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MOPO3
08 Aug 06,, 09:40
In 1981 these men changed how we live

The IBM PC was born 25 years ago this week, but not all of its inventors were as lucky as Bill Gates

David Smith, technology correspondent
Sunday August 6, 2006
http://technology.guardian.co.uk/news/story/0,,1838499,00.html


'IBM Corporation today announced its smallest, lowest-priced computer system - the IBM Personal Computer,' ran the press release 25 years ago this week. '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.'
On 12 August 1981 no one could guess quite how profound an impact the announcement from International Business Machines would have on hundreds of millions of lives. Nor how wildly divergent would be the fortunes of three men who were there at the genesis of the IBM PC 5150 - a invention to rank in importance with the motor car, telephone and television.

One of those men was David Bradley, 57, a member of the original 12 engineers who worked on the secret project and who is still amazed by its profound consequences, from email and iPods to Google and MySpace. Speaking from his home in North Carolina last week, he said: 'Computers have improved the productivity of office workers and become a toy for the home. I don't want to assert that the PC invented the internet, but it was one of the preconditions.'

The man with perhaps most cause to toast the industry standard PC's 25th birthday on Saturday, even more than the engineers who built it, is Bill Gates. His software for the IBM PC, and nearly all the computers that followed it, made him the world's richest man. But for IBM, the story was arguably one of defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.

Bradley was also working on a similar machine when, in September 1980, he was recruited to the IBM team and sent to Boca Raton in Florida to come up with a PC that would rival the pioneering Apple II. A few months later the team had grown and got its leader - Don Estridge, a photographer's son from Florida who had worked for the army and Nasa. Racing against a 12-month deadline, the engineers scoured the country for components, and asked Intel, then a manufacturer of memory chips, to deliver the central processing unit, or 'brain'.

IBM also needed operating system software. The man in the right place at the right time was a young geek who had dropped out of Harvard. Bill Gates of Microsoft specialised in more modest computer languages but assured the IBM team that he could come up with an operating system for their new machines in just a few days. After Estridge's task force had left for their hotel, Gates went around the corner to a tiny company which had written a system for the Intel processor and bought it out for 26,000. He then customised the system for IBM and sold it to them for 42,000. Critically, Gates retained the right to license the system to other manufacturers who could, and would, clone the IBM design. A quarter of a century later, he has an estimated wealth of 26bn.

IBM's failure to secure exclusive rights to Gates's software is often regarded as a blunder comparable to that of the music executives who spurned The Beatles. But Bradley disagrees, saying that there was a higher purpose - he and his colleagues used 'open architecture', off-the-shelf parts which others could acquire, and so defined a standard that allowed others to build compatible machines capable of running the same software.

Experts generally regard this as the result of haste rather than altruism on IBM's part, but Bradley points out that in the spirit of openness it published technical manuals to explain how the PC worked. Unlike Apple, who stuck by its proprietary system and lost the lion's share of the market, the IBM PC was an invitation to rivals eager to imitate and improve upon it.

Bradley said: 'I believe the primary reason it was so successful is that it was an open system. There was a microprocessor from Intel and an operating system from Microsoft. We published everything we knew so that if you wanted to work on an application program you had all the information to do it and you could be reasonably confident IBM wouldn't change things later.

'The participation of the rest of the industry was important because IBM alone could not possibly have invented all the applications that people would want.'

The IBM PC 5150 weighed 25lbs, stood just under six inches high and had 64 kilobytes of memory and a five-and-a-quarter inch floppy disk drive. Initial sales forecasts expected 242,000 to be sold over five years, but the figure was exceeded in single month. It was a personal triumph for Estridge, the 'father of the PC', but he would not live to see its full legacy in the democratisation of computing.

On 2 August 1985 Estridge was on Delta Air Lines Flight 191 from Fort Lauderdale, Florida approaching Dallas-Fort Worth airport. It was caught in a freak wind and plummeted to the ground, bursting into flames. Of 152 passengers on board, 128 died, including 48-year-old Estridge, his wife and several IBM executives.

IBM was overtaken in the PC market by Compaq in 1994. IBM sold its PC division to Chinese giant Lenovo for 628m last year. 'I'm sad and disillusioned that IBM got out of the computer business since I was there at the very beginning,' added Bradley. 'But as an IBM stockholder I think it was an extremely sensible business decision.'

Bradley quit IBM in 2004 after 28 years and lives in comfortable retirement. He mused: 'I have no regrets about what happened. I was there when it was just a glimmer in everybody's eye and it's a privilege to still be here to talk about it. And no, I don't envy Bill Gates.'

dalem
08 Aug 06,, 18:27
Bah! Modern extraneous wizardry compared to the TRS-80 I grew up on.

CLOAD LPRINT RUN (http://skylane.kjsl.com/trs80/)

-dale

gunnut
08 Aug 06,, 18:57
Excellent article!

I think I still have one of those boxes sitting in my garage. The inside has all been changed. I'm not even sure if it turns on any more.

Jay
08 Aug 06,, 19:55
When I grew up MS-Dos was the craze, Windoze 3.1 was introduced, but we mostly used the dumb unix terminals.

When I was viewing the index page, the partial headline, I assumed the turkish fella opened a new thread,

"The first IBM PC was created by a turk" or something like that :)

highsea
08 Aug 06,, 20:31
...Bah! Modern extraneous wizardry compared to the TRS-80 I grew up on.Dale, I remember when they first let us use electronic calculators in chemistry class- it was 1976, and the school board finally accepted that they weren't just a passing fad, lol.

My first computer was a Timex Sinclair 1000 5 years later. It was a real powerhouse, 2K RAM, 1 expansion slot, GE Tape cassette storage, 13" B&W tv monitor, membrane keypad... it was the first under $100 computer. But I used a trash-80 at work to keep inventory.

I built my first PC clone in 1982. Same year we started getting CNC machines in the shop, and computers actually started becoming useful.

cirrrocco
08 Aug 06,, 23:56
Dale, I remember when they first let us use electronic calculators in chemistry class- it was 1976, and the school board finally accepted that they weren't just a passing fad, lol.

My first computer was a Timex Sinclair 1000 5 years later. It was a real powerhouse, 2K RAM, 1 expansion slot, GE Tape cassette storage, 13" B&W tv monitor, membrane keypad... it was the first under $100 computer. But I used a trash-80 at work to keep inventory.

I built my first PC clone in 1982. Same year we started getting CNC machines in the shop, and computers actually started becoming useful.

Cant believe how you guys managed then without google!!..how did you build your first clone..did you have some sort of user manuals??

amazing

highsea
09 Aug 06,, 17:05
..how did you build your first clone..did you have some sort of user manuals?? No real manuals, just diagrams. But building PC has always been about as difficult as putting bread in a toaster. Buy a chassis, buy a mainboard, plug in some RAM and a CPU, a video card, a disk controller, disk drives, and I/O card. Screw it all together, add a keyboard and monitor, boot it up, set the BIOS, and load the operating system and software.

Back in those days, there really was such a thing as customer support. If you needed a new BIOS, you called Phoenix and an engineer answered the phone. He would FedEx you a new chip the same day, no charge...

Lol, Compaq built a portable computer that was a big as a suitcase and had a 5" screen. It was built like a brick outhouse- they still work just fine today, 25 years later. No one knew how long people would keep their computers, so they were built to last forever. Little did we know they would get tossed out every 18 months.

Today's hardware is built to fail within 3-4 years... :frown:

ABW
09 Oct 06,, 23:58
Pcs a little bit slower and very dumb 25 years ago. many many times faster but just as Dunb to day reminds me of politics......Dunb like pron....