PCs

A quarter century of living with the PC


Over the weekend, August 12th precisely, PC

computing turned 25 years old. On that date back in 1981, IBM shipped the first

IBM PC. Microcomputers had already been around for several years, but the IBM

PC ‘legitimatized’ computers in the workplace. Apple, Radio Shack, and others

were starting to make small inroads into business with their offerings, but it

wasn’t until the PC arrived that they really took off.


CNN.COM

ran an article discussing the 25th anniversary of the PC.

CNN.COM certainly isn’t a tech site per se, but I was still a bit taken aback

by one paragraph in the article:

“A floppy disk is a

thin, plastic disk that was coated with a magnetic substance used to store

data. Earliest disks were 8 inches wide, more efficient disks shrunk to 5 1/4

inches, then 3 1/2 inches. Unlike a CDs or DVDs of today, the disks were

floppy, or flexible.”

I find it hard to believe that that many people would be that

unfamiliar with what a floppy disk was that CNN felt the need to devote an

entire paragraph to it. Floppy drives still appear on some systems, and most

people would have either grown up with them if they were under 25 or used them

at some point if they were over 25.

It would be interesting to think what things would be like

now if IBM hadn’t entered the microcomputer market. Compaq likely never have

been formed because its sole purpose was to clone the successful PC. Michael

Dell never would have been because he started out selling gray market PCs out

of the back of his dorm room. Bill Gates would still be in New Mexico with a

small business working out of store front selling languages. Linux may never

have existed because Linus Torvalds created it as a clone of a Unix-based OS

for a PC-compatible.

It’s conceivable that we’d still have the Mac. Apple was

influenced by the PC, but not all that much. Tandy/Radio Shack may have stayed

in the market place longer. Because they were starting to leverage Unix on

their business PCs such as the Model II and the Tandy 6000, Tandy may have lead

the charge to bring Unix into the forefront of small computers

The Internet had already been in existence for over 10

years, so we may still have been surfing the Internet. Except rather than doing

it on IBM compatibles running Microsoft Windows, we may have been doing it on

Tandy-compatibles running some flavor of Unix. Or, it would be a Utopia for 5%

of the current market because we’d all be using Macs.

A company I did some consulting for was using original IBM

PCs as late as 1992. I should have salvaged one of the machines because they

wound up tossing the last one in the dumpster by 1994. I couldn’t see taking up

the room at the house with one though. I still had boxes of 5 1/4” floppies

around and my trusty Tandy 1000 to run them on. Even that computer is old

enough to drink now.

But as for the PC generation, it enters another quarter

century. With all of the changes in the last 25 years, it’s hard to imagine

what it’s going to be like at the end of 50 years.

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