A History of Computers at DePaul

In honor of DePaul's Centennial

as published in the special Centennial edition of the DePaulia, September 4, 1998

Unlike a topic such as athletics, computers have a relatively short history in DePaul's first 100 years. However, they have come very far in such a short period, from near anonymity 30 years ago, when there were just a few on campus (used for administrative purposes) to the present, when most students use computers for various reasons.

The first computer lab was in the area where the career center in SAC is currently housed. Opened in the late 70s, these looked much different, as they were just teletype terminals that used punchcards, which were used for computer programs. "You would type information and send it the mainframe to be processed," noted Peter Teel, a Customer Technology Services technician and DePaul graduate. However, students would often have to wait over 8 hours for their results, as the university was cooperating with the University of Illinois at Chicago, in its early endeavors to provide computing resources to the student community.

These computer labs evolved rather quickly. After the terminals of the early 80s, new computers with motherboards known as 8088s were introduced in the late 80s. 386s were introduced in the labs in the summer of 1993. As computers exploded in popularity, due to both the emergence of the Internet and operating systems employing graphical interfaces (as opposed to command lines), DePaul's computer labs tried to keep up. 486s were brought in for the 1995-96 school year, and then "we did a massive upgrade to Windows 95, with more memory, during the summer of '96," indicated Joe Cummings, the director of Customer Technology Services.

The summer of 1997 brought still more new computers, with 586-Pentium based-processors. And for the forthcoming school year, the two newest computer labs, at the Lake County Campus and the McGowan Building, feature 686-Pentium II processors. Cummings also noted that all computer labs "are open to the DePaul community."

Evolution of Computer Labs' equipment:
1981 Terminals
Late 80s 8088
Year 92-93 386
Summer 95 486-66
Summer 97 P5-200
Summer 98 PII-333 in McGowan, Lake County

Milan Banerjee, the Help Desk Manager, broke down the current statistics for operarting systems this way: Currently, in the entire university, there are over 3,700 computers in use. This figure includes offices, labs, and workstations, but not servers. Of those, at least 97% are running Windows 95, 2% are running some form of Windows NT, and 1% are still on Windows 3.11. Additionally, around 60 Macintoshes are in use.

Another important development in the computer industry that DePaul implemented is the network, which brought two vital features of computing to the university in 1986. John Ourada, the Network Manager, explained that with a network, "another form of communication, email, is available." So even before the Internet emerged, email was a form of communication for people to exchange information within the university. The second major feature is the accessibility of sharing files.

"People can place files on public sections of the network, and anyone with network access can access them. This is makes things easier, quicker, and less expensive than the previous method, when everything was on a mainframe, and it is especially helpful when talking to a student, that information, like database files, is instantly accessible." Ourada also pointed out that the network makes browsing the Web "a heck of a lot faster than the speeds of a phone line."

Since the scope of the advancements within the computer industry is overwhelming, Ourada provided this analogy: "If we could apply how far we've come in terms of speed and price to the aviation industry, we could fly from Chicago to Japan for 30 cents in 5 seconds."

The Dean of the School of Computer Science, Dr. Helmut Epp, notes that "the fundamental principles of computing haven't changed, yet they have gotten easier."

Dr. Epp was instrumental in the founding of the Computer Science Department, which took over the instruction of computer classes that were previously taught within the Mathematics Department until 1981, when the Computer Science Department was formed. It was housed in the Lyman-Healy building downtown, which was renamed the Computer Science Center in 1993. The department grew to where it was designated DePaul's eighth college in 1995. DePaul now has the largest enrollment of a Computer Science graduate program in the country, with over 2,000 students, which was increasing at a rate of about 25% yearly. Projections show this figure doubling by 2006, according to Dr. Epp. Faculty for this department started at 7 in 1981, and now stands at 40 full-time members.

DePaul provided an entrance ramp for students to enter the Information Highway in Fall Quarter of 1995. DePaul Online was introduced as a method for students, faculty, and staff to access the web, use email, and other internet applications. It was an instant success, initially claiming almost 1000 members, and now boasting over 2,500. In May of 1996, a smaller version, featuring free email for everyone, was instituted by Dr. Epp. Following these innovations, Dr. Epp introduced accessibility of student grades and schedules on the web.

For more information, please call Customer Technology Services at x8765, or visit their web site: http://is.depaul.edu.