When it comes to IT, we all somehow tend to assume that everything was created and done in the USA.
But this is not really quite so.
And to prove this, today we are going to tell you about just a few French contributions in the hardware/software/internet domains of IT.
The first microcomputer using a microprocessor was invented by a French scientist named Francois Gernelle.
It happened in January 1973, when the Micral N was issued by Gernelle and his team for INRA, the French National Institute for Research in Agronomy (just as a side-note, the first US-made microcomputer was released one year later, in March 1974).
The “Micral N” was able to perform the requested tasks same as minicomputers (at that time the smallest/cheapest available computing devices) but for just a fifth of the price.
Gernelle had designed it around the Intel 8008 microprocessor clocked at 500 kHz, it provided support for serial and parallel input/output, it used punched tape for programming and data storage, used a teleprinter or modem for I/O and costed about 1.700 USD, thus marking the start of the worldwide microcomputers revolution era.
Funny enough, Gernelle built his Micral in a cellar (at Chatenay-Malabry), thus also inaugurating the spirit of IT revolution too, as some famous US players in IT would later commence their breakthrough developments in garages.
Many years after, Gernelle had to confront his ideas against the views of his leadership and refused to develop IBM PC-compatibles. He preferred to quit his job instead of “easily replicating such badly designed hardware and software” as the PC-compatible standard of the time offered “no real multi-tasking nor user-sharing possibilities”, although the existing CPU technologies were providing such potential.
But back in the mid-70’s the Micral continued to be further developed and enhanced and among its users there was this particular French student training his software developing skills on it, named Philippe Kahn.
Grown in Paris and graduating (among other faculties) from the University of Nice, Kahn (engineer, mathematician, musicologist, entrepreneur and innovator) indeed started as developer for the Micral but in 1983 he became president of Borland, a Company that made history in the software industry. Let’s mention just one of their most notable blockbusters: the “Turbo Pascal” language compiler (later to become “Delphi”), which is important to note not only because of its popularity and the many notorious applications that were generated thanks to it, but also because it was technically supervised by a Kahn’s employee named Anders Hejlsberg, none other than the genious guy who later was to conceive and architecture the .NET and the C# at Microsoft.
The above is just a mere exemplification of Kahn’s Borland impact in software industry but let’s add that Kahn also founded Starfish Software, (sold to Motorola for some 325 millions USD in 1998) and Lightsurf Technologies sold to VeriSign in 2005 for 300 millions USD in 2005.
“Lightsurf” was created to monetize Kahn’s invention of the first camera-phone (oh yes!) whose pictures were meant to be shared via the Internet.
Did I just say “Internet”?
Well, then maybe it’s about time to tell you few words about the Minitel, a French pre-WWW service that was so successfull it got discontinued only in 2012, that is 34 years after its release in 1978!
Conceived from its early days to allow its users to make online purchases, make train reservations, check stock prices, search telephone directories, have a mail box, and chat in a similar way to that now are only made made possible by the WWW (we’ve quoted Wikipedia here), the Minitel (abbreviated from the French: Medium Interactif par Numerisation d’Information TELephonique) was such a breakthrough we even don’t know whether we should range it among WWW predecessors or competitors.
So let’s just say that since the end-70’s France was already running a WWW-like service that no other country in the world could ever dream of or compete with but , “hélas!”, it was only adopted internally in France, no real international marketing being done despite the many implementation attempts.
Well, being French and “toutes proportions gardées” of course, we at ORPALIS have developed some creative technologies of our own too, like the Automatic Document Recognition that we provide with the GdPicture.NET SDK or the Automatic Color Detection which empowers the ORPALIS PDF Reducer and PaperScan Pro Edition to mention just a few.
And others are being cooked in our labs now, just hang on with us, we’re doing our best not to deceive you!
So “Vive la France!” and see you next week, folks!
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