The IBM Personal Computer Turns 30
Thirty years ago this month, IBM released its first PC -- the IBM Personal Computer Model 5150. It was a $1,265 beige box without a monitor, serial or parallel ports or even a hard disk. The IBM PC arrived years after revolutionary microcomputers like the Apple II (1977), the Commodore Pet (1977) or the Atari 800 (1979) hit hobbyists and small business.
But the IBM PC changed everything.
Created by a 12-engineer team in Boca Raton, FL – and developed under the radar of a then-crippling IBM bureaucracy -- IBM’s original PC Model 5150 was a top-secret rush project code-named “Project Chess.” IBM conceived it, IBM PC original team member Dave Bradley told me, in response to growing business use of the Apple II and other systems.
Now, IBM never envisioned its explosive success, nor the resulting aftershock of PC-compatible hardware and software that followed. The heavy marketing featuring a Charlie Chaplin campaign certainly helped as IBM entered the AT era. But it was the PC's open architecture and use of third-party hardware and software enabled an industry of PC hardware and software makers to grow up around it.
The original PC was the first truly open system. It sported a 4.77MHz Intel 8088 processor, up to 256K RAM and an open 8-bit ISA-slot architecture for expansion. Reverse engineering from BIOS makers spawned an entire industry of PC-compatible systems, which quickly dominated the market and even outstripped IBM’s marketshare by the late 1980s. IBM eventually sold off its PC division to Lenovo.
It’s fascinating to trace how and why the IBM PC and the industry it created exploded with such ferocity. According to Bradley, a key element was that the Project Chess team was agile, small and able to do what no other IBMers could: Forget IBM signoff policies and use third-party components and software as it needed. Those included Intel’s 8088 CPU – and a version of Seattle Computer Products’ Quick and Dirty Operating System (QDOS), which Microsoft licensed, eventually purchased and relicensed to the IBM team as PC-DOS.
IBM allowed software developers to write applications for PC-DOS and, before long, a rash of business applications from word-processors to spreadsheets was available to PC users. A business standard was born..
Here's a user disassembling it, so you can see what's inside.
Love them or hate them, the Wintel combo still dominates today. Even Apple’s Macs include Intel-made CPUs and they support and run Microsoft Windows (albeit in virtual machines).
Bradley told me the project was “a dream come true” for an IBM engineer constrained by the corporation. The PC development project was prescient in terms of the consumerization of IT. Like with the consumerization of IT, PCs in business were really an outgrowth of a consumer hobbyist movement in the 1970s. Also similar to the consumerization of IT where employees are making IT decisions, sometimes without regards for policy or existing systems, the Project Chess team at IBM Entry Systems Division in Boca was able to move rapidly and without legacy constraints.
Bradley, by the way, is the guy responsible for the three-fingered salute: the [CTRL][ALT][DEL] key combo, which he developed so engineers could easily reboot the PC. “I may have invented it, but I think Bill (Gates) made it famous,” he joked to Bill Gates at a computer event. Note Gates’ expression in the video. It’s priceless.
Today, BYTE covers consumer tech in business and watches closely as the Apple iPad and other non-Wintel devices revolutionize tech use. But today, as we approach the official IBM PC’s 30th Anniversary on August 12, we do so with a nod to the groundbreaking work of Estridge, Bradley and the rest of the Project Chess team that brought us the first open PC. Without it, widespread consumer use of personal technology in business just would not be possible.
Gina Smith is editor-in-chief of BYTE. Follow her on Twitter at @ginasmith888 or on Google+ as Gina+ Email her at Gina@BYTE.com.
IBM's Selectric Typewriter Turns 50 on July 31
IBM is getting a head start in celebrating the 50th anniversary of its Selectric typewriter, which was born on July 31, 1961. The Selectric typewriter was one of the most common typewriters around during its 25-year tenure, and included 2,800 parts, many of which IBM says were designed from scratch. That in and of itself is a noteworthy achievement for IBM, which spent seven years solving the Selectric's manufacturing and design challenges before putting it up for sale. But the real story here is the impact IBM's Selectric had on modern day computing.
Rightfully described by IBM as a game changer, the Selectric allowed for much faster typing thanks to its unique "golf ball" head that moved across the page, making it the first typewriter to eliminate carriage return. It also took up less desk space, and in 1964, magnetic tape was added for storing character, making the Selectric the first word-processor device. IBM points out that modified Selectric typewriters could be plugged into IBM's System/360 computer.
"The Selectric typewriter, from its design to its functionality, was an innovation leader for its time and revolutionized the way people recorded information," said Linda Sanford, Senior Vice President, Enterprise Transformation, IBM, who was a development engineer on the Selectric. "Nearly two decades before computers were introduced, the Selectric laid the foundation for word-processing applications that boosted efficiency and productivity, and it inspired many user-friendly features in computers that we take for granted today."
The Selectric's 50th anniversary coincides with IBM's Centennial year and will appear on a U.S. postage stamp honoring it as an icon of design, IBM says.