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20th Anniversary Of The PC 350

cmowire writes "I didn't realize this till I was debugging a stock database and saw the PR piece, but today is the twentieth aniversary of the IBM PC. IBM has a tribute page."
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20th Anniversary Of The PC

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  • Well the PC is the same age as me, 20 years old. I doubt many people would have predicted it of all the computers at the time to trigger such a massive computing presence at home.

    My first computer was an IBM PC (the original), I can still remember what a luxury I thought it was to have two floppy drives so I could keep Dos on A: and play frogger off B:! Ah...the good old days ...errr... well frogger anyway!

    I'd be interested to know what started most slashdotters fascination with computing, I doubt it was the IBM PC. Only reason I had one was because my parents were both accountants and you didn't use a Mac for accounting ;-)

    • Ditto. My first computing experience (ignoring the six-digit calculator given to me as a child) was with the original IBM PC in 1982. 64k of memory, monochrome display (no graphics), came with DOS 1.1. I was 14, and had my first part-time job programming (in BASIC) a year later.

      Games were the original Adventure (ported by Microsoft), Zork I and other early Infocom games, and "Friendlyware", a set of fairly imaginative games in BASIC that used ASCII characters for graphics. In 1984 I bought a CGA card for $300 that I'd earned mowing lawns and coding simple databases. I didn't have enough money for a monitor, so I connected the CGA card to a television set using an RF modulator. The display was completely illegible at 80 columns, so I ran DOS at 40 columns. ("MODE CO40" anybody?)

      1982: parents bought IBM PC for ~$4500
      1986: bought used PCjr for $900
      1988: bought 10 Mhz XT clone for $1700
      1990: bought 386SX/25 for ~ $1900
      1992: bought used 486/33 motherboard for $400
      1994: bought P/133 for ~$3200
      1997: bought P2/333 in pieces for ~$2100
      1999: bought P3/700 for ~$1700
      2001 (last week): bought P3/1000 for $600

      Christ, I sound like one of those old farts talking about punch cards. Somebody stop me.

  • by Rimbo ( 139781 ) <rimbosity@sbc g l o b a l . n et> on Saturday August 11, 2001 @11:39PM (#2114334) Homepage Journal
    ...we didn't have no fancy-shmancy 32-bit computers with "true" color and multi-tasking multi-threaded GUI operating systems! We had EIGHT bits, and if you wanted any more than that you had to wait three days for a calculation! We had DOS and 640KB limits! We had four colors with our CGA graphics, including black and white!

    And we LIKED it! We LOVED IT!

    We didn't have any stinking free operating systems. We had to pay $100 for shitty old DOS, and we loved it! We thought it was great!

    We didn't have DOOM, or Quake, or Unreal. We didn't have texture-mapped anti-aliased vertex-shaded full-color video games! We had ZORK with its text-only interface! And we liked it! We loved it!

    We didn't have any "internet" back in those days, not in our homes. There was no World Wide Web or DSL/cablemodem connections to your home. We didn't even have 56k modems! If you wanted to share things with your buddies you had to copy it onto a 300K floppy, and boy, we didn't know WHAT we'd do with all that disk space! And if you wanted to connect to other computers you had to use a THREE HUNDRED BAUD MODEM!

    And we liked it! We loved it!

    I'm a grumpy old man, and I don't like the way things are today...things were a lot better with disk-swapping 80-column text wait an eternity to download forty K of files that would take up a large share of a floppy disk that would go bad in three months, with games that would take three or four minutes to load that were rarely worth the cost of the disks they were printed on and a stinking 640KB limit! And we loved those days!
    • In my day we didn't have digital computers. We had analog computing! That's right, we used resistors, capacitors, inductors, op amps, and other discrete components, hand wired on a plug board to solve each of our differential equations. No lost precision to this "sampling" bullshit. Our circuits had INFINITE PRECISION! Apply power, wait for the system to stabilize, and read the answer at the output terminals on the multimeter needle (no digital multimeters either, you pansys). Digital? Bah! Saturation and cutoff were considered improper operation modes of transistors and was something we worked hard to avoid happening. It is only now that you digital punks are realizing the benefits of analog and how we had it right all along. Your early 110 and 300 baud modems were fully digital. You could HEAR each bit go by. And you were so pleased with yourselves until you discovered that that was as about fast as you could go with digital, right? With 1200 bps you introduced FOUR signal levels (sounds like analog to me) representing 2 bits each at your maximum 600 baud digital signaling rate to make 1200 bps. Note I use baud and bps correctly, unlike you digital wusses. How many signal levels does a 56K modem have? It's a fucking analog spectrum and yet you still won't admit that our generation figured out the good shit long before you were born! Ah for the good ol days. And the Doors LP spinning on the turntable in the lab. That's probably another device you've never used. Now you're cramming silicon into your cars like cattle lining up to die. Well, when the EMP comes, my generation will still be on the road in our 55 Chevy pickups that have this wierd carbeurrated engine and mechanical points vibrator system. Maybe I'll stop to give you a lift. Maybe. Note. No paragraph breaks. In my day, keeping messages as short as posible was of paramount importance. No one wanted to pay line charges to read blank lines, you wasteful digital fruitcakes.
      • Heh, the funny thing is, quantum computers (if they can ever be built) are analog computers. And the great thing is, it looks like we can still do normalization on them, solving the only problem that makes digital computers preferable to analog ones.

        I also think it is funny how the supposedly "revolutionary" fuzzy logic from a few years ago was really nothing but an attempt to emulate an analog control circuit with digital microcontrollers.
    • I was agreeing with you until I saw the sig. "Progressive New Wave" - what the hell type of hippie shit are the kids coming up with these days? Old-timer my ass!
      • Progressive and new wave music were popular in the 70's and early 80's.

        If you are into progressive, like I am, then you *are* an old timer.

        (also note the ancient form of emphasis I used up there, from the BBS/USENET days)
    • You has 8-bit computers, with DOS, and 4 colors?!?

      Back in MY day all we had were big rocks. And we sat around and watched the rocks because you just never knew what those rocks might do. Them rocks are tricky like that.

      You kids have it too easy these day... Bah!
  • Odd. No mention of OS/2 for the PS/2...
  • by myov ( 177946 ) on Sunday August 12, 2001 @12:36AM (#2130217)
    I don't remember it exactly...

    Someone says that their first computer was an XT.
    Dilbert then says that his computer was so old that he needed to use 1's and 0's to use it.
    Wally finally says that he needed to use magnets, and he didn't even have 0's.

  • The IBM PC-compatibles owe their dominance to the hardworking, energetic people of Taiwan, Republic of China. While Taiwan's economy took off, Taiwan also provided the actual manufacturing of low-cost machines to flood the market. While Taiwan is not known for its own brands, the majority of PC companies sold products MIT or "made in Taiwan." A small island provided the essentual foundation (common components) to enable many companies, large and small, to sell essentially the same products under different names and the competition keeps the price in check, so PC can beat the alternative architectures and be affordable for the common people.

    Whether it's a good thing, that Amigas, Ataris, etc. lost out because they cannot compete with the PC clones made in Taiwan, cost wise, is a matter of debate.
  • I've heard the orignal "IBM PC" was wire-wrapped on an S-100 board.

    Also, IBM desperately wanted to use CP/M as the OS, but Gary Kildall (of Digital Research) shunned their reps, so IBM ended up using MS/DOS, which was purchased from Seattle Computer Systems by Bill Gates for $50,000.00 (it was called QDOS, "Quick and Dirty OS"

    Corrections, please, if any of this is wrong...
    • I'd only add this addendum that most people these days don't remember. By the time the PC was released a deal HAD been reached with Digital and you could have your PC with either PC-DOS OR CP/M.

      Why don't people remember this? Because CP/M cost $240 and PC-DOS only cost $40.

      Ok, big business might have popped for the CP/M because it was standard at the time, and a few did, but most didn't because it just so happened that right at that same time Digital was introducing the next generation of CP/M that * wasn't backward compatible* with CP/M.

      Ok, so if you were going to have to scrap all of your software *anyway* it made sense to buy the cheaper OS as long as it did what you wanted it to.

      If the PC had been introduced either one year earlier, or one year LATER Digital would still rule and only a few of us old timers would even remember that MicroSoft had even existed.

      On such twists of fate does history turn.

  • Actually... (Score:2, Informative)

    I liked the N&O's article [] better, it focuses on Dr. Dave Bradley. For those who don't know, he wrote the original bios code and, of course, "invented" control-alt-delete. Besides working at IBM, he's als an adjunct instructor at NCSU, and teaches programming and basic computer design classes.
  • In the article timeline they mention Thinkpads
    with butterfly keyboard. I never owen one but I think
    it is very smart idea. What happened to them? If
    there are any modern laptops with butterfly keyboard?

  • by jcr ( 53032 ) < .ta. .rcj.> on Sunday August 12, 2001 @05:25AM (#2139671) Journal
    Every PC before IBM's entry was the best work its designers knew how to do. Then came the IBM PC, whose design intention was to be mediocre crap, which would mop up a market segment by offering no virtues beyond the logo of the company that had retarded mainframe computing for the previous 20 years.

    The IBM had its keyboard deliberately botched at the insistence of the DisplayWriter group, it used the worst of the available 16-bit processors, its memory map was carved up by people who didn't care about allowing for expandability, and the OS it shipped with was a dismal knock-off of CP/M, STOLEN OUTRIGHT from DR, (which theft was covered up by IBM paying off DR after they realized that Gates had sold them stolen work.)

    The IBM PC was crap then, and ever since then it's been an anchor, retarding the development of computing hardware ever since.

    Note to Phil Estridge, who ran the project for IBM: rot in hell, you mediocre son of a bitch.

    • Thats your opinion and it may very well be correct (i wont argue with it)

      But you miss the point a little - IBM created the PC market in the corporate sector. The innovators (and there were legion) built great computers but corporates wouldnt buy off a company that might go broke (many of them did, MITS, IMSAI, Commodore etc) but they knew IBM and they knew their systems - they had their Mainframes in the data centers and machine rooms and their minis in accounting etc, so they trusted the name and bought the PC's for their staff based on the fact that IBM had been there for many years and they were a corporate company like them and knew their business.

      Apple made a better product but they played on the touchy feely, hippy ethos too much for the corporate market (and they didnt want that market, didnt care about it till after IBM entered the marketplace really)

      I would say that i started my career on thos 'retarded' mainframes and they were the best on the market (name me one competitor at that time with superior mainframe systems)

      I wont comment on the keyboard etc as it is a matter of opinion - and with the keyboard its true as is the expandability (IBM knew nothing about expandability as they were used to telling customers what they were getting not the other way around) And i would like to know what written and real basis you have for the IBM paying off DR comment - as it is a matter of record that MS paid $50k for the DOS - they didnt write it thus if it was stolen its not their issue (not to mention that most DOS'es were copies of CP/M at that stage anyway just as most BASIC was a copy of Bill Gate's original Altair one.

      But remember this - no IBM PC means NO pc as we know it - the rise of the PC on the corporate desktop led to the modern market place we have and enjoy - a market needs volume and real volume in those days could only come from business and big business had the most momey and staff - IBM didnt persue the cloners as they thought hardware wasnt worth it - thank god.

      I would be interested in asking your age (i just like to see how many of the 30+ guys are still out there in this industry) as it has an impact on the mainframe computing opinion but im not flaming you as you have a right to say what you think - after all linux is all about freedom of choice and right to think different!
      • A reference to MS-DOS 1.0 containing CP/M code is here: :

        DR's Gary Kildall sat down at an IBM PC supplied by IBM and, using a secret code, got it to pop up a Digital Research copyright notice.

        I've never seen any confirmation of this story, but it does line up with vauge Usenet ramblings and so on. Apparently the guy that Paul Allen bought MS-DOS from was building it as a part-time project. He didn't have time to rewrite all of the utility software, so he just transcoded some CP/M utils from 8080 to 8086 asm. The 'secret code' was probably a DEBUG statement or an easter egg.
        • I have seen this story and its never been proven but may be true - the OS undoubtedly contained bits stolen or borrowed from C/PM but then again so did every DOS on the market and most basic implementations were rip offs or copies of Bill Gates original altair one, still its a valid point and thanks for reminding me

      • Ed Roberts sold MITS to Pertec for around eight million bucks. (And that was when $8Mil was worth at least $5M ;-)

    • Umm, worst processor?

      Technically speaking? you damn right...

      But do u know WHY they chose it? it's simple..

      Back then IBM asked TI, Motorola, Intel and others if they can supply to them in big quantities their processor..

      Motorola couldn't (they didn't finish back then their 68000 processor if I'm not mistaken), same for TI.

      Intel had promised to supply IBM their processor, and signed AMD as their 2nd tier contractor to supply processors to IBM (boy, I'm sure some Intel execs are feeling really sorry for this now)..
  • Anyone else thinking about making this a holiday next year ?
    • Yeah, that'll be great, we'll go out for drinks, the PC will finally be old enough to have to have one. Though i shudder to think what a drunk PC will do. I hope it doesn't do something stupid like install Windows ME on itself while in a drunken Stupor.
    • by unitron ( 5733 ) on Sunday August 12, 2001 @12:48AM (#2144643) Homepage Journal
      The PC timeline in Saturday's News and Observer may have goofed in saying that it was introduced on August 13th, or maybe they finished work on it on the 12th and intro-ed it the next day, but anyway they did have a pretty good interview with David Bradley, one of the original group of engineers who developed the 5150, and the one who chose which 3 keys would be used to reboot. The interview is online here [], and includes an anecdote about the delivery of a prototype to MS.
      • Yeah, he was in a group interview/session to commemorate the anniversary along with Bill Gates, among others. David Bradley said that while he chose the keys, Bill is the guy who made them famous.

        It was pretty funny... especially the look on Bill's face. :)
        • Yeah, he was in a group interview/session to commemorate the anniversary along with Bill Gates, among others. David Bradley said that while he chose the keys, Bill is the guy who made them famous.

          Then he said "When you used it for NT logon. That's what I meant."

  • by V50 ( 248015 ) on Sunday August 12, 2001 @12:47AM (#2142856) Journal

    To Celebrate MS has changed their slogan to:
    Microsoft: Inferior for twenty years and counting!

    Seriously though, in Twenty Years, Microsoft STILL hasn't made an original Operating System:

    MS-DOS: Bought QDOS for $50,000, which was in turn was a ripoff of CP/M
    Windows 1, 2 and 3: Too crappy for comment.
    Windows NT : Innovated directly from OS/2.
    Windows 95 : MS innovated huge hunks of it from Apple and even bigger hunks from NeXTstep.
    Windows 98: Win95 with the Finder ripoff replaced by a Web Browser innovated from Netscape.
    Windows XP: Windows NT with just about everyone's (AOL, Real, etc.) product innovated into the Operating System.

    What I find scary is that Windows ME still is based off of a Twenty Year old OS originaly called 'Quick and Dirty Operating System'.

    • MS-DOS: Bought QDOS for $50,000, which was in turn was a ripoff of CP/M
      Windows 1, 2 and 3: Too crappy for comment.
      Windows NT : Innovated directly from OS/2.
      Windows 95 : MS innovated huge hunks of it from Apple and even bigger hunks from NeXTstep.

      Now didn't Windows 95 get its user interface from HP's NewWave? For customers I couldn't get onto OS/2, I would install NewWave over Windows and introduct them to the idea of OBJECT. Not just desktop icon objects but DATA OBJECTs. The way the got the long object names was via an index file which mapped into the real names. I had heard that Microsoft hired the NewWave people from HP to help with Chicago. It was really funny to hear how badly the OS could use threads. There still isn't anything on the PC that does threads as well as OS/2. IMO

      Windows 98: Win95 with the Finder ripoff replaced by a Web Browser innovated from Netscape.
      Windows XP: Windows NT with just about everyone's (AOL, Real, etc.) product innovated into the Operating System.


    • It used to be when the Mac trolls came along you'd ask them if they could multitask, play stereo sound and have color pictures and they'd shut up.

      Of course that was back when I owned an Amiga.

      Apple has never really created anything innovative, they just stole it from less well known people like Xerox so it looked original.
    • As opposed to Linux, which has made huge inroads in originality, striking advances in graphical user interfaces, etc...

      Seriously, what would qualify as an "original operating system"? Can you name one? Can you tell me what features it has that can't be traced back to some prior development?
    • You know normally i try to resist the urge to comment on this sort of thing but im going to today. (note im not trolling or pushing the MS line i just cannot stand to see this stuff put across as the truth)

      MS have never innovated. Hmm Bill Gates wrote the first BASIC for Altair Computers - considered the first of all 'PC''s - he did in on a legal pad in machine code, at 13 this was a guy who was hacking DEC OS code to find bugs in it for a place called C Cubed Computer Centre and at 14 he got caught hacking into a Control Data computer then linked into their network (called Cybernet) - he was known by his peers for those skills.

      He wrote MSBASIC himself and he had written a DOS for pc'a however when IBM came calling they need a quick solution (BTW there are 2 very different storis on the QDOS thing - what is known is MS bought the OS in full so what they did with it is IBM's stupid fault for licensing it)

      Now onto reality

      Windows 1,2 - First and Second generation products but groundbreaking as they were the FIRST real saleable GUI's on the market (for the story behind the supposed theft from Aple/Xerox do a bit of reading - it was no such thing (Pirates of Silicon valley gets it very wrong)
      Windows 3 - well may not be original (which i dispute) but it sure as hell worked and put the simple to use desktop on low cost PC's for all (note at this stage and even know the Mac is NOT low cost)
      Windows NT - innovated from OS2 ?? what are you smoking - it owes more to X windows than that (hint - what happens when NT crashed - i dumps core) the back end is similar in many ways to Unix - OS2 is an IBM attempt to use the money they blue in a black hole called Taligent/Pink and it took them until Warp to even make it work - at which time the market didn't trust it anymore
      Windows 95 - The similarity to apple is true - and covered under a license - but Next Step - well it has a kernel i guess - as for not original it was the only non unix (and considering the state of X at the time Unix isnt's a competitor here) GUI that worked as advertised (see comment on OS2) and it revolutionised the computer market place.
      Windows 98 - I'll give you that one but it is much more than that - it was next generation tech that continued stability and useablity enhancements. And as for the web browser well yeah sure - just like everything is innovated off something else - Sorta like Linux is innovated from BSD
      Windows XP - too soon to comment fully - yeah it has a lot of stuff - but it's a choice these days whether you want it or not.

      Now im not saying MS is an innovative or good company (although read a bit about them and you might find some things out you didn't know) or that they are not a monopoly - only that you can criticise them for many things but if you do check the facts and learn about the history.

      And my final point - how many of the people on here who use BSD/Linux Started off on a windows machine (win 3.11, win95 etc)??

      Your choices in life change and so do your choices in software.

      PS For more inforation on this and the very early days of MS and other companies read Fire in the Valley by Paul Frieberger and Micheal Swaine - ISBN 0071358927 - actually anyone who is into computers should read this and find out how all this got started.
      • Windows 1,2 - First and Second generation products but groundbreaking as they were the FIRST real saleable GUI's on the market (for the story behind the supposed theft from Aple/Xerox do a bit of reading - it was no such thing (Pirates of Silicon valley gets it very wrong)

        Clarification: Win1 & 2 were Word/Excel fishtanks; they only really existed to support those apps and not much else used them. This was very similar to a few different GUIs on the PC at the time, except that MS made Windows.

      • Regarding your comments about MS Windows 1 & 2 - Sorry Sir, you're wrong..

        There was a product called DesQView (and a bit later - DesQView/X) that offered what MS tried to offer back then - a windows enviroment. DesQView did it with console (no graphics, or simple graphics), and DesQView/X - which was using back then a port of X11R4 X windows)...
        • Yep and i have read about it and seen photos - there was also GEM from Atari and at least 3 others - none of the these however were general PC apps - they were not readily available to the market and i was not talking about X windows - yes there were several ports running X11R4 and some of them approached stability but no one will argue that X wasnt a readily available and stable system - MS marketed windows better maybe - but even you admit DesQview used console - thats little different to menu maker or many other programs - win was a GUI but you have a point - and it should be noted that i never claimed it was the only one
      • Forgot one more thing...

        You call Windows 98 "next generation"? umm, how exactly is it next generation? because with Windows 98 they stuck you with MSIE 4 if u wanted or not, plus small modification - thats a next generation??

        Sorry, not on my (and tons of people) book
  • by Arandir ( 19206 ) on Sunday August 12, 2001 @03:02PM (#2142984) Homepage Journal
    I had used friend's computers in high school to play games on, but it was the IBM PC in college that I first used as a serious computer.


    IBM PC: Rock solid, reliable, trustworthy.
    Compaq: A rock solid, reliable and mostly trustworthy suitcase.
    AT&T PC: An 8086 instead of an 8088.
    Other clones: cheap knockoffs.

    Macintosh: You needed a Lisa if you wanted to do any development. And what's this? You had to ask the computer for permission to eject the floppy? It was great if you just wanted to use the computer as a tool, instead of as an end-product.

    Amiga: More great ideas per cubic inch than any other personal computer before or since. But it never caught the attention of the general public. Video artists and programmers still remember it fondly.

    Operating systems...

    The PC came with four: PC-DOS, UCSD P-System, Xenix and CP/M. I really wish CP/M would have been the standard. But with the small memory of the entry line PC, only PC-DOS could cut it. UCSD P-System wasn't really an operating system, but a glorified IDE. And Xenix tried to do too much in too small of memory (and was way overpriced).

    DR-DOS: MSDOS was a joke, PCDOS was okay, but pricey. DR-DOS was affordable, reliable and did a heck of a lot of stuff that other DOS's couldn't do.

    GeoWorks: An operating shell, not an OS. Just like Windows 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 95, 98 and ME. At one time GeoWorks was preinstalled on a few computers. And it was better than Windows. But there was no SDK.

    OS/2: The best user interface before or since. But it was TOO compatible with Windows, so no one bothered to write OS/2 applications.

    Freenix: Walnut Creek offered up CD's on a wide variety of topics. 44BSD-Lite, 386BSD, FreeBSD and Slackware Linux. Eventually I tried Slackware 96.

    The big trends...

    Compatibility: Hardware compatibility aided the proliferation of clones. But it also meant that we would be stuck with an archaic architecture to this day. Ditto for software compatibility.

    Code Bloat: Word processors used to fit on a 360K floppy disk. Now you can barely fit them on a 360M hard drive.

    Open Source: It was always there. But it was never mainstream. The average user will gain the benefits of Open Source, but only the developer and the ideologue will really ever care that the source code is available.
  • Would the IBM PC be seen as a valuable antique or as a worthless obsolete relic? I used to own one of these. However, my model had CGA graphics with a CGA monitor. Otherwise it was the exact same model, and it looked exactly the same. Unfortunately, all I have left is the monitor, the complete manual set and the original 5 1/4 inch discs (including MS-DOS 2.11, yay!). I haven't tried them in years, but everything should be fully operational.

    Could I make anything by selling what I have?
  • Aww (Score:2, Funny)

    by Bodero ( 136806 )
    Aww, how sweet that IBM would take the time to set up a tribute page to their very own system that started a revolution.

    Maybe Malda can set up a "3 years of CmdrTaco - A Tribute To Myself" page on Slashdot to honor the anniversary of Slashdot and everything great that has became of it. ;)
  • Other "advantages" (Score:2, Interesting)

    by BLAMM! ( 301082 )
    One computer expert illustrates the rapid advancement of personal computing by estimating that if the automobile business had developed like the computer business, a Rolls-Royce would now cost $2.75 and run three million miles on a gallon of gas.

    There's a rebuttal list to this comment made by the head of some automotive company. I can't locate it right now though. Anyone else remember this? It was, of course, directed at MS with items such as: "And they (the cars) would stop running for apparently no reason, after which you would stop the engine, restart it and continue as if if nothing was unusual." and "When the roads were repaved would have to buy another car." I wish I could find the whole list.

    • Of course that belies the fact that the car wasn't invented in 1960, it was invented in the late 1880s and by 1900 only the richest of the rich could afford one and the personel to keep it running, but by 1903 their engines had developed enough so that two poor bicycle mechanics could afford one to invent powered flight and the land speed record was faster than most street cars can go today.

      By 1912 we had the four valve per cylinder double overhead cam engine that is now ubiquitous and the Model T Ford that sold for no more in real dollars than a Ford Taurus does now, and only a couple of years later the French were able to commandeer enough public taxi cabs from the streets of Paris to move an army.

      The fact of the mater is that the automobile DID out perform the computer during the same period of its development.

      Let's see how much the computer develops between 2060 and 2100. THAT will be a fairer comparison.

    • by ncc74656 ( 45571 )
      There's a rebuttal list to this comment made by the head of some automotive company.
      It was GM. I don't think the list is on their site (but then I didn't go looking for it there), but Google [] came up with a few hits. This [] is a list of things with which to finish the phrase "If Microsoft built cars..." This [] is a hypothetical "GM helpdesk" taking lusers' questions as if cars were like computers (someone ought to do a BOFH version of this).
  • by DreamSynthesis ( 415854 ) on Sunday August 12, 2001 @01:12AM (#2144885) Homepage

    I started out programming on a TRS-80, then moved to an AT&T PC 6300 (8086 w/ Wietek match coproc.), and on up the PC line from there. There's just one thing that really bothers me...

    Why haven't other, arguably superior, architectures made it to prime time for home users? The PC (and by this I mean x86) has managed to blossom in homes and offices around the globe, but other architectures are still remanded to use in only "high need" or "unique" situations. Yes, I know it's redundant to use Apple as an example, but I just did. Give me a G4 running OSX any time, please. Then, of course, there's others (sun, etc) as well.

    What's the deal with this? I know it can't all be due to the cost involved in manufacturing... does this really just boil down to marketing?

    Of course, since my bread and butter is pretty much coding for x86 servers and desktop, I'm not complaining all that loudly, mind you. All replies welome!!!

    • by kfg ( 145172 ) on Sunday August 12, 2001 @03:35AM (#2144796)
      Well no, not JUST marketing. First of all there was accident. IBM adopted the open architecture of the PC because they came late to the market and then had to release product on as short a development cycle as possible. Thus off the shelf parts from outside suppliers. Had they gotten off their butts just a year or two earlier and developed from the ground up it never would have happened the way it did.

      The existence of Microsoft as we know it is due to the accident of IBM not being able to strike a deal with Digital right off the bat, ( they DID reach a deal with Digital and by the time the PC hit the market you COULD by it off the shelf with Digital's CP/M, nobody did though).

      The NEXT accident was IBM figuring that the open architechture was safe because the *BIOS* was propriatary. Little did they think that it would not only be reverse engineered but that the *courts* would find this legal.

      The NEXT accident was the UNIX guys looking at the whole affair as "toy" computers and operating systems. Everyone at the time WANTED to run UNIX. Everyone knew it was the REAL operating system.

      It cost $2500 minimum, CP/M was one tenth that and PC-DOS was one tenth THAT. Had the UNIX guys taken the PC seriously and realized the potential market and priced accordingly, about $50, we'd all be using UNIX today and not having to dual boot. *MS itself would have used UNIX had it been financially feasable.* Indeed, "Quick and Dirty OS" was a quick and dirty ripoff of UNIX needing a few years more development.

      ( As an aside have you noticed that depending on the circumstances MS attacks Linux either for being "Old" tech OR "Too new and undeveloped"? Cute, huh?)

      And thus was the Intel/MS/IBM unholy trinity born.

      Pure accident.

      THEN came the marketing, and it was good. Good enough for a few years to invoke the third factor that has brought us the pile of cruft and kludge we all know and love today.

      The leverage of installed base.

      IBM/Intel/MS all realized the value of installed base and maintained backward compatability. All of their competitors relied on developing higher quality, more advanced systems. The consumer didn't want that. They wanted cheap, and they wanted to continue to run the programs they already had.

      I was a Tandy guy. Why did I buy my first PC? Because none of my friends had TRS-80s. They all had IBM compatables.

      This is the power of installed base.

      What do we do about it? Damned if *I* know.

      The fact of the matter is that the average high school geek could, at this point, pull an "Apple" and develop a new home computer and operating system combo that blows everything on the market right now clean away with an investment of about two years time.

      But who would BUY it? THAT is the question. And the answer is clearly noone. Why not? Because we don't do it that way. The leverage of installed base again, although this time on a largely psychological factor.

      Think about this. The most commonly voiced complaint about *NIX is that the CLI is too opaque. Why dosn't someone rewrite the CLI?

      Well, the fact of the matter is that literally dozens HAVE. Linux allows anyone who wants to take the time to set up a directory structure, named however they wish, and a CL shell with any command structure they want. Many of those that have already written are in many ways superior to what we all use and available for download if you take a little time to search them out.

      Nobody cares. Why not? We don't do it that way.

      The power of installed base.

      Gnome and KDE are most criticized for reproducing the Windows GUI interface. Just about everyone old enough to remember its introduction hates it. Remember seeing the "START" button for the first time and thinking "What the fsck is THAT and what goofball thought it up?"?

      Other superior GUI's are available. We don't use them. Why not? Well, we just don't, that's all.

      The power of installed base.

      When will the PC as we know it die and finally be replaced with superior technology, most of it availble for years already? The instant no one cares about the installed base anymore.

      And not one instant before.

      • [Unix] cost $2500 minimum, CP/M was one tenth that and PC-DOS was one tenth THAT. Had the UNIX guys taken the PC seriously and realized the potential market and priced accordingly, about $50, we'd all be using UNIX today and not having to dual boot. *MS itself would have used UNIX had it been financially feasable.* Indeed, "Quick and Dirty OS" was a quick and dirty ripoff of UNIX needing a few years more development.

        I like your rant, but this part is not true.

        Hardware costs were the main issue; DOS+apps ran (poorly) in 640K. Unix+apps required a minimum of 2x that amount and a fair more power. As for a cheap *nix, there was Coherent for $100...though it required a 286+ to run it. Once again, we're back to hardware costs.

        Only reciently, in the past 4~ years, has hardware become insanely cheap and the cost of the OS and other software is becoming a major factor.

        For reference, I'm about to buy a video card with 512 times the amount of RAM on it then I had on my first computer. The 64mb card costs ~$110 new while the 128k PC originally cost ~$3,000 used.

        • For further reference the IBM 360 that I was working on less than 10 years before the release of the PC cost $3 million, and you couldn't get a "video card" for it at all. Output was to an IBM Selectric typewriter, which we thought was pretty damn cool because we could * change fonts* by physically changing the typeball.

          I think you underestimate the reticence of people to spend money on software at the time, *particularly* on an OS. As I've pointed out several times the real reason DOS won over CP/M was cost. DOS cost $40, CP/M cost $249. Even though CP/M was, at the time, the de facto standard people simply wouldn't pay $200 extra for an OS, even AFTER spending several thousand on hardware.

          Remember, this is the same time era in which the FSF was born. People expected a computer to simply COME with both an OS and full development enviroment of some sort. The aforementioned IBM 360 had much of APL *hardcoded* into the cpu, not only was it free with the machine but it was literally impossible to uninstall.

          I remember a company not batting an eye at popping $13,000 for a 386 server, and then putting up a fight for months over a few hundred dollars worth of software to make it actually useful.

          Hardware is REAL. It sits on your desk or in your rack. You OWN it.

          Software is invisible. It isn't REAL. More importantly you know, because the company that wrote it makes damn SURE you know, that you don't own it. You buy it and it isn't even yours. If you want to spend a bit of money and take a bit of time you know that you can hire a programer or ten to write a workalike that you DO own, whereas you arn't going to build a chip fab.

          The cost of software has always been treated differently than the cost of hardware because software IS different. No one expects hardware to be free but there are now literally millions of people around the world wondering why software costs *anything.*

          Particulaly an OS which, in practical terms, is really PART of the computer.

          As for the fact that hardware for UNIX cost a premium over DOS that was *by design of the UNIX companies.* They wanted it to cost a lot, it wasn't inherent in the software. The more it cost the more "valuable" and "high tech" it was, at least in the marketing mind. They liked it that way. They made a mistake. Now they can't go back because, once again, UNIX has become free before they could retrench and make it cheap.

          I stand by my point and suggest that if UNIX had been available for the 386 at the same price, or lower, than Windows Linux wouldn't even exist. The UNIX vendors blew it.

        • Well, think of the period between when the i386 chip started shipping in PCs (1987), and when most PC start shipping with a real protected mode OS (ummmm, Win XP ships later this year?).

          MS and IBM were dinking around with OS/2 and Win 3.1. Later on Novell bought UNIX and essentially buried it. There was plenty of opportunity for Unix in the market, but SCO wanted premium dollar. It shouldn't have taken a college student to find a way to create a PC Unix that could be obtained on a MS-DOS budget.
          • I had MicroPort UNIX on my 286 back in the 80's and then shifted to Consensus 386. This was in the 1980's on 286 and 386 hardware and had real multitasking. The GUI really wasn't available on the PC but Windows and OS/2 were just starting, as was the XWindow System. I was amazed that WordPerfect cost me $250 for DOS but over $500 for these Unix's. I think it was the fact that these UNIX vendors didn't go for volume pricing like Microsoft did and so it remained on workstations and up instead of on the PC hardware. But why did the application vendors do the same and charged too much for UNIX versions? In 1991, NT 3.1 sucked compared to OS/2 2.0 since OS/2 would run on a 386 with 10MB of RAM and could run Windows, a Netware client, and tcp/ip networking along with a X-Server. The base system blew DOS/Windows out of the water but the extras were very expensive ( $250 for just the TCP/IP stack and another $250 for the X-Server ). Anyways, UNIX's on the 386 were 32bit and provided protected mode OS's with a flat memory model in the 1980's and OS/2(32bit) had this around 1991. Microsoft already had it's monopoly by 1990 and started making full use of it to stop OS/2 while the UNIX crowd stayed high priced and on high-end hardware. I saw a pre-release presentation of NT 3.1 by Microsoft and when I proded the presenter on the hardware requirements he said that NT was being positioned toward workstations and that Microsoft had a project called Chicago which would be their new DESKTOP OS. Remember that NT WAS advertised as the next great desktop OS until it was known to have HUGE hardware requirments. The pre-announcement of Chicago stalled the market for 5 years and the press helped that along.... It's funny that a cheap UNIX-like system is around now which goes 180 degrees from the UNIX of yesteryear and both apps and the OS are essentually free and this combination has the monster of Redmond running for its life(scrambling at least;) LoB
            • Yeah, what killed the market for any sort of advanced operating system on the PC until very recently was the price of memory. Given that you could have a productive DOS system with 1MB or less (and XT clones with that amount of memory were still being sold up until 91-92 when Windows started to get popular), the economies of scale never ramped up, and most PCs were sold with the tiniest amount of memory possible. (Even today, with RAM prices in the toilet, consumer box shops are selling 1.5Ghz systems with only 128MB.)

              Anyway, the lack of RAM pretty much killed the market for OS/2, NT, and Unix, and allowed Windows 3.1 and later 95 to walk away with the prize. The comprimises involved in that are still buring users to this day.
        • I think he was talking Unix was costs $2,500 for SCO Unix..

          Anyone remember the day when a TCP/IP Stack license for a SINGLE use was costing $500?

          Coherenet was nice thing, but both Coherenet and SCO were crushed by *BSD and Linux (Linux have more of this "blame")
  • by beanerspace ( 443710 ) on Sunday August 12, 2001 @12:01AM (#2146238) Homepage
    Gad, 20 years ?! Who would have thought that a machine, built on something so lame as a 16-bit program counter, a 16-bit ALU, four 16-bit general purpose registers, along with a few 16-bit index registers, and oh yes, that all important 8-bit external bus, would have so forever changed teh face of computing ?

    Personally, while the PC is significant, I believe it was the ... and please forgive the bad joke, the attack of the clones in the 80's, that finally put the brain-damaged 80n86 PCs over the top of superior personal computer architectures.

    • by kfg ( 145172 ) on Sunday August 12, 2001 @02:35AM (#2118556)
      Indeed. Either/or Microsoft/IBM are generally given credit for the computer economic 'miracle.'

      In fact it was the reverse engineering of the IBM BIOS that let the Genie out of the bottle and let the clones out of the lab to ravage the land and the netscape, and yet this event, the KEY event in the development of the PC as we know it today, isn't even mentioned in most short histories of the development of the PC.

      • I'm not sure about the original PC but the XT technical reference came with the complete schematics of the motherboard and all expansion boards and complete source code of the BIOS.
        • Well, I had an IBM XT

          No source code for BIOS - I can tell you that for sure.

          On MainFrame it was another story - you got some source code, but of course - not to your entire system
      • In fact it was the reverse engineering of the IBM BIOS that let the Genie out of the bottle and let the clones out of the lab to ravage the land and the netscape, and yet this event, the KEY event in the development of the PC as we know it today, isn't even mentioned in most short histories of the development of the PC.

        I respectfully disagree. They KEY event, the KEY enabler of the development of the "modern" PC as we know it today was Micros~1's success in convincing IBM to allow Micros~1 to license PC-DOS (renamed to MS-DOS) to other computer manufacturers...i.e., to allow Micros~1 to give IBM a more or less non-exclusive license.

        Without that event, Rod Canion and the boys at Compaq would *never* have even bothered reverse-engineering IBM's BIOS. PC-DOS was not sold separately at that time. You had to buy an IBM PC to get PC-DOS, and making a product that revolved around pirating PC-DOS wouldn't have been a very viable business model for Compaq.

  • I don't know about you, but this plataform is just sick. Do I get mad all the times I stop to think on what the home computer industry could have brought us. Instead, from the tenths of playfull, colorfull, imaginative toys from the early 80's, what did emerge as the "winner" for the 90's, and now, beyond?

    The only "Personal Computer" of the time that was, ground up, designed for "serious businness", and thus could display 80 characters of green text in a row, and wow, it could even beep. Who would want pretty toys like the Apple II's, ZX Spectruns, Atari ST's, Amigas? SO much color capacity, sound, could not be possible fopr one to want to work with stuff like this.

    You may be all happy and well with this crap, being refurbished over and over. Were it not for the other only alternative [] in the market, I doubt if today's almighty 80x86 PC's would ever had got advanced peripheralls like USB connection, 3'1/2 floppies, firewire --how? no firewire yet? sorry - and maybe even the mouse. After all...who would ever want such a toy on a Serious Machine like those sold by International Business Machines?

    Be happy and party on. I am wearing black for this "Anniversary"!

  • Microsodt has published a transcript [] of the panel discussion commemorating the 20th anniversary.

  • first IBM pc (Score:4, Informative)

    by xfs ( 473411 ) on Saturday August 11, 2001 @11:52PM (#2146692)
    It's the 20th anniversary of the first -IBM- pc, not the PC. The altair was made in 1975 or so, was it not?

    25th anniversary then?
    • It's the 20th anniversary of the first -IBM- pc, not the PC. The altair was made in 1975 or so, was it not?
      I've been pondering the personal computer over this the past week. TechTV had asked if IBM was responcible for the popularity of the PC. While most people keyed on "PC" as being "IBM PC" and debated IBM's role in introducing the product line... I thought of "PC" as "personal computer" and thought back to a series of home computers before and after the IBM PC.

      I had thought of the Altair... but dismissed it.

      I see the label "personal computer" as denoting a consumer device. The Altair was a microcomputer for the home enthusiast. But it required an electronics hobbiest, and perhapse a mathmatics enthusiast, to put togeather and enjoy.

      Apple was the first to realize the personal computer - not only a pre-constructed motherboard, but one that included a keyboard, a video driver (and a slick hack, at that) all in a custom plastic case. Granted - it may have taken a computer geek to appreciate it at first. But it paved the way for a killer app (the spreadsheet - VisiCalc, if I remember right) to make the personal computer a standard fixture in offices. And once it was in the office, the personal computer began showing up in households that otherwise wouldn't have had a computer.

      I make it sound like the industry WAS Apple. I don't believe that. IBM had an important role. But that role was not origionating the "personal computer".

    • Re:first IBM pc (Score:4, Informative)

      by VAXman ( 96870 ) on Sunday August 12, 2001 @12:54AM (#2144360)
      The first personal computer was probably DEC's PDP-8/m (started shipping in 1972) which pre-dated the Altair and Apple by several years.

      That said, 'PC' as understood today means 'IBM PC compatible' (as opposed to Apples or workstations), and today's PC's are direct descendants of the original IBM PC 5150. The PC is by far the most widely used and most important architecture in use today. The 5150 was not the first personal computer, but was the first PC.

Sigmund Freud is alleged to have said that in the last analysis the entire field of psychology may reduce to biological electrochemistry.