Computer Assisted Design (Sketchpad)

“The cinema camera doesn’t make movies; it allows movies to be made. It’s the creative people who make it real to people.”

Ivan Sutherland

Computer Assisted Design (CAD) uses mathematics to do the geometry and calculations necessary to draw and design. CAD is faster and more accurate than hand drawing.

Sutherland’s “sketchpad” software, part of his doctoral thesis, was the first CAD program. Literally, decades ahead of its time, Sketchpad enabled a user to tell a computer how to draw, place, and move geometric shapes.

Explanation of Sketchpad

As a professor at various University’s Sutherland became a “Johnny Appleseed” of modern computer science. Eventually, he influenced and trained countless computer scientists who went on to make groundbreaking innovations.

A small number of notable Sutherland students include:

  • Alan Kay, inventor of object-oriented programming and the single-person modern computer (Xerox PARC).
  • Jim Clark (Silicon Graphics, Netscape).
  • John Warnock, inventor of PostScript, PDF, and co-inventor of spline fonts (Xerox PARC, Adobe).
  • Edwin Catmull, texture mapping and computer-animation pioneer (Pixar).
  • Bob Sproull, virtual reality.
  • Gordon Romney, 3D rendering.
  • Frank Crow, antialiasing.

No computer or business historian would argue that Sutherland is not one of, if not the most important, seminal scientists responsible for the modern computer.      

Eventually, in 1964, Sutherland stepped away from academia and replaced J.C.R. Licklider as head of DARPA, during the time that DARPA invented the internet.

Demonstration of Sketchpad

Peer-To-Peer File Sharing (Napster)

File sharing allows one computer to connect anonymously with others, sending and receiving files. Most files were single-track MP3s of copyright music.


The original theory was that because mixtapes were legal then noncommercial “sharing” of any music was legal. The legality of mixtapes, a collection of songs from other tapes, stems from a US law, the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992. As long as the tapes were noncommercial, Americans were able to share them with friends.

However, creating a mix-tape took time and each was customized for the recipient: young lovers often created tapes for one another. Furthermore, they contained a collection of songs. In contrast, MP3 “file sharing” took little time to create or download. The songs transferred between strangers and were almost always single-tracks.


The Napster software itself resided on a centralized server but connected computers directly together to actually transfer the files. That is, the files did not exist on the Napster servers. They were on the sender’s computer which the Napster software, in effect, turned into a server for the purpose of transmitting files.

Then teenager Shawn “Napster” Fanning wrote the Napster software. His goal was circumventing hosting MP3 music files on a central web server. MP3 websites were quickly shut down by the music industry.

Fanning and co-founder Sean Parker came up with the peer-to-peer file “sharing” scheme. Napster put an easy to use interface on this system that looked like music shopping and facilitated the uploading and downloading of MP3 music files for those without technical skills. It became wildly popular.

To Every Action…

The music industry freaked out.

On Dec. 7, 1999, the empire struck back. Countless music industry participants sued Napster the company, the founders, their investors, and even many users of the system. The lead lawsuit was captioned Metallica v. Napster Inc. Altogether, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) filed over 30,000 lawsuits against Napster users and even one of the music publishers, Bertelsmann, that leant Napster money.

Napster eventually shut down and sold. However, the “sharing” technology continued to evolve.

Eventually, Kazza, another music sharing technology, took its place. Rather than rely on individual servers, Kazza connected ordinary computers to one another leaving no central server or company to shutter. The RIAA continued to fight the myriad of file “sharing” services.

The launch of Napster was also, not coincidentally, the peak of revenue for the music industry. The industry refused to accept their former business model, selling entire CDs to users who wanted a single song, was no longer viable. Furthermore, the lawsuits alienated an already feisty audience.

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Music Industry Revenues Peak with Launch of Napster

Eventually, starting about 2016, music industry revenues reached a bottom and started increasing thanks in large part to streaming music. Additionally, many bands reoriented their commercialization plans away from music sales and towards live concerts that could not be pirated.

Parker would go on to work as an early employee of Facebook. In 2019, Fanning remains unrepentant. The makers of Kazza eventually created Skype.


Virtualization enables the separation of an operating system and the physical device, the chips that it runs on. An imperfect but close enough metaphor is auto rental. Rather than purchasing a car, that may be too big for many tasks and too small for others, a user can rent just the right size car or hail a car-sharing company. Virtualization reduces overall computing costs.


In virtualization, one CPU/RAM/disk stack may run multiple operating systems concurrently, with each separated from the others. In another example, multiple CPU’s are tied together and virtualized as one seemingly enormous computer.

Separating the computer from the operating system enables end-users to rent only the computing power they need for a given task lowering overall costs. It also enables the fast cloning of extra computers.

For example, if a class needs 30 identical computers for 30 students for an exercise, they could use 30 virtual machines with students using only physical screens and other input/output equipment. After completion, the push of a button deletes 30 computers. The school pays only for the time used.

Similarly, if a researcher needs one enormous computer for a large data project they could rent one for the time required that consists, somewhere, of many CPU’s tied together. This is far less costly than purchasing the machine and leaving it idle.

Most virtual input/output devices connect to the physical machines via the web. However, some applications, especially banking or the military, might use private networks. For example, a bank might offer employees virtualized computers where the physical machine isn’t much more than a screen and keyboard. This saves space, a premium on the trading floors of investment banks, and is also more secure.


Virtualization is similar to the large centralized “timeshare” computers dating back to the 1960s. Those were rented on an as-needed basis by businesses who did not want to purchase or maintain the large, expensive, and finicky machines. However, the ability to string together multiple parts of a computer, not just one big central computer itself, make virtualization different. Virtualization is key to “the cloud” – a computer that exists only “in the ether.”

Husband/wife team Diane Greene and Mendel Rosenblum co-founded VMWare, the inventor of virtualization.


In 1941, Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr devised a system and submitted a patent for radio signals that changed frequencies.


Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler (Heidi Lamar) was born in Vienna. She is most famous as the first woman to appear nude in a mainstream film. In the same movie, she was also the first woman to fake an orgasm. If that wasn’t enough, she wrote the patent for her spread spectrum technology with orchestra director George Antheil.

In an age where Tesla was still alive and Edison only recently died nobody took the Hollywood bombshell and her band director seriously. Nevertheless, their invention eventually proved as important as anything the Wizard of Menlo Park, Edison, or The Man Who Invented the 20th Century, Tesla, ever released.

Eventually, in 1985, the US Federal Communications Commission opened bandwidth for unlicensed use. Wireless phones followed as a common use case. Subsequently, bathroom was never the same.

More significantly, in 1991, NCR invented a wireless data standard named WaveLAN for use in retail. WaveLAN extended Ethernet, the wired standard invented by Robert Metcalfe at Xerox PARC, over radio waves.

Wireless Ethernet, Wi-Fi

Eventually, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) — the standards committee for everything electronic – realized the need to beam data over radio waves, not wires.

Vic Hayes, chair of the IEEE, worked on the 802.11 standard released in 1997. Specifically, 802.11 is the wireless extension of wired Ethernet, invented by Metcalfe.

In 1997, a consortium of equipment makers created the Wi-Fi alliance and branded wireless ethernet (802.11), as Wi-Fi, trademarking the name.

Today, Wi-Fi is everywhere from individual homes to businesses. Walk into a coffee shop in Manhattan and they’ll offer Wi-Fi. Similarly, walk into a coffee shop in Hanoi and they’re also likely to offer Wi-Fi. Consumers expect water to be sold but there is a worldwide expectation for free wireless internet access.

Voice Over IP (VOIP)

Voice Over IP (VOIP) transmits voice calls over the internet, allowing people to speak to one another.

Invented in 1995, VOIP came about after countless seemingly more complex inventions including web-based video. Interestingly, the likely reason for the late invention date is incentives. Businesses believed that the internet would work well for broadcasting, displacing other technologies (they were right). Conversely, phone companies were not enthusiastic about a low-cost calling method beyond their control.

Israeli Alon Cohen recognized the ability to split telephone calls into the packets that flow through the internet. Subsequently, he formed a company, VocalTec Communications Inc., in 1989 and patented VoIP in 1995.

VoIP adoption was initially slow. Early adopters required special software and the sound quality was poor. However, by 2000, almost 25 percent of phone calls used VoIP as telecom providers adopted the technology.

Skype, which uses peer-to-peer VoIP, launched in 2003.

Today, virtually all phone calls use VoIP though most users do not realize the technology is powering their phone calls.

Cohen did well, with a successful 2006 IPO, but the bulk of economic benefit eventually flows to others. Interestingly, Cohen’s main business became working as an expert witness in VoIP patent trials.

Like countless other innovators on innowiki, Cohen studied under the legendary Ivan Sutherland.

Visual Web Browser

Tim Berners-Lee original world wide web was entirely text-based, mainly used to link textual papers to one another.


Marc Andreesen, then a student at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, extended Andreesen’s HTML. Andreesen extended the original HTML, adding components describing not only the contents of a page but also how it should be laid out.

Andreesen created a web-browser that is graphical, which assembled the text into what looked like a document on-screen. He named his visual web browser Mosaic.

Mosaic quickly gained in popularity, creating a surge of interest in the web. Eventually, Andreesen left school for Silicon Valley to commercialize the product, renaming it Netscape.


However, Andreesen failed to receive intellectual property releases from his school. They worked out an arrangement for Netscape but also licensed the technology freely, including and most importantly to Microsoft.

Thereafter, Microsoft bundled a free web browser (Netscape initially sold their browser) into the then-dominant Windows operating system. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer quickly became the leading web browsing software in an era known as the “browser wars.”

Netscape eventually folded, unable to compete with Microsoft’s free browser and failing to find a different workable strategy.

Years later, Netscape released their software as open-source. Eventually, the non-profit Mozilla Foundation adopted it and the browser lives on as Firefox.

Besides fueling the early internet, Netscape also fueled internet investing mania. The company went public on Aug. 9, 1995, about a year after it was founded. At that time, young companies did not offer shares and companies without profits never sold shares. Defying both conventions, Netscape offered shares at $28 and closed the day at $58.25, touching $74.75 at one point. Dot-com mania ensued. Andreesen went on to become a successful entrepreneur and investor in other areas.

Today, the most popular browsers, Google’s Chrome and Apple’s Safari, are both open-source projects. As of 2019, Microsoft announced plans to eventually shutter the last proprietary closed-source web browser.

One important note: Engelbert’s “Mother of all Demos” demonstrated combined text and graphics, with hyperlinks, in 1968.


In 1909, Nicola Tesla described what eventually would be a smartphone. They’ve existed in various forms for many years.


IBM invented a phone called the Angler in 1992 with PDA like functions. Subsequently, they released a commercial version in 1994.

The term “smartphone” first appears in 1995 describing AT&T’s PhoneWriter Communicator.

Eventually, more phones appeared in the US using Palm OS, Newton OS, Symbian, and Windows CE. Common functions included email, texting, calendar operations, really slow web browsing, and voice calls. Overall, they were slow and clunky.

HP and Nokia released a hybrid phone/PDA in 1996. It opened like a clamshell and contained a screen and keyboard.

In 1999, the Japanese firm NTT DoCoMo released the iMode, the first smartphone to gain mass adoption. Equally important, DoCoMo invented their own HTML-lite page description language, being the first to recognize the importance of high-quality content for smartphones.

Progress continued leading to the Handspring Treo that fully integrated a Palm Pilot and phone, in 2002.

In the early aughts, various phones typically had small physical keyboards, mimicking the then-popular Blackberry email/phone combination.

Subsequently, in 2007, Apple released the first iPhone. Initially, there were no apps nor app store: the iPhone did a small number of things and did them well. It was a web browser, email reader, texting device and phone. Sales were strong but not spectacular.

Hackers digitally broke into the iPhone enabling the installation of third-party apps. These became popular. Apple resisted at first but eventually created a process to install third-party apps without hacking and the iPhone app store opened in July 2008.

Android phones, based on an open-source operating system Google purchased, were released in October 2008.

Since then smartphones have become ubiquitous, dominated by Android (Google OS) and Apple. IBM and AT&T, developers of the earliest smartphones, do not produce smartphones.


MP3 enables the digitization of high-quality audio to small files. File sizes are small enough to easily store many or transfer them over the internet, even with 1990s slow transfer speeds. The small file size is primary the benefit of MP3 over digitized compact disk file because MP3 files are much smaller with good enough quality.

In 1992, Karlheinz Brandenburg – working on his Ph.D. thesis – explored encoding a digital stream over an ISDN data phone line. Patent examiners rejected a patent application because they deemed the technology impossible.

In 1998 the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) called for standards in audio and video encoding. That team used the monkier Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG).

Brandenburg and AT&T’s Jim Johnston worked together for a compression algorithm that maintained sound quality, trying over a thousand variations.

In 1992, ISO releases MP3 as a standard. For the most part, the world ignored it.

However, in 1995, as the world wide web was exploding, browser makers decided to support a file extension for encoded audio. They agreed on MPEG, Level 3, and the file extension, MP3.

By 1997, use of MP3 was exploding. However, users ignored both Brandenburg’s IP rights and also the rights of the music they were encoding. By 1999, with the launch of Napster, Brandenburg and the Fraunhofer Institute all but lost control of the technology they developed. IP infringement was rampant.

MP3’s still exist though other encoding technologies offer smaller files with high-quality sound. Piracy is less rampant due to consumer preferences for streaming, enabled largely by broadband and cheap mobile data.


Linux is a stable and secure operating system. The operating system is open-source and free. However, there are many companies that sell support for Linux, and maintenance is typically the source for most of the cost comes of maintaining an operating system.


Limited to 16 concurrent users at his school’s computer, Linus wanted a computer but did not want to use MS-DOS. Eventually, he stumbled across a mini-Unix which ran on an old DOS computer called Minix. It didn’t do anything except teach students how operating systems were programmed. Torvalds installed Minix and started to tinker.

“In the summer of 1991 – just six months after he got his first PC – Linus found he needed to download some files. But before he could read and write to a disk, he recalls, “I had to write a disk driver. Then I had to write a file system so I could read the Minix file system in order to be able to write files and read files to upload them,” he explains, as if it was the only reasonable thing to do. “When you have task-switching, a file system, and device drivers, that’s Unix” – or at least its kernel. Linux was born.”

Wired, The Greatest OS That (N)ever Was,

Linux Grows Up

Subsequently, Linus’ operating system evolved. He filled in missing pieces, learning along the way how to program an operating system. The project grew in scope as people from Minix contributed software, each building and reviewing the work of one another.

Eventually, somebody jokingly named the new operating system Linux, and the name stuck.

Linus licensed the operating system under Richard Stallman’s GNU General Public License, or GPL. He also adopted Linux to run with GNU software, including the emacs word processor, alleviating the need to write his own applications.

Linux has grown into one of the world’s most robust and important operating systems, powering much of the internet.

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Torvalds Way Back When
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Torvalds More Recently
(but, for the record, we still love ya’ Linus)

World Wide Web

Tim Berners-Lee worked at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).


The internet was about 20 years old and connected many computers. However, once connected between computers, users searched for the material, an oftentimes odious task. Furthermore, many computers required logins.

Think of the pre-web internet as a series of libraries without central directories. Some of the libraries require keys whereas others are open. However, once inside, information lived in countless nooks and crannies. The internet had become a digital Tower of Babel.

This lack of standards made finding and connecting disparate pieces of information difficult. A scientist could write a paper and possibly, in footnotes, describe where they found information. However, this was a time-consuming, tedious, process.

Easily linking the information together, Berners-Lee reasoned, could dramatically increase the overall value of the internet itself. Ordinary users didn’t necessarily care about the computers on the internet, he reasoned. They cared about the information and did not care where it was so long as it was easy to find.

Tim’s Tech

Sir Tim invented or tuned-up several innovations into the most important invention since Guttenberg’s press.

First, he simplified a way to mark documents and the information inside documents enabling ordinary users to link them together. He described this as a “hypertext project,” eventually settling on the name HyperText Market Language, or HTML.

Second, he created a standard to link the hypertext documents together called hypertext together, the HyperText Transfer Protocol, or HTTP.

Third, he created a standardized method to connect, or link, hypertext documents, the Uniform Resource Locator, or URL.

Finally, he bundled these three technologies into one computer program that served the documents. He named the overall invention the World Wide Web, the program that serves the documents a web server. One important feature of web servers is that, when running normally, they do not require a login. When a user types a URL the web browser, unless configured with abnormally high security, simply accepts the request and automatically delivers the information.

Finally, he created a software program to view and navigate the hypertext documents, calling it a “browser.”

The entire program, a World Wide Web of one computer, ran on his NEXT computer. NEXT is the company founded by Steve Jobs after John Sculley fired him from Apple.

The Web Goes to the World

Realizing that for his network to be effective it needed many nodes he turned to open-source and allowed anybody to download and use web browsers. Berners-Lee web exploded in popularity almost overnight as scientists around the globe went to attach their own web servers making not only scientific papers but all manner of documents accessible.

“Tim’s not after the money,” said a CERN colleague Robert Cailliau. “He accepts a much wider range of hotel-room facilities than a CEO would.”

Berners-Lee has won a plethora of prizes for his innovation including a knighthood. Berners-Lee is financially comfortable, thanks in large part fellowships, speaking engagements, and consulting work, though countless others reaped trillions of dollars from his work.