This month we’re highlighting important but little-known Canadian contributions to IT, including the first Internet search engine launched from Montreal and a trailblazing portable computer designed by a Queen’s University math professor. September also saw the first version of Microsoft Word, an early eReader concept from Sony and more.

September 29, 1983 – Microsoft Word 1.0 launched

Bill Gates tasked software architect Charles Simonyi with overseeing Microsoft’s WYSIWYG (“what you see is what you get”) word processor, Word. The Microsoft Mouse, also released in 1983, was used for input. BYTE Magazine was at first baffled by the mouse input, but wrote that Word was “clever, put together well, and performs some extraordinary feats.” Microsoft Word, in its many iterations, has remained a staple of businesses, and today Office 365 offers feature-rich mobile and tablet apps for modern wordsmiths.

September 10, 1990 – The first internet search engine launches in Montreal

Archie, considered the first Internet search engine, began as a student project at McGill University, where Alan Emtage and Bill Heelan were asked to connect the School of Computer Science to the Internet. At one time, Archie’s FTP archive index accounted for half of Montreal’s Internet traffic, but it fell out of use after the advent of the World Wide Web and the subsequent creation of modern, web-based search engines.

September 12, 1991 – Sony’s Data Discman launched in the west

File:DD 8 Electronic Book Player 1.jpg

Before smartphones, eReaders or PDAs, Sony released a handheld computer that let users read and search encyclopedias, dictionaries and novels. The Data Discman used a proprietary CD format that could contain about 100,000 pages of text, searchable with a QWERTY-style keyboard and arrow keys. Later models could also store images and audio.

The Data Discman targeted frequent travellers and students, but didn’t find a significant audience outside Japan. The last model was released in 2000, a few years before modern smartphones offered a new vision of portable computers that would reach billions of users.

September 7, 2016 – Dell acquires EMC to become world’s biggest private tech company

On this day, Dell Inc. completed its acquisition of EMC, becoming a USD$74 billion market leader in hybrid cloud, software-defined data centres, converged infrastructure and cybersecurity. Dell EMC continues to help companies achieve their digital transformation goals with its Big Data solutions and cloud-native applications.  

September 25, 1973 – Canadian inventor demonstrates first keyboard-based portable computer

Former Queen’s University mathematics professor Mers Kutt created the MCM/70, considered the first portable personal computer. The final design was demonstrated for the Toronto media in September 1973. It had a one-line plasma display, keyboard, compact cassette recorder and weighed 20 pounds. In 1974, the base model sold for CAD$4,950 – about $26,000 today.

Several hundred units were sold to customers such as NASA, the U.S. Army, hospitals and insurance companies. But Kutt was unable to compete with the development and marketing budgets of larger companies as they turned their attention to personal computers. His company, Micro Computer Machines, ceased operations in 1983.

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