next up previous contents
Next: The First Generation Up: Why use an Previous: Why use an


Computers without software are like cars without petrol, they do not run. Software can be divided into two groups. The system programs which manage the operation of the computer, and application programs, which do the work for the users. Most users of modern computers will hardly ever use any of the system programs, the most basic of which is the operating system. Everything which involves direct knowledge of the underlying system can be carefully packaged so that in some cases it is impossible to tell which type of computer system is being used. This however has not always been the case.

The first digital computer ever to be designed was the analytical engine by the English mathematician Charles Babbage (1792-1871), this machine was completely mechanical and had to be programmed by changing the way the gear wheels were set up initially. Babbage never got his analytical engine working, although he spent his life and the equivalent cost of 40 steam engines on the project. This machine did not have a operating system.

Mark O. Stitson
Wed Sep 25 10:45:32 BST 1996