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Happy Birthday And Goodbye To The PC

Happy Birthday And Goodbye To The PC

The IBM PC is 30 years old today. Happy birthday Model 5150! The lead was Phillip Don Estridge and is considered the “father of the IBM PC”. Only a few of us remember there was actually two different 5150 model versions. The first one delivered was the “B” version. It actually maxed out with 512KB of RAM. The later “Z” version could go to the maximum DOS could handle at 640KB.

IBM PCSure, that is quite laughable by modern standards. And as the saying goes, everything is relative. The ‘personal’ computer of the day was CP/M which used 64KB. By comparison to these pre-DOS computers the 5150′s 100,000 instructions per second was so blinding fast, a cottage industry of software grew to allow 2 or even 3 people work on the same computer using dumb glass terminals connected by the 2 serial ports that the machine came with.

If you look closely at the iconic machine, you can see IBM was unclear how the machine would be used. It could support Color on the monitor, however only 40 characters and 16 colors. If you wanted 80 characters you had to go with text. It could support up to four 160KB floppies, however a lower cost storage option was a audio cassette recorder, which was popular with many hobbyist machines of the day. It also featured a joystick port.

It was obvious that not only did IBM not know how people would configure the machine, many people didn’t even want it to exist. “The company has focused on the mainframe, not on the toys” – was the counter current.  However the CEO of the day wanted an ‘entry-level system’, remembering the loss of a previously emerging market, the ‘mini-computer’ to upstart Digital Equipment Corporation (think PDP-11).

With Tandy’s TRS-80 (nick named Trash 80) and Apple making a market with the 2nd generation Apple II in the low end market, IBM was looking at a crisis.

Mr. Estridge was sent to Boca Raton, FLA with one guideline. Make the best product at the lowest price while not giving up one second of time. Pretty brilliant maneuver. If it worked, IBM could be proud. If it flopped, far away from HQ, they could just kick into the ocean.

It was a brilliant success. While IBM offered CP/M and the popular programming language BASIC for a combined total of $500., DOS With BASIC was $40, for both. Since porting my MS-BASIC code from CP/M to MS-BASIC code involved one cable, I sure jumped at that, like so many others.

With the modular nature of the 5150, Hercules Graphics cards gave 132 columns and mono-shaded graphics. The spreadsheet (1-2-3) from Lotus worked in conjunction with the Hercules card to do graphs and pie charts.

IBM’s current CTO for Middle East and Africa was one of the 12 engineers sent to Florida. In his blog on 10 August, he states the PC is gone. They’re going the way of the vacuum tube, typewriter, vinyl records, CRT and incandescent light bulbs.”

It has been an exciting run. I have been blessed with being in the industry since the beginning. Often I wonder what would have been different if “Dashing” Don and his wife lived through Delta Flight 191.

For those that want a more detailed history lesson, or want a quick mental workout on how computers actually work, work I did about 15 years ago was adapted by Certiguide. You can read it here.

Photo by Accretion Disc.