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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The History Of Microcomputers

The History Of Microcomputers

Posted by William Piker

The history of microcomputers does not compare with the history of ancient Mesopotamia (Iraq). Microcomputers (now commonly held as PCs) have been around for only 25 – 30 years.
It is good to have some knowledge of this history both to give some perspective of where we are today and to know where a number of our basic computer standards that we take for granted – as if they came from heaven, originated.

The very first microcomputer machines were as exciting as a do-it yourself set – a thrill if you were the type who forever liked to tinker with things to make them work. .

Early personal computers (or micococomputers as they were first called lacked a clear standard. The computer chip makers – Intel, Motorola and Zilog - all competed in the microprocessor (CPU) in a rash of different computers from different manufactures. None were compatible with any others.

IBM’s introduction of the real IBM PC in August 1981 opened the eyes of many. IBM had scores of sales representatives with credibility who were well entrenched in corporations and businesses around the world.

The IBM sales staff – used to selling big ticker items and invoicing hundreds of thousands of dollars – well dressed in “IBM Blue “ three piece suits , were well accustomed to corporate life and power structures with the “movers and shakers” who counted .

IBM opened their own stores selling all IBM hardware as well as their own brand of software. The software had been written by third parties and adapted for the PC- DOS (IBM‘s proprietary version of the Microsoft Operating System DOS sold under license). IBM insisted that all the software be packaged in the very same standard plain white boxes with identical blue labeling.

A number of companies began to produce machines that used the MS-DOS (Microsoft DOS) operating system .In the beginning, they were similar to PC-DOS machines, but were not fully compatible – software for PC-OS would seldom run on an MS-DOS machine and vice –versa. Somewhere along the way however the 2 merged so that in the end there was little distinction between the two operating systems – IBM PC-DOS and Microsoft MS-DOS. Hence both the IBM compatible computes (clones) and genuine IBM computers would both run the same software properly.

IBM kept the pressure on with its next system release, the 6 MHz PC/AT, the first machine to use Intel’s next generation chip the 80286 CPU. .

However, these first generation ATs were plagued by frequent hard disk failures. Without any warning, a user’s disk would fail and important and essential data would be lost. The problem was so widespread that IBM clones manufacturers started to erode IBM’s market dominance.

This went on as the clone competition continually improved their products. As well PC clones were substantially cheaper than IBM’s machines, with larger hard disks (from 40 megabytes to even the unbelievable 100). Greater memory became standard, and options such as built in serial and parallel ports were added to system boards. As well clones often included displays, display adapters and software in attractively priced bundles.

The PC/AT continued to sell well, but IBM’s market share began to erode, even though it was selling more machines than ever before. Other clone manufacturers (Compaq and Advanced Logic Research for example) moved quickly on Intel’s next big microprocessor introductions.

The die was set. The IBM PC set the standards but the clone manufacturers forever dominated the market which IBM had developed and lost.

About The Author:
Bill Piker Vintage Computer Enthusiast Blog


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