The End of an Era

So it’s official, IBM is getting out of the PC business:

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS.MW) — Lenovo Group Ltd. will buy IBM’s personal computing business in a $1.75 billion deal, creating what the companies said Tuesday night will be the No. 3 PC maker worldwide.

I thought this day would never come. The IBM PC, from its inception in 1981, had the most dramatic effect on the computer industry in general and my career in particular of any technology or event of the last 30 years. Before the PC, I was a system programmer at Texas Instruments developing operating systems and protocols for closed, proprietary systems, systems that were full of fun and complexity with multi-tasking, real-time priorities, virtual memory, and interprocess communications. The PC, with its deficient operating system and marginal hardware, put an end to that sort of system, bringing about a massive shift to bare-metal programming, a retarded CPU architecture, a return to proprietary communication protocols, and assembly language instead of block-structured high-level languages.

As the virus spread, it gradually overcame its origins and evolved into a lower-cost version of the kind of systems I used to work on, only without my having access to the system code so I could simply change it if I didn’t like the way it worked until Linux came along.

But now IBM has decided the whole experiment wasn’t such a hot idea. Presumably, they’re still in the server business as well as services and consulting, so the more things change the more they remain the same. Sorta.

2 thoughts on “The End of an Era”

  1. What is most interesting about the IBM PC –and most often forgotten — is that IBM never intended to spawn an industry of clones, and didn’t even really see it as the base upon which they would build multiple generations of systems. Indeed they considered it a small experiment to see if they could get into a market dominated by what used to be called the “Four Sisters” — Tandy/Radio Shack, Commodore, Atari, and Apple, with a few outliers in the PC market like Timex and Sinclair and so on.

    It was fairly obvious that the philosophy was that a personal computer was little more than a glorified calculator. And that was the philosophy of the day. Multitasking and all that rot didn’t matter because that wasn’t what a PC was for.

    It’s amazing what a kludge it was as they and so many other vendors built up from that base.

  2. Indeed, the original PC had 64K of RAM, a cassette port for storage, and an RF modulator to hook it up to a TV set to display 40 character lines. It was supposed to be a home computer, but it took off in business because it was expandable, just as the Apple II had been adopted by business because it’s 48K RAM ran Visicalc better than the Trash 80 could.

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