HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns

September 4, 2006, Herald Journal

August marks the 25th anniversary of the PC


The 25th anniversary of the launch of IBM’s first personal computer also known as the PC, was Aug. 12.

A contrasting crew of 12 IBM experts was given the task to put together the PC prototype in 1980. They did this by obtaining ideas and off-the-shelf parts from all over the place, including a then little-known outfit called Microsoft.

As the company puts it, “In sum, the development team broke all the rules. They went outside the traditional boundaries of product development within IBM. They went to outside vendors for most of the parts, went to outside software developers for the operating system and application software, and acted as an independent business unit. Those tactics enabled them to develop and announce the IBM PC in 12 months — at that time, faster than any other hardware product in IBM’s history.”

The release to the public of the IBM PC in 1981 was an instant success in the home computer market, causing Time magazine to christen the machine its 1982 “Man of the Year.”

“It was a huge event,” said Paul Ceruzzi, a curator of computer technologies at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.

Business buys into the PC

Not only did early tech savvy folks (those of us that were fascinated by this box) snap up these new machines, but businesse,s too. Early spreadsheets like Multi-Mate became very popular. With a 20 MB hard disk, Disk Operating System (DOS), one 5 1/4” (remember to format that floppy) floppy disk drive with an amazing 640Kb of data storage capacity and an Intel 8088 cpu operating at 4.77MHZ – what was not to love, right?

Workplaces snapped up the convenient machines and changed the face of American offices, Ceruzzi said.

“It’s hard to imagine a time when people didn’t have these computers sitting on their desks,” he told LiveScience, noting that traditional secretaries employed for typing essentially went extinct as a result. “The personal computer was a kind of leveling thing, letting you do all kinds of things at your own desk, like word processing.”

Retailing in 1981 at $1,565 — about $3,500 in 2006 dollars, the system was not cheap, but still within reach of many people.

(I recently bought a new HP Pavilian with an AMD/Turion 64bit 1.8MHZ processor, (for the Wi-Fi 802.11x access), 1MB L2 cache, 80GB hard drive along with a DVD Re-Writable disk and a very nice 15.4 inch wide-screen monitor for much less than that original IBM 1981 retail price)

In 1961, an IBM computer cost as much as $9 million and required an air-conditioned quarter-acre of space and a staff of 60 people to keep it fully loaded with programming instructions, according to IBM company documents.

Personal computers — or systems that people could both fit and afford in their own homes, had been around for at least 10 years before IBM unveiled its model. Apple popularized the concept in 1977 with the release of the Apple II.

I found a copy of the original IBM (Information Systems Division, Entry Systems Business) press release from Aug. 12, 1981. Here is part of that announcement:

“New York, Aug. 12 – IBM Corporation today announced its smallest, lowest-priced commuter system – the IBM Personal Computer.

“Designed for business, school and home, the easy-to-use system sells for as little as $1,565. It offers many advanced features and, with optional software, may use hundreds of popular application programs.

“The IBM Personal Computer will be sold through participating Computer Land dealers and Sears, Roebuck and Co.’s new business machine stores beginning this fall. It will also be sold through IBM Product Centers and a special sales unit in the company’s Data Processing Division.

“IBM has designed its Personal Computer for the first-time or advanced user, whether a business-person in need of accounting help or a student preparing a term paper.

“An enhanced version of the popular Microsoft BASIC programming language and easily understood operation manuals are included with every system. They make it possible to begin using the computer within hours and to develop personalized programs quickly.”

The original IBM computers can still be obtained on eBay, I discovered, along with those same manuals.

Here is an excellent website for all of you who are fascinated with vintage computers: http://www.vintage-computer.com/ibm_pc.shtml

This site has some excellent photo’s and all the details on those thrilling and nostalgic computers from yester-year. It has just about every computer that you can think of, along with the specifications. I was there for hours looking at the Commodore 64’s, the “Heath-Kit” computers, Radio Shacks’ TRS-80’s, Atari’s, Kaypro, and even the first computer I ever owned, back around 1981, the famous Sinclair ZX81. Check it out!