at up to 16.67 MB/s. A later enhancement, called UDMA, allows transfer rates of up to 33.3 MB/s.
March United States The Macintosh IIcx released, with the same basic capabilities of the Macintosh IIx but in a more compact half-width case.
April 10 United States 80486DX released by Intel. It contains the equivalent of about 1.2 million transistors. At the time of release the fastest version ran at 25 MHz and achieved up to 20 MIPS.

Later versions, such as the DX/2 and DX/4 versions achieved internal clock rates of up to 120 MHz.

September United States Apple Computer Macintosh IIci released based on a faster version of the 68030 - now running at 25 MHz, and achieved 6.3 MIPS. Apple also released the Macintosh Portable - the first notebook computer Mac, which went back to the original 68000 processor (but now ran it at 16 MHz to achieve 1.3 MIPS). It had a monochrome display.
November Singapore Release of Sound Blaster Card, by Creative Labs, its success was ensured by maintaining compatibility with the widely supported AdLib soundcard of 1987.


  1. ^ "The Quintessential Computer? Epson's QX-10 hits the high-end market." by Jim Hansen. "Microcomputing" magazine 1983 April
  2. ^ Paul Ford (April 2014), The Great Works of Software – via Medium 
  3. ^ a b Christopher Null (April 2007), "50 Best Tech Products of All Time", PC World, USA 
  4. ^ http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Comdex_1986.png
  5. ^ a b c Matthew Kirschenbaum (July 2013), "10 Most Influential Software Programs Ever", Slate, USA 

External links[edit]