PC: Personal computing comes of age

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It wasn’t the first personal computer. Nor was it the most advanced. But shortly after the IBM ® Personal Computer arrived in 1981, it became the leading platform in the revolution that brought computing out of the glass house and into daily life. By IBM.

But it almost didn’t happen. When the concept first came up at IBM corporate headquarters, a senior executive asked the simple question: “Why would anyone want to take a computer home with them?”

In the late 1970s, when the office closed, you turned off your terminal—if you had one—and went home. If you had work to finish up in the evening, you carried a briefcase filled with papers. A handful of aggressive young companies set out to take computing out of back offices and give it to the people. Commodore, Apple, Tandy, Atari and Digital Research had been putting together the pieces that make up a personal computer: a microprocessor (a central processing unit on a single chip), a BIOS (the system boot code), read-only memory (usually a solid-state ROM for controlling the PC), a floppy disk drive, a motherboard and an operating system.

In those days, an entry-level computer at IBM meant a US$90,000 IBM System/38 minicomputer (forefather of today’s IBM Power Systems™ servers) or the barely luggable 50-pound IBM Portable Computer, selling at US$9000. Typical margins were 20 percent to 60 percent on these machines plus the software and services that went with them. IBM at the time was a US$23 billion enterprise with 337,000 employees.

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