Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 30th Jun 2017 23:23 UTC
PDAs, Cellphones, Wireless

Ars has started a series on the advent of the IBM PC, and today they published part one.

The machine that would become known as the real IBM PC begins, of all places, at Atari. Apparently feeling their oats in the wake of the Atari VCS' sudden Space Invaders-driven explosion in popularity and the release of its own first PCs, the Atari 400 and 800, they made a proposal to IBM's chairman Frank Cary in July of 1980: if IBM wished to have a PC of its own, Atari would deign to build it for them.

Fascinating history of the most influential computing platform in history, a statement that will surely ruffle a lot of feathers. The IBM PC compatible put a computer on every desk and in every home, and managed to convince hundreds of millions of people of the need of a computer - no small feat in a world where a computer was anything but a normal household item. In turn, this widespread adoption of the IBM PC compatible platform paved the way for the internet to become a success.

With yesterday's ten year anniversary of the original iPhone going on sale, a number of people understandably went for the hyperbole, such as proclaiming the iPhone the most important computer in history, or, and I wish I was making this up, claiming the development of the iPhone was more important to the world than the work at Xerox PARC - and since this was apparently a competition, John Gruber decided to exaggerate the claim even more.

There's no denying the iPhone has had a huge impact on the world, and that the engineers at Apple deserve all the credit and praise they're getting for delivering an amazing product that created a whole new category overnight. However, there is a distinct difference between what the iPhone achieved, and what the people at Xerox PARC did, or what IBM and Microsoft did.

The men and women at PARC literally invented and implemented the graphical user interface, bitmap graphics, Ethernet, laser printing, object-oriented programming, the concept of MVC, the personal computer (networked together!), and so much more - and all this in an era when computers were gigantic mainframes and home computing didn't exist.

As for the IBM PC compatible and Wintel - while nowhere near the level of PARC, it did have a profound and huge impact on the world that in my view is far greater than that of the iPhone. People always scoff at IBM and Microsoft when it comes to PCs and DOS/Windows, but they did put a computer on every desk and in every home, at affordable prices, on a relatively open and compatible platform (especially compared to what came before). From the most overpaid CEO down to the most underpaid dock worker - everybody could eventually afford a PC, paving the way for the internet to become as popular and ubiquitous as it is.

The iPhone is a hugely important milestone and did indeed have a huge impact on the world - but developing and marketing an amazing and one-of-a-kind smartphone in a world where computing was ubiquitous, where everybody had a mobile phone, and where PDAs existed, is nowhere near the level of extraordinary vision and starting-with-literally-nothing that the people at PARC had, and certainly not as impactful as the rise of the IBM PC compatible and Wintel.

It's fine to be celebratory on the iPhone's birthday - Apple and its engineers deserve it - but let's keep at least one foot planted in reality.

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Let's get some perspective...
by The123king on Mon 3rd Jul 2017 09:09 UTC
The123king
Member since:
2009-05-28

The Xerox Alto was, indeed, a revolutionary computer. Born waaay ahead of it's time, it laid the foundations of the modern PC. Much like the Cadillac Type 53 laid out the groundwork for the modern automobiles, but was brought to the masses by Austin, the ideas of the Alto needed someone with vision to spead these novel design concepts to the public. Apple did that very thing with the Macintosh.

And then the PC space stagnated. Sure, they got faster, extra features were added and components got more integrated. We got more colour, more RAM and more FLOPS. But between the Xerox Alto and today, very few novel and original ideas have appeared. Going back to car analogy, they got faster, larger, more powerful. But someone who was used to driving an Austin 7 could step into a 2017 stick shift Mercedes and still be able to drive it. Maybe not well, but they wouldn't be lost. Same goes with PC's

Why all these car analogies? Well, we're heading into the driverless car era, where instead of turning a wheel and pushing pedals to make a car go and stop, we can type in an address and wait until the vehicle gets us to where we're going. This is a huuuge shift from what we're used to. We wouldn't have been able to get to the driverless car, if it wasn't for the Benz Patent Motorwagen, the Model T or the Austin 7.

Same applies to the iPhone. Sure, it's not as huge a shift as some people make it out to be, but it's still a groundbreaking change in the way we, as people, interact with technology. We wouldn't have been able to get to the iPhone if it wasn't for Colossus, IBM System/360 or the Apple Macintosh. Does that make it less revolutionary? No. Does it make it any more revolutionary? Also, no. It makes it "as" revolutionary as it's predecessors. Allowing instant access to the welth of the internet whereever you happen to be is a pretty revolutionary concept in itself. The iPhone took what we had on the PC, packaged it into a portable format with a long researched, but revolutionary (in the consumer space,) interface.

To conclude. The iPhone isn't more important, or less important than the Xerox Alto. They're both revolutionary solutions to a hitherto undiscovered problem, and both of them have totally changed the way we use and interact with computers, and the modern world would not be the same without either of these developments.

Imagine a world without teenagers staring blankly at their portable glowing rectangles... Facebook would be a blip on the radar, and Angry Birds would have never been a thing... Maybe the iPhone wasn't such a good thing after all...

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