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Aug 11, 2006

The IBM Personal Computer’s 25th Anniversary

In 1981, IBM’s 5150 took the business world by storm and moved the PC into the mainstream.

Source: PC World
Written by Lincoln Spector

Twenty-five years ago, IBM changed the world. It wasn’t intentional. When Big Blue announced a microcomputer called the IBM Personal Computer on August 12, 1981, it hoped only to make a nice profit.

The company did make money–but more important, the IBM PC, also known as the Model 5150, made a significant impact on the culture. Today, for instance, we call our desktops and laptops PCs, not microcomputers. The vast majority of the ubiquitous machines scattered around our offices and homes are direct descendents of IBM’s 25-year-old box.

Former IBM engineer David J. Bradley joined the microcomputer project in September 1980. It was “one of those things that engineers dream about…a brand new thing; a blank piece of paper.”

Before the IBM PC, business computers were mainframes or minis, large and expensive investments that weren’t intended for a single person’s use. Since the resources were shared, computing jobs ran slowly during business hours when everyone was at work. Dedicated, technology-savvy employees would often work through the night.

Personal computers existed prior to the IBM PC–the Apple II came out in 1977, and the Atari 800 came out in 1979, for example. However, these systems used proprietary components and designs.

IBM was in a hurry, so Bradley and his coworkers had to break company policy and use other people’s technology, including a processor from Intel and an operating system from Microsoft. The PC’s lack of IBM-owned technology made cloning possible, and cloning–Columbia Data Products’ MPC 1600-1 in 1982 was the first clone–made the PC a standard. “If we’d [built the PC] from the ground up,” Bradley told me, “we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now.”

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