A programmable machine that responds to specified instructions and can execute a list of instructions known as a program. Today’s computers are electronic and digital—with wires, transistors, and circuits comprising the hardware and instructions and data comprising the software. Computers generally have these hardware components: (1) memory, allowing a computer to store data and programs, at least temporarily; (2) mass storage devices, allowing a computer to store and retain large amounts of data on the disk drives and tape drives; (3) input devices such as keyboards and a mouse, which act as conduits through which data are entered into a computer; (4) output devices, such as display screens and printers, that let users see what the computer has performed; and (5) a CPU or central processing unit, the primary component that executes the commands or instructions.
On a humorous note, in a New Scientist article, futurologist Ray Kurzwell said that although a $1,000 personal computer in 2005 has about the computing power equivalent to that of an insect brain, if development advances continue at the same rate into the future, within 15 years a $1,000 personal computer should have the computing power equivalent to that of a human brain.
On a global note, a controversial “computer-political” case arose on March 8, 2005, when Japan’s anti-monopoly agency demanded that Intel Corporation stop business practices that the agency alleged were giving the world’s dominant CPU chip maker an unfair advantage in the PC marketplace. Japan’s Fair Trade Commission (FTC) maintained that it would put forth a motion to enforce harsh actions if Intel failed to respond within 10 days to the allegations.
In particular, the FTC claimed that Intel was in breach of Japan’s antitrust laws as early as 2002 when the company gave discounts and marketing payments to PC manufacturers in exchange for exclusivity or near-exclusivity. The FTC claimed that Intel was engaging in actions to keep the CPUs made by competing companies from being used—thus resulting in the limited marketing success of Japan’s own CPU chip manufacturers. Intel’s marketshare of the CPU market in Japan rose to 90% in 2004 from 78% in 2002. The FTC alleged that Intel had offered special incentives to Hitachi Ltd., Sony Corporation, Fujitsu Ltd., Toshiba Corporation, and NEC Corporation to use the Intel chip and the branding of “Intel Inside” or “Centrino” (Intel’s wireless networking chipset). Intel defended its business practices as being not only fair but also lawful.
Associated Press. Microchips: Japanese Watchdog says Intel Practices Illegal. The Globe and Mail, March 9, 2005, p. B12; Kesterton, M. Upgrade Your System? The Globe and Mail, May 6, 2005.