Technology

This Month in Tech History: June

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The history of technology in June sees the birth of corporate giants, iconic products, and gaming legends. From Sonic the Hedgehog and Tetris to Atari and IBM, it all starts in June. Read below for the details.

June 1, 1999: Napster Launches

A man looking at a computer from the mid-90s with Napster on the screen
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The service that changed how we buy and consume music was invented and launched by then-teenagers Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker. They intended Napster as a peer-to-peer file-sharing service, making it easy for people to share music MP3s. It was an instant success. As more people ripped their CD collections onto their computers for sharing, the more users flocked to the service. It was a free-music free-for-all.

Less than a year after its launch, Napster faced lawsuits from recording artists like Metallica and Dr. Dre, claiming the service facilitated violations of their copyrighted music. The Recording Industry Association of America also filed suit against the company on behalf of several major American recording labels. Napster settled or lost all the cases and shuttered its operations in 2001 after it could not comply with an order from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to halt the sharing of copyrighted music.

But that wasn’t the end of Napster. Its name and branding were sold at a bankruptcy auction and have undergone many iterations in the decades since. Napster is currently a paid audio streaming service owned by MelodyVR.

June 6, 1984: Tetris Born

The 'Tetris' loading screen on an old gaming console.
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There are few better examples of games that stand the test of time than Tetris. Created in 1984 by programmers at the Soviet Academy of Science, Tetris swept through Moscow. Every computer in the city had a copy of the game.

Throughout the 1980s, Tetris circulated via floppy disk throughout the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. However, the absence of copyright in the Soviet Bloc and Western skepticism of a Soviet product made it difficult for the game to reach a worldwide audience.

It wasn’t until 1987 that Western and Japanese game companies began acquiring licenses to port Tetris for their consoles and computers. Ports of the game appeared on platforms made by Nintendo, Sega, Atari, Commodore, and more. But the Soviet origins of the game led to copyright disputes between distributors. It wasn’t until Pjintov and others founded The Tetris Company in 1996 that copyright and licensing issues were settled.

Since then, Tetris has remained a mainstay in the video game industry, available on the widest variety of devices and platforms possible. To date, Tetris has sold an estimated 495 million copies worldwide. Making it the most successful video game franchise not owned by Nintendo.

June 10, 1977: Apple II Goes on Sale

An Apple II computer on a desktop
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Almost all of the oldest Apple acolytes point to the Apple II as their first product from the company. Its predecessor, the Apple I, was released a year earlier and was a mere circuit board with only 200 units ever produced. The Apple II was the company’s first of many world-changing products. It introduced the all-in-one computer model that has characterized Apple machines ever since.

Apple founders Steve Job and Steve Wozniak’s decision to include a keyboard, video display, and plastic shell made the personal computer experience much more accessible to those interested in computing but couldn’t build their machines. Additionally, the eight expansion slots on the motherboard allowed users to add a variety of cards to increase and personalize the machine’s usefulness.

The Apple II sold 4.8 million units in two years when the company discontinued it to make way for its successor, the Apple II Plus. The Apple II family continued to evolve and sell throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. Apple sold six million Apple II computers throughout its 16 years of production. And all that despite competition from Apple’s flagship computer line: Macintosh.

June 16, 1911: IBM Formed

An IBM building showing the company logo
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IBM, one of the most integral and successful technology companies in history, began over a century ago as Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company. But it wasn’t started in the garage in the heart of Silicon Valley like many of today’s tech giants. Rather, it was the amalgamation of four companies acquired by financier Charles R. Flint: Bundy Manufacturing Company, Computing Scale Company of America, International Time Recording Company, and Tabulating Machine Company. Flint named the combined businesses the “Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company,” rebranded as “International Business Machines Corporation” in 1924.

Initially, each company held onto its employees, brand, and operations. Early products included clocks, punch cards, data processors, weighted scales, and meat slicers. However, IBM did away with the legacy branding and operations when it combined all its operations under a single banner in 1933. Since then, the company has pioneered multiple technological breakthroughs and inventions.

Notable IBM inventions include the hard drive, floppy disk, magnetic swipe card, electronic keypunch, the Automated teller machine (ATM), Universal Product Code (UPC barcode), and Dynamic random access memory (DRAM). Additionally, the company invested in acquiring tech businesses and patents to innovate and improve existing products. There are few technologies or services we use today that weren’t somehow influenced by the innovative work done at IBM.

June 23, 1991: Sonic The Hedgehog Released

A Sega Mega Drive system with 'Sonic the Hedgehog' cartridge loaded.
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Few video games inspire as much nostalgia for older players as Sonic the Hedgehog. The game was born of a contest among Sega programmers to create the company’s flagship video game franchise that would compete with Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros line. Yuji Naka and Naoto Ohshima won with a fast-moving platform game prototype. Naka and Ohshima went on to craft Sonic himself as the star of the game, Sega’s mascot, and direct rival to the king of video games: Mario.

The game was an integral part of Sega’s efforts to produce a 16-bit gaming console that could challenge Nintendo’s dominance over the American video game market. The company bundled Sonic the Hedgehog and the game Altered Beast with their new console offering: The Sega Genesis. The quality of the Sonic, the freshness of the Genesis, and a robust North American marketing campaign yielded Sega the success they were seeking. Both Sonic and Sega became as iconic to American video gaming as Nintendo and Mario.

To date, the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise has sold more than 145 copies worldwide, putting it in the top 20 best-selling franchises of all time. Beating out beloved titles such as The Legend of Zelda and Resident Evil, but never dethroning Mario’s top spot in the video game hierarchy.

June 27, 1972: Atari Founded

A set of Atari games around the company logo

On the heels of creating Computer Space, the world’s first commercially available video game, engineers Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney founded Atari to develop a new game and a pinball machine. Their first creation was the now-classic game, Pong.

After the video game manufacturers declined to license the game, the pair built a prototype arcade cabinet to test-market at Andy’s Kapp, a local tavern in Sunnyvale, California. Pong was a hit with patrons. Bushnell and Dabney produced a dozen more Pong cabinets for placement at other bars in the area. And soon, they couldn’t keep up with the demand for Pong machines.

The success of Pong launched Atari into the center of the nascent video gaming industry. Its 1973 follow-up game, Space Race, was a flop, selling just 1,500 units. However, the home version of Pong was a huge success in 1975 and proved influential in the budding home console market.

Atari’s initial runaway success didn’t last long as tension grew between the two founders. In March 1973, Dabney quit the company and sold his shares for $250,000. And under Bushnell’s leadership, the company nearly went bankrupt. To generate the capital needed to keep Atari in the business, Bushnell sold the company to Warner Communications for $28 million in 1976.



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