How IBM and the PC changed the world

IBM transformed the world when it launched the personal computer back in 1981. Its decision last week to sell its PC business to...

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.

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.

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