The IBM PC is 30
On 12 August 1981, the world changed
IBM announced its new machine, the 5150, on 12 August 1981. It was no ordinary launch: the 5150 wasn't the 'big iron' typical of Big Blue - it was a personal computer.
Here's the original 1981 announcement (PDF).
IBM's Personal Computer: the 5150
IBM came late to the party. Through the 1960s and 1970s, it had focused on corporate computing: expensive mainframe and, later, mini computers. But by the end of the 1970s, it had seen the likes of Tandy's TRS-80, Commodore's Pet and Apple's Apple II win support from smaller businesses, individuals and even in some of the big companies IBM traditionally targetted.
IBM bosses realised there was clear demand for a single-user system, and while their emphasis on big machines would continue, it was clear that the personal computer was an opportunity open for exploitation.
The 5150 - the machine that would eventually be called, simply, the IBM PC, was developed by what was at that time a little known part of the company, the Entry Systems Division, based in Boca Raton, Florida.
IBM advertises its latest personal computer
A 12-strong team was assembled under Don Estridge, the Development Director of the project, codenamed 'Chess'. Lewis Eggebrecht was brought on board as Chief Designer.
Rather than create the 5150 from scratch, Estridge's engineers used existing parts from a variety of other companies, seemingly in marked contrast with IBM tradition. The company made a virtue out of the fact that it made the components used in its machines. When you bought an IBM computer, it had IBM's imprimatur of quality through and through.
Next page: IBM's PC predecessors
The polytechnic I worked at took a decision in 1982 to install several computing lab's full of 5150's. Over the summer, we were inundated with the things, with boxes filling all the foyers, waiting to be unpacked. Horrible, horrible long persistence phosphor in the monochrome monitors, and the Poly' decided to ditch the one good feature (the keyboard) for a soft-touch silent Cherry keyboard as standard. Ugh.
I never liked them even then. Because they were floppy-disk only systems, the students had to book out the disks from a librarian for the software before they could use them, which meant that we had fragile 5-1/4 floppies moving around like crazy. We got an agreement through the distributor to allow us to keep the originals safe, and issue copies. Was not long before most of the students twigged on that they could further copy the disks, and then not bother with using the booking system.
I was glad when the first PC-ATs were installed, because we at least then only had to worry about keeping the hard disk clean, and repair the applications when the students trashed them. Introducing a virus on one of the ATs became one of the most serious offences, and we had to have disinfectant sessions to clean the student's own floppies to protect our systems and their work. Mind you, the 1.2MB floppy drives on the ATs caused no end of problems when students tried to write to 360KB floppies on them.
This was waaaaaay before disk cloning was thought about, and everything was done according to the installation process, although one of the labs (not one I worked with) was set up with a low cost (hmmm, relatively low cost, it was still bloody expensive) co-ax CSMA/CD Ethernet alternative called Omninet running at 1Mb/s for file and print sharing.
Interestingly, we had Pick installed on one of the ATs, and Xenix-286 on another.
I still regarded the PC's as poorer teaching tools than the lab of BBC micro's I also ran, and of course 'my' UNIX V7 (and RSX-11M) PDP11/34e (in Systime covers, with 22bit addressing and 2MB of memory, and CDC SMD disks to speed it up) was the bees knees as far as I was concerned, running Ingres to teach relational database. Knocked Ashton Tate DBase II (remember that!) into a cocked hat! And it was, of course, far less maintenance work.
The software line-up on the PCs was PC-Dos 1.1 (on the 5150s, the 5157's has PC-Dos 2.1 for the hard disk support) with Word 2, Multiplan (MS spreadsheet before Excel), and DBase II. I couldn't work with Word then, and still find it a traumatic experience now.
We definitely need either a rose-tinted spectacles or an old-fart icon here. I guess I'll just have to use the coat icon. It's the one with the big stretched pockets to hold the 5-1/4 disk box.
things may have moved on but nobody makes keyboards as good as the ones that came with the original '81 IBM PC!
Still in use in 1998
In the late 90s my mother volunteered at the local church doing admin work, and they were still using a model very similar to one of these! I don't think it was a 5150 because it had a 30MB hard disk, although I suppose that could have been added later. I was fascinated by this living antique and used to go in on my days off from college to play around with it.
It ran a very early DOS and a green-screen, keyboard-operated version of MS Works (or some equivalent, I forget), comprising a simple word processor and a spreadsheet program. There was a similar epson dot-matrix printer attached too. It booted in about 5 seconds and was ready to use.
The best part was, IT DID ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING THEY NEEDED.
Sometimes, I'm not sure how much progress we have really made!
as crap as they were, retrospectively
The whole early steps of computers and associated technology seemed a lot more inventive and interesting than it does now.
Anyone else remember the PC dept doing "compatibility testing" of non-IBM PCs by running MS Flight Simulator?
Well that's what they told us it was for, anyway!