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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It depends upon when you were born ...
by MacTO on Sat 1st Jul 2017 00:08 UTC
MacTO
Member since:
2006-09-21

It more or less depends upon when you were born. For people who grew up in an era when personal computers were normal, the iPhone is going to be given more weight. For someone of my generation, something like the IBM PC is more worthy. (Though, personally, I would look at the Apple II/TRS-80/PET since they proved that the personal computer could be a thing.) People from an earlier era may point to earlier machines.

My point is this: we probably shouldn't single out a single product. While computers have had a revolutionary impact upon our lives, their development was evolutionary.

Reply Score: 4

Earl C Pottinger Member since:
2008-07-12

One thing the IBM PC did was common parts. It was easy to clone.


That made easy for others to see that they could make clones to sell into the rich business market.

Remember when the IBM PC came out there was no real standard in the CP/M machines. The S100 buss may have be considered standard, but I remember having to customize the serial port software for all the different boards we bought. The plug in of the board was standard, the software to drive the board was not.

IBM clones almost all used standard hardware that used the same software - please note I also had to deal with compatible like the early Panasonic and Compac machines that used special hardware and needed their own drivers.

Commodore, Atari, and to a lesser extent Apple (IIgs, Apple III, Mac) used parts that were hard for cloners to get but all the parts for the IBMs were easy to get.

Edited 2017-07-01 04:23 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 3

dionicio Member since:
2006-07-12

IBM professionalized the components, but was the [mumbling-ly allowed] cloners who standardized the recipe.

Reply Parent Score: 2