IBM transformed the world when it launched the personal computer back in 1981. Its decision last week to sell its PC business to Chinese IT supplier Lenovo shows how profound the changes it brought about really are.
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Before the launch of the IBM PC, there was no standard for personal computers: each was proprietary and ran software that was not compatible across different types of machine.
The architecture IBM developed allowed software producers to write programmes that would eventually run on millions of IBM compatibles around the world. Hardware suppliers were also able to build compatible peripherals that could be plugged into the PC.
This compatibility made Microsoft the giant it is today, said Mike Thompson, principal research analyst at Butler Group. "What really struck me is that IBM gave Microsoft a licence to print money," he said.
Security was never really an issue when the PC first appeared, but today, users are faced with the legacy of the open architecture of the PC.
David Roberts, chairman of user group the Corporate IT Forum, said, "It has taken more than 20 years to show that the standard IBM set-up was the wrong one. If PCs had not been susceptible to hacking, we would not have the security problems we face today."
But in spite of their flaws, PCs have changed people’s lives at work and at home.
Rakesh Kumar, vice-president of technology research at analyst firm Meta Group, said, "I began using a PC at university in the mid-1980s. But for the next generation, it was a part of their everyday lives. The PC is becoming as pervasive as the phone."
IBM’s decision to sell is testament to how the PC has changed from a business novelty to everyday commodity.
Growing pains of the PC
1981: On 12 August IBM launches the Personal Computer, which runs the Dos operating system. The cheapest cost $1,565
1982: Compaq Computers introduces the Compaq Portable PC, an IBM clone
1983: Lotus ships the killer PC application - the Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet - the most complex PC application of its time
1985: Intel produces the 80386 microprocessor
1986: Amstrad launches the PC1512, which costs £399
1987: IBM develops OS/2, the first PC operating system that allows people to use a mouse
1988: Microsoft becomes the number one software maker
1989: Tim Berners-Lee and his team at Cern develop the web
1991: IBM partners with Apple and Motorola after Microsoft falls out with IBM over its big enterprise OS project, Windows NT
1993: Linus Torvalds develops Linux
1994: Marc Andressen and Jim Clark release the web browser Netscape
1995: Microsoft launches Windows 95
1997: PC maker Compaq, moves into high-end computing and buys Tandem for $3bn
1999: Melissa, the world’s first macro virus, wreaks havoc
2001: Intel releases first 64-bit PC chip, Itanium
2003: AMD releases an entry-level 64-bit PC chip
2004: IBM sells PC business to Chinese IT supplier Lenovo.