IBM looks back on 20 years’ worth of PCs

Remember all those times you hit control-alt-delete in frustration because your personal computer just wasn’t doing what you wanted it to do?

Well, you can thank Dr. David Bradley, one of the original 12 engineers who worked on the first IBM PC.

Bradley invented the soft-boot, along with the ROM BIOS code. Without that, PC users would have to shut down the system and start it back up again.

It’s been 20 years since that first PC, which gave new meaning to words such as mouse, windows, and viruses.

“I may have invented it, but Bill Gates made it famous,” Bradley said, during his Toronto tour to promote the anniversary Wednesday.

Back in 1980, most informed people thought of a computer as a capital investment of close to $10 million. It required an air-conditioned room made of glass that was at least a quarter of an acre. You also needed at least 60 people to keep it loaded with instructions.

So it was no wonder that in August 12 of 1981, during the launch of the IBM PC, IBM executives forecasted that 80 million PCs would populate the world by the end of the century. IBM missed that forecast by more than 500 million, Bradley said.

He added that the initial five-year forecast was for just over 250,000 PCs. In actuality, IBM sold more than three million in those first five years.

Bradley even delivered one of the first IBM personal computers to a little-known Bellevue, Wash.-based company named Microsoft (the company later moved to Redmond, Wash.).

“Steve Ballmer answered the door,” he said. “You have to remember Microsoft was a small company of 30 employees back then.”

The first PC was intended for different markets but made a name for itself in the home, Bradley said. With a colour graphics adapter connection, the home PC could hook up to one’s TV for word processing or games like Donkey, which Gates himself wrote the code for.

“Bill did the code himself all night before I came in at around 5:30 a.m. to pick it up,” Bradley said.

The original IBM PC shipped with a 16-bit 8088 microprocessor from Intel Corp. It had 40K built-in ROM and 16Kbs of RAM. For storage, a 5.25-inch diskette drive with a capacity of 160Kb was available. It weighed in at a hefty 74 lbs., without the monitor. The cost for this computer, which is now in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, was US$3,500.

By comparison, today’s PC is under $2,000 and sports a 1GHz Pentium III processor with 128MB of RAM and a 20GB hard drive. The weight of today’s PCs hovers around 22 pounds with monitor and comes standard with keyboard, mouse, seven USB ports, built-in stereo speakers, 56K modem, CD-ROM and CD-R drives.

Bradley added that the PC had no mouse, everything was command line and it plugged into a cassette tape recorder back in 1981.

“I was really proud of the 2.5-inch speaker. I thought it had great sound quality,” he said.

The biggest surprise for Bradley during this 20-year span for the PC was the Internet.

“At the time, we only thought to connect to mainframes and make them terminals. We never consider something like the Internet, but we provided the capability for it, he said.

 

More on Dr. David Bradley and the first IBM PC in the Sept. 14 edition of Computer Dealer News

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