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Top 10 UK contributions to IT

From computer games to the internet, this small country has given a lot



One of the problems with recent years has been that computers have become easier to use and kids are no longer exposed to programming, as they were in the early days of computing. The result is that education has moved away from teaching kids how to program and towards teaching them how to use applications, such as Excel.

The result is that the UK isn’t providing the IT industry with the skills that it desperately needs, which is where the Raspberry Pi Foundation steps in. Set up by Eben Upton and colleagues at the University of Cambridge’s Computer Laboratory, the Foundation’s goal was to create a low-cost computer that would boot into a programming environment.

The Raspberry Pi was born and is now available for just £32 including VAT. Based around a mobile processor, this cheap computer boots from an SD card into a Linux operating system, which kids (and anyone, really) can use to learn how to program. It’s been well received by the education and IT markets alike all round the world. More importantly it could influence and help create a brand-new generation of programmers in this country.

Raspberry Pi
The Raspberry Pi is designed to get kids programming again. It could just help revitalise our IT economy


It’s hard to imagine a world without digital music players, but it was British Inventor that got there first. In 1979, Kane Kramer came up with the idea of a digital audio player, the IXI.

The player was the size of a credit card with a small mono LCD screen, and navigation and control buttons. It was designed to use bubble memory, although its 8MB capacity was only capable of storing around 3.5 minutes of audio – Kramer postulated that storage capacities would massively increase.

In addition to the player, Kramer also proposed a digital download service over telephone lines, letting people get music when they wanted it.

A UK patent was awarded in 1985 in the UK and 1987 in the US, but sadly the product wasn’t to be a success. After failing to raise £60,000 to renew the patent, the design entered the public domain. Other companies were then free to do their own thing.

In 2008 Apple called Kramer as a witness to defend itself against charges of patent infringement for the iPod, citing the IXI as prior art.

Long before Apple dreamed of the iPod, Kane Kramer invented the world’s first digital audio player, the IXI


It’s hard now to imagine a world without smartphones and tablets. Rather than something of recent invention, the portable computing world started back in 1989 thanks to a British computer company.

Distributed Information Processing (DIP) created its Pocket PC – a tiny computer powered by AA batteries, complete with a keyboard. This carry-everywhere computer attracted the attention of Atari, which released the product as the Portfolio: the world’s first palmtop computer. Fact fans should note that it’s the Portfolio that John Conner uses to hack the ATM machine in Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

From the initial days of the palmtop computer came the first PDAs, leading to the development of the smartphone.

Atari Portfolio
The Atari Portfolio, developed by a British company, gave the world its first taste of truly portable computing


If there’s one area that the UK has really been a major part of, it’s computer games. Alan Turing, the Bletchley Park codebreaker, first postulated a chess game back in 1947, although the resulting program was only capable of computing “mate-in-two” games, rather than a full game.

In 1951, Alexander S. Douglas, a British professor of computer science, created OXO (Noughts and Crosses) the world’s first graphical computer game. In 1984, David Braben created the first 3D game with Elite.

The explosion of UK home computers, saw a huge number of UK based games developers emerge and create some of the most iconic games. There are still big studios based in the UK, too, such as Rockstar North, developer of the Grand Theft Auto titles and, under its old name of DMA Design, Lemmings.

The UK has long been involved in the games industry, creating classics, such as Lemmings

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