The evolution of the PC, known as the personal computer, profoundly changed the entire computer industry. While the fourth generation of computing actually made possible the achievement of the PC, its interface was responsible for propelling us into the fifth generation of computing. First, we will review the more salient developments in the era of personal computing,
which can be marked by the following developments:
1975—The ALTAIR 8800 became the first PC
1977—The Apple I, II, and Commodore Computers
1981—The IBM-PC Home Computer
1983—Apple Lisa Computer
1984—Apple MacIntosh Computer
The above PCs emerging in this decade required software, and the operating system of most significance was Microsoft’s MS-DOS system. However,
the interesting feature was how the ALTAIR 8800 computer, which had little to any application capability, did in fact inspire many hobbyists to acquire it. Foremost among these hobbyists were Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, and they would, within two years, introduce their Apple I and II computers.
This computer proved to be an enormous hit with all those watching this new PC industry; however, some skepticism remained regarding these new PCs, that is, until 1981, when IBM released its new PC-Home computer, and this had the effect of legitimizing this new industry. After all, IBM virtually owned the entire computing industry with its worldwide mainframe dominance. The world took notice of the possibilities of personal computing because IBM entered this market.
IBM’s entrance into the personal computing market was made with several major strategic decision failures. First and foremost, IBM made the decision to outsource the development of the PC’s operating system, and they offered the contract to Microsoft, which developed the MS-DOS operating system. The second major mistake IBM made was in their failure to restrict the licensing of the MS-DOS operating system to IBM-Home PCs. Even more incredible, IBM possessed the personnel, skills, money, and capabilities by which they could have developed their own operating system and did not need to contract this to Microsoft. A third major mistake IBM made was to use off-shelf parts to construct their PC, and when small new companies discovered this fact, they were able to do the same by simply buying off-shelf parts and then license the MS-DOS operating system from Microsoft, which had no restrictive licensing to only sell to IBM. In effect, IBM’s presence enabled all unknown small companies to enter this market because of the world respect for IBM.
A fourth major error IBM made upon their entrance into the PC market was a total judgment error in terms of the future of the PC. IBM estimated that the total worldwide production of PCs over their entire lifetime would be 250,000 units. In fairness to IBM, they were selling mainframes in the million dollar cost structure to business corporations throughout the world, and they simply could not envision this “hobby or toy” culture emerging to compete with major corporations, especially since at the time of their illfated decisions, software applications for the PC did not yet exist. In short order, these software applications did emerge in the form of the following:
1978—VISICALC spreadsheet software
Each of these products was improved by other companies, and Lotus 1-2-3 emerged as an industry-wide spreadsheet. Also, WordPerfect would become an important part of the eventual word processing Microsoft Office Series.
The historical emergence of the computer industry through the 1970s would be propelled by an incredible acceleration of growth as a result of the Internet and, ultimately, the World Wide Web.