IBM's PC predecessors
It has been claimed that the Chess' team's off-the-shelf approach was mandated by the limited development resources they were allowed, a sign that senior IBM executives saw no real future in the PC. Possibly so, and there were certainly time pressures: IBM management wanted the machine ready quickly, and Estridge and co appear to have been given a year to design the machine.
But this was an approach IBM had taken before. In 1973, its General Systems Divison (GSD) embarked on 'Project Scamp', an effort to develop a single-user machine. Scamp stood for "Special Computer, APL Machine Portable" - the outcome was essentially a mobile personal computer-cum-calulator designed to run pre-loaded applications and allow user to write their own software using the APL language.
The Scamp team was given six-months in which to come up with a prototype. Ultimately, the result was the IBM 5100, a (barely) portable machine that weighted 23kg, had 16-64KB of storage depending on model, priced between $8975 and $19,975. It debuted in September 1975.
Scamp follower: the IBM 5100
GSD maintained its interest in personal computer and, in July 1981, announced the System/23 Datamaster, a more PC-like machine than the 5100, but one still aimed at big business rather than individuals. The $9000 Datamaster was an all-in-one machine complete with keyboard, CRT display, 8-bit Intel 8085 processor and two 8in floppy disk drives.
The team at GSD developed the Datamaster using off-the-shelf components, most notably the Intel CPU. This choice seems to have influenced the Chess team, who eventually selected the 8088. They were familiar with the Datamaster endeavour: the 5150 would use the same expansion bus and add-in card slots as the GSD machine.
The 5150's 8088 CPU was clocked at 4.77MHz and could be augmented with an optional 8087 maths co-processor. It had 16KB of memory and a 5.25in floppy drive - some models had two - for storage.
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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!