The Chronology of New Media: The 1980s

By | January 7, 2000


  • Tim Berners-Lee writes a notebook program, “Enquire-Within-Upon-Everything,” which allows links to be made between arbitrary nodes. Each node has a title, a type, and a list of bidirectional typed links.
  • Sony Walkman introduced, changing music into a more exclusive/singular experience.
  • IBM licenses DOS from Microsoft.
  • Namco’s Pac-Man hits coin-operated arcades worldwide.
  • Ted Turner’s Cable News Network (CNN) begins broadcasting.


  • IBM introduces the IBM Personal Computer on August 12; the single disk drive, 16k RAM PC sells for about $1,600. This PC debut’s MS-DOS 1.0, a new operating system from Microsoft.
  • Motorola and American Radio telephone test a cellular phone system in the Washington/Baltimore area.
  • Adam Osbourne completes the first portable computer, the Osbourne 1, weighing 24 pounds at a cost of $1,795. However, although the unit sells well at first, Osbourne openly promotes the power of his company’s next generation computer. Consumers become anxious for the Osbourne 2 and opt to wait for it, causing sales of the Osbourne 1 to dry up and put Osbourne out of business. This sort of suicidal marketing becomes known in the technology business as the Osbourne Effect.
  • MTV debuts.


  • Gannett Corp. begins publishing USA Today, the first newspaper marketed specifically to a nationwide audience.
  • Lotus announces 1-2-3 for the IBM PC.
  • Disney releases the movie Tron, featuring groundbreaking computer-generated images throughout most of the movie.
  • Atari develops the data glove.
  • In the United States, the FCC finally authorizes commercial cellular service.
  • TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol) is established at the protocol suite for ARPANET.
  • Sun Microsystems is incorporated with just four employees.


  • IBM introduces the XT, an “extended” PC with a built-in 10 MB hard drive and 128K RAM.
  • Apple debuts a new computer called Lisa, a forerunner to the Macintosh.
  • The movie WarGames popularizes the “hacker hero” character.
  • Compact Discs debut as a popular format for music albums, computer data storage, and multimedia.


  • Apple Computers buys airtime during Super Bowl XVII to preview its next new personal computer, the Macintosh. The 30-second commercial, directed by Ridley Scott, is broadcast only once but becomes a milestone in television advertising history.
  • The first Macintosh released later in January features a 3.5-inch floppy drive, 128k of RAM, a built-in 9-inch black and white screen and speakers – no internal hard drive. A 512K Mac is released in September.
  • In December, Apple gives free Macintosh computers to Michael Jackson, Mick Jagger, Andy Warhol and other strategic celebrities.
  • Paul Mockapetris of USC releases proposals for the Domain Name System to route traffic over networks.
  • William Gibson’s book Neuromancer wins several science fiction awards and puts the term “cyberspace” into popular use.


  • On May 24, Quantum Computer Services is incorporated in Delaware. The company will later change its name to America Online.
  • On Nov. 20, Microsoft ships Windows 1.0, a DOS shell which looks very similar to the new Macintosh “desktop” GUI (graphic user interface).
  • Apple introduces a laser printer with built-in PostScript controller.
  • In September, Steve Jobs resigns from Apple to form NeXT.
  • The Commodore Amiga debuts as the first true multimedia computer.
  • Fed up with current versions of Unix, Richard Stallman publishes the “GNU Manifesto” calling for “anticopyrighted” (later called open source) programs.
  • Ninendo Entertainment System (NES) comes to the United States.
  • Max Headroom: 20 Minutes Into The Future movie airs on British television. (An American TV series on ABC debuts the following year.)
  • Attributed to Nathan J. Mehl: Around this time a new user disrupts a text-based online adventure game by continually submitting the word “SPAM” to other players. The story of “that asshole who spammed us” gets passed around the Internet and eventually becomes associated with the type of “junk” e-mail which clutters up users’ accounts. The original joke stems from a Monty Python comedy sketch in which Vikings loudly sing the word “Spam” over and over to drown out all conversation in a restaurant specializing in the canned meat product. (Note: Other sources date the “spamming” of this online game as sometime in 1991.)


  • Intel ships the 80386 CPU.
  • The Academic American Encyclopedia becomes the first CD-ROM encyclopedia.
  • Larry Wall creates the Perl scripting language to create reports for his boss. Perl later becomes the dominant Web scripting language used throughout the 1990s on many Web servers.


  • Apple announces the Mac II with 1 MB of RAM.
  • U.S. Robotics unveils a 9600 bps modem which sells for $495.
  • Apple Human Interface Guidelines: The Apple Desktop Interface is published.
  • 3M introduces a 2MB 3.5-inch floppy disk.
  • Andrew S. Tanenbaum creates Minix, an open-source clone of Unix.
  • CompuServe introduces the GIF image file format.
  • Apple debuts Hypercard, Bill Atkinson’s hypertext-linking multimedia program.
  • Adobe Illustrator released.


  • Apple sues Microsoft for copyright infringement of its OS GUI. Courts later side with Microsoft.
  • Starting on Nov. 3, Robert Tappan Morris’s self-replicating Internet Worm infects servers all over the world.
  • Macromind (later renamed Macromedia) releases Director.


  • Tim Berners-Lee writes “Information Management: A Proposal” and circulates it for comment at CERN.
  • MCI mail and Compuserv create the first relays between the Internet and a commercial e-mail carrier.
  • In September, Quantum Computer Services launches a new service called “America Online” available for Macintosh and Apple II users.