History of personal computers

History of personal computers

This article covers the history of the personal computer. A personal computer is one which is directly used by an individual, as opposed to a mainframe in which the end user's requests are filtered through an operating staff, or a time sharing system in which one large processor is shared by many individuals. After the development of the microprocessor, individual personal computers were low enough in cost that they eventually became a consumer commodity.


One early use of the term "personal computer" appeared in a November 3, 1962, "New York Times" article reporting John W. Mauchly's vision of future computing as detailed at a recent meeting of the American Institute of Industrial Engineers. Mauchly stated, "There is no reason to suppose the average boy or girl cannot be master of a "personal computer". [cite news
title=Pocket Computer May Replace Shopping List
work=The New York Times
date=November 3, 1962

Six years later a manufacturer took the risk of referring to their product this way when Hewlett Packard advertised their "Powerful Computing Genie" as "The New Hewlett Packard 9100A personal computer". [cite paper
title=9100A desktop calculator, 1968
] This advertisement was deemed too extreme for the target audience and replaced with a much drier ad for the HP 9100A programmable calculator. [cite journal
author=Hewlett Packard
title=Restoring the Balance between Analysis and Computation
journal=Science Magazine
date=25 October 1966
] [cite journal
title=Annals of the History of Computing
publisher=IEEE Journal
journal=IEEE Annals of the History of Computing

Over the next seven years the phrase had gained enough recognition that when "Byte" magazine published its first edition, it referred to its readers as being in the "personal computing" field", [cite news
author=Carl Helmers
title=What is BYTE
pages=4, col 3, para 2
date=October 1975
] and "Creative Computing" defined the personal computer as a "non-(time)shared system containing sufficient processing power and storage capabilities to satisfy the needs of an individual user." [cite news
coauthors=Winston, P.
title=Personal Computers
year=May 1975
] Two years later, when what "Byte" was to call the "1977 Trinity" of preassembled small computers hit the markets, [cite web
url = http://www.byte.com/art/9509/sec7/art15.htm
title = Most Important Companies
accessdate = 2008-06-10
author =
date = September 1995
work = Byte Magazine
] the Apple II and the PET 2001 were advertised as "personal computers", [cite web
url = http://www.kelleyad.com/histry.htm
title = Birth of an Industry 1976-77
accessdate = 2008-06-14
date =
work = Apple Computer Inc. advertisements
publisher = Kelley Advertising and Marketing
quote=Introducing Apple II. You've just run out of excuses for not owning a personal computer.
] [cite web
url = http://www.commodore.ca/history/company/PET_Brochure/oldest_pet_brochure.htm
title = Oldest Known Commodore PET Brochure
accessdate = 2008-06-14
author =
date =
work =
publisher =
] while the TRS-80 was a described as a microcomputer used for household tasks including "personal" financial management". By 1979 over half a million microcomputers were sold and the youth of the day had a new concept of the personal computer. [cite news
author=Jeremy Reimer
title=Total share: 30 years of personal computer market share figures; The 8-bit era (1980-1984)
work=Ars Technica
date=14 December 2005

Mainframes and minicomputers

Before the introduction of the microprocessor in the early 1970s, computers were generally large, costly systems owned by large corporations, universities, government agencies, and similar-sized institutions. End users did not directly interact with the machine, but instead would prepare tasks for the computer on off-line equipment, such as card punches. A number of assignments for the computer would be gathered up and processed in batch mode. After the job had completed, users could collect the results. In some cases it could take hours or days between submitting a job to the computing center and receiving the output.

A more interactive form of computer use developed commercially by the middle 1960s. In a time-sharing system, multiple computer terminals let many people share the use of one mainframe computer processor. This was common in business applications and in science and engineering.

A different model of computer use was foreshadowed by the way in which early, pre-commercial, experimental computers were used, where one user had exclusive use of a processor. [ Athony Ralston and edwin D. Reilly (ed), "Encyclopedia of Computer Science 3rd Edition", Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1993 ISBN 0-442-27679-6, article "Digital Computers History" ] Some of the first computers that might be called "personal" were early minicomputers such as the LINC and PDP-8, and later on VAX and larger minicomputers from Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), Data General, Prime Computer, and others. By today's standards they were very large (about the size of a refrigerator) and cost prohibitive (typically tens of thousands of US dollars), and thus were rarely purchased by an individual. However, they were much smaller, less expensive, and generally simpler to operate than many of the mainframe computers of the time. Therefore, they were accessible for individual laboratories and research projects. Minicomputers largely freed these organizations from the batch processing and bureaucracy of a commercial or university computing center.

In addition, minicomputers were relatively interactive and soon had their own operating systems. The minicomputer Xerox Alto (1973) was a landmark step in the development of personal computers, because of its graphical user interface, bit-mapped high resolution screen, large internal and external memory storage, mouse, and special software. [Rheingold, H. (2000). Tools for thought: the history and future of mind-expanding technology (New ed.). Cambridge, MA etc.: The MIT Press.]

Microprocessor and cost reduction

The minicomputer ancestors of the modern personal computer used early integrated circuit (microchip) technology, which reduced size and cost, but they contained no microprocessor. This meant that they were still large and difficult to manufacture just like their mainframe predecessors. After the "computer-on-a-chip" was commercialized, the cost to manufacture a computer system dropped dramatically. The arithmetic, logic, and control functions that previously occupied several costly circuit boards were now available in one integrated circuit, making it possible to produce them in high volume. Concurrently, advances in the development of solid state memory eliminated the bulky, costly, and power-hungry magnetic core memory used in prior generations of computers.

There were a few researchers at places such as SRI and Xerox PARC who were working on computers that a single person could use and could be connected by fast, versatile networks: not home computers, but personal ones.

Micral N

In France, the company R2E [http://www.feb-patrimoine.com/projet/micral/micral.htm] (Réalisations et Etudes Electroniques) formed by two former engineers of the Intertechnique company, André Truong Trong Thi [http://www.zdnet.fr/actualites/informatique/0,39040745,39216252,00.htm] [http://www.silicon.fr/fr/silicon/news/2005/04/05/andre-truong-pere-micro-ordinateur-quittes] and François Gernelle [http://members.fortunecity.com/pcmuseum/gernelle.htm] introduced in February 1973 a microcomputer, the Micral N based on the Intel 8008. [ Roy A. Allan "A History of the Personal Computer" (Alan Publishing, 2001) ISBN 0968910807 Chapter 4 (PDF: http://www.archive.org/download/A_History_of_the_Personal_Computer/eBook04.pdf)] Originally, the computer had been designed by Gernelle, Lacombe, Beckmann and Benchitrite for the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique to automate hygrometric measurements. [http://febcm.club.fr/english/chronoa10.htm] [http://www.old-computers.com/museum/computer.asp?c=352] The Micral N cost a fifth of the price of a PDP-8, about 8500FF ($1300). The clock of the Intel 8008 was set at 500kHz, the memory was 16 kilobytes. A bus, called Pluribus was introduced and allowed connection of up to 14 boards.Different boards for digital I/O, analog I/O, memory, floppy disk were available from R2E. The Micral operatingsystem was initially called Sysmic, and was later renamed Prologue. R2E was absorbed by Groupe Bull in 1978. Although Groupe Bull continued the production of Micral computers, it was not interested in the Personal Computer market. and Micral computers were mostly confined to highway toll gates (where they remained in service until 1992) and similar niche markets.

Altair 8800 and IMSAI 8080

Development of the single-chip microprocessor was an enormous catalyst to the popularization of cheap, easy to use, and truly personal computers. The Altair 8800, introduced in a "Popular Electronics" magazine article in the January 1975 issue, at the time set a new low price point for a computer, bringing computer ownership to an admittedly select market in the 1970s. This was followed by the IMSAI 8080 computer, with similar abilities and limitations. The Altair and IMSAI were essentially scaled-down minicomputers and were incomplete: to connect a keyboard or screen to them required heavy, expensive "peripherals". These machines both featured a front panel with switches and lights, which communicated with the operator in binary. To program the machine, one didn't simply power up: one first had to key in the bootstrap loader program in binary, then read in a paper tape containing a BASIC interpreter, using a paper-tape reader. Keying the loader required setting a bank of eight switches up or down and pressing the "load" button, once for each byte of the program, which was typically hundreds of bytes long. This was before one could begin to do any computing.

The MITS Altair, the first commercially successful microprocessor kit, was featured on the cover of "Popular Electronics" magazine in January 1975. It was the world's first mass-produced personal computer kit, as well as the first computer to use an Intel 8080 processor. It was a commercial success with 10,000 Altairs being shipped. The Altair also inspired the software development efforts of Paul Allen and his high school friend Bill Gates who developed a BASIC interpreter for the Altair, and then formed Microsoft.

The MITS Altair 8800 effectively created a new industry of microcomputers and computer kits, with many others following, such as a wave of small business computers in the late 1970s based on the Intel 8080, Zilog Z80 and Intel 8085 microprocessor chips. Most ran the CP/M-80 operating system developed by Gary Kildall at Digital Research. CP/M-80 was the first popular microcomputer operating system to be used by many different hardware vendors, and many software packages were written for it, such as WordStar and dBase II.

Many hobbyists during the mid 1970s designed their own systems, with various degrees of success, and sometimes banded together to ease the job. Out of these house meetings the Homebrew Computer Club developed, where hobbyists met to talk about what they had done, exchange schematics and software, and demonstrate their systems. Many people built or assembled their own computers as per published designs. For example, many thousands of people built the Galaksija home computer later in the early 80s.

It was arguably the Altair computer that spawned the development of Apple, as well as Microsoft which produced and sold the Altair BASIC programming language interpreter, Microsoft's first product. The second generation of microcomputers — those that appeared in the late 1970s, sparked by the unexpected demand for the kit computers at the electronic hobbyist clubs, were usually known as home computers. For business use these systems were less capable and in some ways less versatile than the large business computers of the day. They were designed for fun and educational purposes, not so much for practical use. And although you could use some simple office/productivity applications on them, they were generally used by computer enthusiasts for learning to program and for running computer games, for which the personal computers of the period were less suitable and much too expensive. For the more technical hobbyists home computers were also used for electronics interfacing, such as controlling model railroads, and other general hobbyist pursuits.


The Kenbak-1 is considered by the Computer History Museum to be the world's first personal computer. It was designed and invented by John Blankenbaker of Kenbak Corporation in 1970, and was first sold in early 1971. The system first sold for US$750 . Only around 40 machines were ever built and sold. In 1973, production of the Kenbak-1 stopped as Kenbak Corporation folded.

With only 256 bytes of memory, an 8-bit word size, and input and output restricted to lights and switches, the Kenbak-1 was most useful for learning the principles of programming but not capable of running application programs.

Datapoint 2200

A programmable terminal called the Datapoint 2200 is the earliest known device that bears some significant resemblance to the modern personal computer, with a screen, keyboard, and program storage. [ [http://www.americanheritage.com/articles/magazine/it/1994/2/1994_2_64.shtml] ; [http://www.old-computers.com/museum/computer.asp?st=1&c=596] ] It was made by CTC (now known as Datapoint) in 1970 and was a complete system in a small case bearing the approximate footprint of an IBM Selectric typewriter. The system's CPU was constructed from a variety of discrete components, although the company had commissioned Intel to develop a single-chip processing unit; there was a falling out between CTC and Intel, and the chip Intel had developed wasn't used. Intel soon released a modified version of that chip as the Intel 8008, the world's first 8-bit microprocessor. [A History of Modern Computing, (MIT Press), pp. 220–21] The needs and requirements of the Datapoint 2200 therefore determined the nature of the 8008, upon which all successive processors used in IBM-compatible PCs were based. Additionally, the design of the Datapoint 2200's multi-chip CPU and the final design of the Intel 8008 were so similar that the two are largely software-compatible; therefore, the Datapoint 2200, from a practical perspective, can be regarded as if it were indeed powered by an 8008, which makes it a strong candidate for the title of "first microcomputer" as well.

Xerox Alto and Star

The Xerox Alto, developed at Xerox PARC in 1973, was a minicomputer, and the first computer to use a mouse, the desktop metaphor, and a graphical user interface (GUI), concepts first introduced by Douglas Engelbart while at SRI International.

In 1981, Xerox Corporation introduced the Xerox Star workstation, officially known as the "8010 Star Information System". Drawing upon its predecessor, the Xerox Alto, it was the first commercial system to incorporate various technologies that today have become commonplace in personal computers, including a bit-mapped display, a windows-based graphical user interface, icons, folders, mouse, Ethernet networking, file servers, print servers and e-mail. It also included a programming language system called Smalltalk.

While its use was limited to the engineers at Xerox PARC, the Alto had features years ahead of its time. Both the Xerox Alto and the Xerox Star would inspire the Apple Lisa and the Apple Macintosh.

The microcomputers and beginnings of an industry

After the 1972 introduction of the Intel 4004, microprocessor costs declined rapidly. In 1974 the American electronics magazine "Radio-Electronics" described the Mark-8 computer kit, based on the Intel 8008 processor. In January of the following year, "Popular Electronics" magazine published an article describing a kit based on the Intel 8080, a somewhat more powerful and easier to use processor. The Altair 8800 sold remarkably well even though initial memory size was limited to a few hundred bytes and there was no software available. However, the Altair kit was much less costly than an Intel development system of the time and so was purchased by companies interested in developing microprocessor control for their own products. Expansion memory boards and peripherals were soon listed by the original manufacturer, and later by plug-compatible manufacturers. The very first Microsoft product was a 4 kilobyte paper tape BASIC interpreter, which allowed users to develop programs in a higher-level language. The alternative was to hand-assemble machine code that could be directly loaded into the microcomputer's memory using a front panel of toggle switches, pushbuttons and LED displays. While the hardware front panel emulated those used by early mainframe and minicomputers, after a very short time I/O through a terminal was the preferred human/machine interface, and front panels became extinct.

Heathkit and Zenith

In 1978, the Heath company introduced the Heathkit H-8 computer. Early hobbyist computers like the Altair had previously also been sold in kit form, but Heath had real experience in producing kit electronic equipment and the Heath name carried confidence with it. The H-8 was successful, as were the H-19 and H-29 terminals, and the H-89 one piece terminal/computer (The H-8 and H-89 ran their own custom operating system, HDOS). The H-11, a low-end DEC PDP-11 16-bit computer, was less successful probably because it was substantially more expensive than the 8-bit computer line. (A generation earlier (1956), Heathkit sold a kit for a vacuum tube analog computer which could also be considered a form of personal computer. [cite paper | author=Heath Company | title=Heath Electronic Analog Computer Kit | version= | format=.PDF | publisher=Daystrom, Incorporated | url=http://archive.computerhistory.org/resources/text/Heath/Heath.Analog.1956.102646297.pdf#search=%22tube%20computer%20kit%22 | date= | accessdate=2008-02-13]

Zenith Radio Company bought Heath Company from Schlumberger in 1979, renaming the computer division Zenith Data Systems (ZDS). Zenith was in the vanguard of companies to start selling personal computers to small businesses. The H-89 kit was re-branded as the Z89/Z90, an assembled all-in-one system with a monitor and a floppy disk drive. Zenith had agreements with Peachtree software to sell a customized "turn-key" version of Peachtree's accounting, CPA and real estate management software. Shortly after the release of the Z90, Zenith released a 5 MB hard disk unit and double density external floppy disk drives.

While the H11 was popular with hard-core hobbyists, Heath engineers realized that DEC design would not be able to get Heath up the road to more powerful systems. Heath/Zenith then designed a dual Intel 8085/8088 based system dubbed the H-100 (or Z-100, in preassembled form). The machine featured very advanced (for the day) bitmapped video that allowed up to 640 x 512 pixels of 8 color graphics. The 100 was interesting in that it could run either the CP/M operating system, or their OEM version of MS-DOS, called Z-DOS.

Apple II, TRS-80 and Commodore PET

1977 saw a race to be the first commercially successful pre-built microcomputer. The competitors were the Apple Computer Apple II, Commodore International PET 2001 and the Tandy TRS-80 Model I. The MOS Technology 6502 series microprocessor lead to a reduction in the expense of creating computing systems. The Commodore PET, the TRS 80, and the Apple II, later called the "1977 Trinity" by "Byte" magazine, are often cited as the first personal computers; "Byte" had in 1982 referred to the original Commodore PET design as "the world's first personal computer". [cite web
url = http://www.commodore.ca/gallery/magazines/misc/chuck_peddle-byte-november_1982_sm.pdf
title = Chuck Peddle: Chief Designer of the Victor 9000
accessdate = 2008-06-14
author = Phil Lemmons
date = November 1982
work = Byte Magazine
] The design of the PET, a single integrated machine with a built in monitor, keyboard, and datasette device, and a character set that made graphics easy to produce, went on to inspire Apple's popular Macintosh computer.fact|date=June 2008

Apple II

Steve Wozniak (known as "Woz"), a regular visitor to Homebrew Computer Club meetings, designed the single-board "Apple I" computer and first demonstrated it there. With specifications in hand and an order for 100 machines at US$666.66 each from the Byte Shop, Woz and his friend Steve Jobs founded Apple Computer.

About 200 of the machines sold before the company announced the "Apple II" as a complete computer. Its higher price and lack of floating point BASIC, along with a lack of retail distribution sites, caused it to lag in sales behind the TRS-80, its clones, Commodore PET and other machines until 1979 when it surpassed the PET 2001; it was again pushed into 4th when Atari introduced its popular Atari 8-bit systems. [cite news | author=Jeremy Reimer | title=Total share: 30 years of personal computer market share figures; The new era (2001- ) | url=http://arstechnica.com/articles/culture/total-share.ars/9 | pages=9 | work=Ars Technica | date=14 December 2005 | accessdate=2008-02-13]

It had color graphics, high build quality and open architecture. The machine came with a built-in full QWERTY keyboard in the flat streamlined plastic case. The monitor and I/O devices were sold separately. The original Apple II operating system was only the built-in BASIC interpreter contained in ROM. Apple DOS was added to support the diskette drive; the last version was "Apple DOS 3.3".

More than 4 million Apple IIs were shipped by the end of its production in 1993.cite news | author=Jeremy Reimer | title=Personal Computer Market Share: 1975-2004 | url=http://www.jeremyreimer.com/total_share.html | work=Ars Technica | date=December 2005 | accessdate=2008-02-13]


Chuck Peddle designed the "Commodore PET" (short for Personal Electronic Transactor). It was essentially a single-board computer with a new display chip (the MOS 6545) driving a small built-in monochrome monitor with 40×25 character graphics. It came in 2 models; the 2001-4 with 4kb or the 2001-8 with 8kb of RAM. The machine also included a built-in Datassette for data storage located on the front of the case, which left little room for the keyboard. The 2001 was announced in June 1977 and the first 100 units were shipped in mid October 1977. [cite journal | author=What's New | year=1978 | month=February | title=Commodore Ships First PET Computers | journal=BYTE | volume=3 | issue=2 | pages=190 | publisher=Byte Publications Commodore press release. "The PET computer made its debut recently as the first 100 units were shipped to waiting customers in mid October 1977."] However they remained back-ordered for months, and to ease deliveries they eventually canceled the 4 kB version early the next year.

Although the machine was fairly successful, there were frequent complaints about the tiny calculator-like keyboard, often referred to as a "Chiclet keyboard" due to the keys' resemblance to the popular gum candy.This was addressed in upgraded "dash N" and "dash B" versions of the 2001, which put the cassette outside the case, and included a much larger keyboard with a full stroke non-click motion. Internally a newer and simpler motherboard was used, along with an upgrade in memory to 8, 16, or 32 KB, known as the 2001-N-8, 2001-N-16 or 2001-N-32, respectively.

The PET was the least successful with under 1 million sales.


From Steve Leininger [Essex, David. "Where Are They Now?" 80 micro August 1987: 57.] came the "TRS-80", Tandy Corporation's desktop microcomputer model line sold through Tandy's Radio Shack stores in the late 1970s and 1980s. Hobbyists, home users, and small-businesses were the intended consumers. Its was nickname "Trash 80" was both a term of endearment and an insult. No matter for the popularity of the TRS-80 computer with its users resulted in a successful venture for Tandy Corporation. Tandy had 3000+ Radio Shack storefronts from which to retail the TRS-80 while the PET and Apple II were mostly mail-order machines. This helped give it the leading position in the "1977 Trinity" years.

The Model I combined the motherboard and keyboard into one unit with a separate power supply unit. It used a Zilog Z80 processor clocked at 1.77 MHz (the latest models were shipped with a Z80A). The basic model originally shipped with 4 KB of RAM, and later 16 KB. Its other strong features were its full stroke QWERTY keyboard, small size, well written Floating BASIC and inclusion of a monitor and tape deck all for US$599, a savings of US$600 over the Apple II. Its major drawback was the massive RF interference it caused in surrounding electronics, which caused it to run afoul of newer FCC regulations - a problem solved only by the Model I's retirement in favor of the TRS-80 Model III.

About 1.5 million of the TRS-80 line were sold before their cancellation in 1985.

Into homes

As costs continued to drop, home usage began to take off. Initial models such as Sinclair's ZX80 were unimpressive and hence sold only in relatively small numbers, although its successor the ZX81 sold in large numbers outside the USA. It was the introduction of home computers such as the Atari and ZX Spectrum, capable of playing more complex games in colour with sound, that opened millions of front doors to home computing.

Many other home computers came onto the market, including the Atari 8-bit family, the TI 99/4A, the BBC Micro, the Amstrad/Schneider CPC 464/CPC 646/CPC 6128 family, the Oric Atmos, the Coleco Adam, the SWTPC 6800 and 6809 machines, the Tandy Color Computer/Dragon 32/64, the Exidy Sorcerer, and the Japanese MSX range.

Of these, the Sinclair and BBC models were very influential in the British market, with the former introduced at an exceptional low cost (under £100), and the latter developed to meet the BBC and UK government's goals of introducing computer literacy to all schools and elsewhere in education and becoming widely popular in the home.

Atari 400/800

In 1979 Atari 400 and Atari 800 introduced the ROM cartridge similar to the Atari 2600 game console to the microcomputer. This allowed pre-made applications in cartridge form to be sold which could be inserted and executed in seconds--a great advantage over cassette-tape installs. The names originally referred to the amount of memory, 4 KB RAM in the 400 and 8 KB in the 800. These two machines had design differences with the 400 being cheaper and targeting a game console niche while the 800 targeted the personal computer niche. The 400 had a membrane keyboard, no memory expansion slots and a single ROM cartridge slot. The 800 had a full-stroke QWERTY, an external memory slot and 2 ROM cartridge slots. They both came with a proprietary (and expensive) serial interface called Serial Input/Output (SIO). All external devices were connected using this interface in a daisy-chain fashion. Microsoft BASIC was 12 KB, and all of Atari's attempts to pare it down to 8 KB failed. So a local consulting firm delivered 8kb Atari BASIC which came on a ROM cartridge.

These two machines sold over two million boxes by the end of their production life.

Vic 20 and Commodore 64

Commodore added the ROM cartridge to its designs and produced the VIC-20, which had a full typewriter keyboard, color and sound, 3.5K of user accessible memory, one side ROM cartridge port and a much lower price than Apple's offerings. It was a successful home computer and sold over one million units but was replaced by the Commodore 64.

The best-selling personal computer of all time was released by Commodore International in 1982: the Commodore 64 (C64) sold over 17 million units before its end. [cite news | first=Leander | last=Kahney | url=http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0,60349-0.html | title=Grandiose Price for a Modest PC | publisher=Lycos | work=Wired | accessdate=2006-10-25] Magazines such as Compute! became available which contained the code for various utilities and games. Both machines connected to a TV set and needed an external tape deck or floppy disk sold separately. The C64 name derived from its 64kb of RAM and it also came with a side mount ROM cartridge slot. It used the MOS Technology 6502 microprocessor CPU; MOS Technology, Inc. was owned by Commodore. The C64, the hybrid Commodore C128 and Commodore's other 8-bit computers were followed in 1985 by the more powerful Commodore Amiga 1000, which was built around the Motorola 68000 CPU. The Amiga 1000 computer had amazing graphics and versatility for its time.

Back to business

It was the launch of the VisiCalc spreadsheet, initially for the Apple II (and later for the Atari 8-bit family, Commodore PET, and IBM PC) that turned the microcomputer into a business tool. An Apple employee discovered in 1980 that IBM's San Jose research lab had purchased several Apple IIs, solely to run VisiCalc.Fact|date=July 2007

This was followed by the August 12, 1981 release of the IBM PC, which would revolutionize the computer market. Lotus 1-2-3, a combined spreadsheet (inspired by VisiCalc), presentation graphics, and simple database application, would become the PC's own killer application. Good word processor programs didn't appear for personal computers until 1985. The earlier versions were dominated by WordStar but were not comparable to standalone word processors or those found on mini-computers. WordPerfect 4.1 for the IBM PC and Microsoft Word 1.0 for the Apple Macintosh both released in 1985 were enough reason to justify the entire cost of purchasing the computers for individual office workers, giving these programs the status of killer applications. [cite journal | last=Haigh | first=Thomas | title=Remembering the Office of the Future: The Origins of Word Processing and Office Automation | date=June 2006 | format=.PDF | journal=IEEE Computer Society | pages=16, 25 | volume=1058 | issue=6180 | url=http://www.tomandmaria.com/tom/Writing/Annals2006WP.pdf | accessdate=2009-02-13]


In 1980, IBM decided to enter the personal computer market in response to the success of the Apple II. The first model was the "IBM PC", released in August, 1981. Like the Apple II and S-100 systems, it was based on an open, card-based architecture, which allowed third parties to develop for it. It used the Intel 8088 CPU running at 4.77 MHz, containing 29000 transistors. The first model used an audio cassette for external storage, though there was an expensive floppy disk option. The cassette option was never popular and was removed in the PC XT of 1983. [ [http://www.oldcomputers.arcula.co.uk/intl1.htm The Old Computer Hut - Intel family microcomputers (1) ] ] The XT added a 10MB hard drive in place of one of the two floppy disks and increased the number of expansion slots from 5 to 8. While the original PC design could accommodate only up to 64k on the main board, the architecture was able to accommodate up to 640KB of RAM, with the rest on cards. Later revisions of the design increased the limit to 256K on the main board.

The IBM PC typically came with PC-DOS, an operating system based upon Gary Kildall's CP/M-80 operating system. In 1980, IBM approached Digital Research, Kildall's company, for a version of CP/M for its upcoming IBM PC. Kildall's wife and business partner, Dorothy McEwen, met with the IBM representatives who were unable to negotiate a standard non-disclosure agreement with her. IBM turned to Bill Gates, who was already providing the ROM BASIC interpreter for the PC. Gates offered to provide 86-DOS, developed by Tim Paterson of Seattle Computer Products. IBM rebranded it as PC-DOS, while Microsoft sold variations and upgrades as MS-DOS.

The impact of the Apple II and the IBM PC was fully demonstrated when "Time Magazine" named the home computer the "Machine of the Year", or Person of the Year for 1982 (January 3, 1983, "The Computer Moves In"). It was the first time in the history of the magazine that an inanimate object was given this award.

IBM PC clones

The original PC design was followed up in 1983 by the IBM XT, which was an incrementally improved design; it omitted support for the cassette, had more card slots, and was available with a 10MB hard drive. Although mandatory at first, the hard drive was later made an option and a two floppy disk XT was sold. While the architectural memory limit of 640K was the same, later versions were more readily expandable.

Although the PC and XT included a version of the BASIC language in read-only memory, most were purchased with disk drives and run with an operating system; three operating systems were initially announced with the PC. One was CP/M-86 from Digital Research, the second was PC-DOS from IBM, and the third was the UCSD p-System (from the University of California at San Diego). PC-DOS was the IBM branded version of an operating system from Microsoft, previously best known for supplying BASIC language systems to computer hardware companies. When sold by Microsoft, PC-DOS was called MS-DOS. The UCSD p-System OS was built around the Pascal programming language and was not marketed to the same niche as IBM's customers. Neither the p-System nor CPM-86 was a commercial success.

Because MS-DOS was available as a separate product, some companies attempted to make computers available which could run MS-DOS and programs. These early machines, including the ACT Apricot, the DEC rainbow 100, the Hewlett-Packard HP-150, the Seequa Chameleon and many others were not especially successful, as they required a customized version of MS-DOS, and could not run programs designed specifically for IBM's hardware. See List of early non-IBM-PC-compatible PCs.

Because the IBM PC was based on relatively standard integrated circuits, and the basic card-slot design was not patented, the key portion of that hardware was actually the BIOS software embedded in read-only memory. The first truly IBM PC compatible machines came from Compaq, although others soon followed.

In 1984, IBM introduced the IBM Personal Computer/AT (more often called the PC/AT or AT) built around the Intel 80286 microprocessor. This chip was much faster, and could address up to 16MB of RAM but only in a mode that largely broke compatibility with the earlier 8086 and 8088. In particular, the MS-DOS operating system was not able to take advantage of this capability. A popular legend has Bill Gates of Microsoft stating "Why would anyone need more than 640KB?".


The Processor Technology Corporation produced the Sol-20 in 1976 and although it only sold 10,000 units it is significant because it had all the parts to be a stand-alone micro-computer. It came with a full QWERTY keyboard, storage tapedeck, 12" monochrome monitor and housed in a walnut paneled case with a power supply. It was built on the Intel 8080 CPU and had the standard S100 hardware bus giving it access to expansion cards and came with BASIC programming language all for US$2,100.

One of the first desk top business computers to come onto the market was the Archives Business Computer, built in Davenport, Iowa (1978-1983). Based on the Intel 8080 CPU, Archives claim to fame was the detachable IBM Selectric-style keyboard with dedicated top row function keys. Archives was helped in its marketing efforts by being featured in early Wordstar marketing materials. Author Arthur C. Clarke wrote "2010:Odyssey Two" on his Archives computer. He used a satellite to transmit the book from his home in Sri Lanka,to his publisher. Archives was the first computer to offer a built in hard disk drive (Seagate Winchester model ST-506, 5 megabyte).

Apple Lisa and Macintosh

In 1983 Apple Computer introduced the first mass-marketed microcomputer with a graphical user interface, the Lisa. The Lisa ran on a Motorola 68000 microprocessor and came equipped with 1 megabyte of RAM, a convert|12|in|mm|sing=on black-and-white monitor, dual 5¼-inch floppy disk drives and a 5 megabyte Profile hard drive. The Lisa's slow operating speed and high price (US$10,000), however, led to its commercial failure. It also led to the decision by Steve Jobs to move to the Apple Macintosh team.

Drawing upon its experience with the Lisa, in 1984 Apple launched the Macintosh. Its debut was announced by a single broadcast during the 1984 Super Bowl XVIII of the now famous television commercial "1984" created by Ridley Scott and based on George Orwell's novel "1984". The intention of the ad was to equate "Big Brother" with the IBM PC and a nameless female action hero (portrayed by Anya Major), with the Macintosh.

The Mac was the first successful mouse-driven computer with a graphical user interface or 'WIMP' (Windows, Icons, Menus, and Pointers). Based on the Motorola 68000 microprocessor, the Macintosh included many of the Lisa's features at a price of US$2,495. The Macintosh was initially introduced with 128 kb of RAM and later that year a 512 kb RAM model became available. To reduce costs compared the Lisa, the year-younger Macintosh had a simplified motherboard design, no internal hard drive, and a single 3.5" floppy drive. Applications that came with the Macintosh included MacPaint, a bit-mapped graphics program, and MacWrite, which demonstrated WYSIWYG word processing.

While not an immediate success upon its release, the Macintosh was a successful personal computer for years to come. This is particularly due to the introduction of desktop publishing in 1985 through Apple's partnership with Adobe. This partnership introduced the LaserWriter printer and Aldus PageMaker (now Adobe PageMaker) to users of the personal computer. After Steve Jobs resigned from Apple in 1985 to start NeXT, a number of different models of Macintosh, including the Macintosh Plus and Macintosh II, were released to a great degree of success. The entire Macintosh line of computers was IBM's major competition up until the early 1990s.

Other graphical computers

In the Commodore world, GEOS was available on the Commodore 64 and Commodore 128. Later, a version was available for PCs running DOS. It could be used with a mouse or a joystick as a pointing device, and came with a suite of GUI applications. Commodore's later product line, the Amiga platform, ran a GUI operating system by default. The Amiga laid the blueprint for future development of personal computers with its groundbreaking graphics and sound capabilities. Byte Magazine called it "the first multimedia computer... so far ahead of its time that almost nobody could fully articulate what it was all about." [http://www.byte.com/art/9408/sec14/art1.htm]

In 1985, the Atari ST, also based on the Motorola 68000 microprocessor, was introduced with the first color GUI in the Atari TOS. It could be modified to emulate the Macintosh using the third-party Spectre GCR device.

In 1987, Acorn launched the Archimedes range of high-performance home computers in Europe and Australasia. Based around their own 32-bit ARM RISC processor, the systems initially shipped with a GUI OS called Arthur. In 1989, Arthur was superseded by a multi-tasking GUI-based operating system called RISC OS. By default, the mice used on these computers had three buttons.

PC clones dominate

The transition from a PC-compatible market being driven by IBM to one driven primarily by a broader market began to become clear in 1986 and 1987; in 1986, the 32-bit Intel 80386 microprocessor was released, and the first '386-based PC-compatible was the Compaq Deskpro 386. IBM's response came nearly a year later with the initial release of the IBM Personal System/2 series of computers, which had a closed architecture and were a significant departure from the emerging "standard PC". These models were largely unsuccessful, and the PC Clone style machines outpaced sales of all other machines through the rest of this period. [cite news | author=Jeremy Reimer | title=Total share: 30 years of personal computer market share figures; The rise of the PC (1987-1990)| url=http://arstechnica.com/articles/culture/total-share.ars/6 | pages=6; | work=Ars Technica | date=14 December 2005 | accessdate=2008-02-13] Toward the end of the 1980s PC XT clones began to take over the home computer market segment from the specialty manufacturers such as Commodore and Atari that had previously dominated. These systems typically sold for just under the "magic" $1000 price point (typically $999) and were sold via mail order rather than a traditional dealer network. This price was achieved by using the older 8/16 bit technology, such as the 8088 CPU, instead of the 32-bits of the latest Intel CPUs. These CPUs were usually made by a third party such as Cyrix or AMD. Dell started out as one of these manufacturers, under its original name PC Limited.

1990s and 2000s

In 1990, the NeXTstation workstation computer went on sale, for "interpersonal" computing as Steve Jobs described it. The NeXTstation was meant to be a new computer for the 1990s, and was a cheaper version of the previous NeXT Computer. The NeXTstation was somewhat a commercial failure, and NeXT shut down hardware operations in 1993.

The early 1990s saw the advent of the CD ROM as an oncoming industry standard, by the mid-90s one was built-in to almost all desktop computers, and towards the end of the 1990s, in laptops as well. Although introduced in 1982, the CD ROM was mostly used for audio during the 1980s, and then for computer data such as operating systems and applications into the 1990s. Another popular use of CD ROMs in the 1990s was multimedia, as many desktop computers started to come with built-in stereo speakers capable of playing CD quality music and sounds with the SoundBlaster sound card on PCs.

The ROM in CD-ROM, of course, stands for Read Only Memory. Later, rewritable CD-RW drives were included instead of standard CD ROM drives. This gave the personal computer user the capability to "burn" standard Audio CDs which were playable in any CD player. Later, as computer hardware grew more powerful and the MP3 format became pervasive, "ripping" CDs into small, compressed files on a computer's hard drive became popular. File sharing networks such as Napster and Gnutella arose and became a primary computer activity for many individuals.

IBM introduced its successful ThinkPad range at Comdex 1992 using the series designators 300, 500 and 700 (allegedly analogous to the BMW car range and used to indicate market), the 300 series being the "budget", the 500 series "midrange" and the 700 series "high end". This designation continued until the late 1990's when IBM introduced the "T" series as 600/700 series replacements, and the 3,5 and 7 series model designations were phased out for A (3&7) & X (5) series. The A series was later partially replaced by the R series.

In 1994, the Zip drive was introduced by Iomega as a medium-capacity removable disk storage system. It aimed to replace the standard convert|3.5|in|mm|sing=on floppy disk but failed to do so. Before the Zip was introduced, SyQuest was popular brand of removable media and drives, but these were expensive and largely unsuccessful due to reliability issues. Zip drives are still being sold as of 2008, however writable CDs are more common.

By the mid 1990s, Amiga, Commodore and Atari systems were no longer on the market, pushed out by strong IBM PC clone competition and low prices. Other previous competition such as Sinclair and Amstrad were no longer in the computer market. With less competition than ever before, Dell rose to high profits and success, introducing low-cost systems targeted at consumers and business markets using a direct-sales model. Dell surpassed Compaq as the world's largest computer manufacturer, and held that position until October 2006.

In 1994, Apple introduced the Power Macintosh series of high-end professional desktop computers for desktop publishing and graphic designers. These new computers made use of new Motorola PowerPC processors as part of the AIM alliance, to replace the previous Motorola 68k architecture used for the Macintosh line. During the '90s, the Macintosh remained with a low market share, but as the primary choice for creative professionals, particularly those in the graphics and publishing industries.

Also in 1994, Acorn Computers launched its Risc PC series of high-end desktop computers. The Risc PC (codenamed Medusa) was Acorn's next generation ARM-based RISC OS computer, which superseded the Acorn Archimedes.

In 1995, Be Inc. released the BeBox computer, which used a dual PowerPC processor running at 66 MHz, and later 133 MHz with the Be operating system. The BeBox was largely a failure, with fewer than 2000 units produced between October 1995 and January 1997, when production was ceased.

Due to the sales growth of IBM clones in the '90s, they became the industry standard for business and home use. This growth was augmented by the introduction of Microsoft's Windows 3.0 operating environment in 1990, and followed by Windows 3.1 in 1992 and the Windows 95 operating system in 1995. The Macintosh was sent into a period of decline by the mid 1990s, and by 1996, Apple was almost bankrupt. Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, and brought Apple back into profitability, firstly with the release of Mac OS 8, a new operating system for Macintosh computers, and with the PowerMac G3 and iMac computers for the professional and home markets. The iMac was notable for it's transparent bondi blue casing in an ergonomic shape, as well as its discarding of legacy devices such as a floppy drive and serial ports in favor of Ethernet and USB connectivity. The iMac sold several million units and a subsequent model using a different form factor remains in production as at July 2008. Mac OS X, iLife and iBook were later introduced by Apple.

The first PC motherboards to support Rambus RDRAM (Rambus Direct DRAM), a type of synchronous dynamic RAM, were released in 1999. RDRAM was also two to three times the price of PC-133 SDRAM due to a combination of high manufacturing costs and high license fees. RDRAM is very rarely used today.

Since the late 1990s, many more personal computers started shipping that included USB (Universal Serial Bus) ports for easy plug and play connectivity to devices such as digital cameras, video cameras, personal digital assistants, printers, scanners, USB flash drives and other peripheral devices. By the early 2000s, all shipping computers for the consumer market included at least 2 USB ports. Also during the late 1990s DVD players started appearing on high-end, usually more expensive, desktop and laptop computers, and eventually on consumer computers into the 2000s.

In 2002, Hewlett-Packard (HP) purchased Compaq. Compaq itself had bought Tandem Computers in 1997 (which had been started by ex-HP employees), and Digital Equipment Corporation in 1998. Following this strategy HP became a major player in desktops, laptops, and servers for many different markets. The buyout made HP the world's largest manufacturer of personal computers, until Dell later surpassed HP.

In 2003, AMD shipped its 64-bit based microprocessor line for desktop computers, Opteron and Athlon 64. Also in 2003, IBM released the 64-bit based PowerPC 970 for Apple's high-end PowerMac G5 systems. Intel, in 2004, reacted to AMD's success with 64-bit based processors, releasing updated versions of their Xeon and Pentium 4 lines. 64-bit processors were first common in high end systems, servers and workstations, and then gradually replaced 32-bit processors in consumer desktop and laptop systems in the second half of the 2000s.

In 2004, IBM announced the proposed sale of its PC business to Chinese computer maker Lenovo Group, which is partially owned by the Chinese government, for US$650 million in cash and $600 million US in Lenovo stock. The deal was approved by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States in March 2005, and completed in May 2005. IBM will have a 19% stake in Lenovo, which will move its headquarters to New York State and appoint an IBM executive as its chief executive officer. The company will retain the right to use certain IBM brand names for an initial period of five years. As a result of the purchase, Lenovo inherited a product line that featured the ThinkPad, a line of laptops that had been one of IBM's most successful products.

In the early 2000s, WiFi began to become increasingly more popular as many consumers started installing their own wireless home networks. Many of today's laptops and also some desktop computers are sold pre-installed with wireless cards and antennas. Also in the early 2000s, LCD monitors became the most popular technology for computer monitors, with CRT production being slowed down. LCD monitors are typically sharper, brighter, and more economical than CRT monitors. The 2000s also saw the rise of multi-core processors and flash memory. Once limited to high-end industrial use due to expense, these technologies are now mainstream and available to consumers. in 2008 the Macbook Air and Asus EEEPC were released, laptops that dispense with a hard drive entirely relying on flash memory for storage.

Microprocessor-based servers and networks

The invention in the late 1970s of local area networks (LANs), notably Ethernet, allowed PCs to communicate with each other (peer-to-peer) and with shared printers.

As the microcomputer revolution continued, more robust versions of the same technology were used to produce microprocessor based servers that could also be linked to the LAN. This was facilitated by the development of server operating systems to run on the Intel architecture, including several versions of both Unix and Microsoft Windows.

With the development of storage area networks and server farms of thousands of servers, by the year 2000 the minicomputer had all but disappeared, and mainframes were largely restricted to specialized uses. The Google server farm is thought to be the largest, with a total calculation rate three times that of Earth Simulator or Blue Gene, as of September 29, 2004.-


In 2001 125 million personal computers were shipped in comparison to 48 thousand in 1977. More than 500 million PCs were in use in 2002 and one billion personal computers had been sold worldwide since mid-1970s till this time. Of the latter figure, 75 percent were professional or work related, while the rest sold for personal or home use. About 81.5 percent of PCs shipped had been desktop computers, 16.4 percent laptops and 2.1 percent servers. United States had received 38.8 percent (394 million) of the computers shipped, Europe 25 percent and 11.7 percent had gone to Asia-Pacific region, the fastest-growing market as of 2002. [http://news.cnet.com/2100-1040-940713.html PCs: More than 1 billion served] ] Almost half of all the households in Western Europe had a personal computer and a computer could be found in 40 percent of homes in United Kingdom, compared with only 13 percent in 1985. [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/2077986.stm Computers reach one billion mark] ]

As of June 2008, the number of personal computers worldwide in use hit one billion. Mature markets like the United States, Western Europe and Japan accounted for 58 percent of the worldwide installed PCs. About 180 million PCs (16 percent of the existing installed base) were expected to be replaced and 35 million to be dumped into landfill in 2008. The whole installed base grew 12 percent annually. [ [http://www.gartner.com/it/page.jsp?id=703807 Gartner Says More than 1 Billion PCs In Use Worldwide and Headed to 2 Billion Units by 2014] ] [ [http://www.reuters.com/article/technologyNews/idUSL2324525420080623 Computers in use pass 1 billion mark: Gartner] ]

Dell sold the most personal computers in second quarter of 2008 in the U.S. [ [http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2325860,00.asp Apple Climbs Into Third Place in U.S. PC Market - News and Analysis by PC Magazine ] ]

ee also

Programma 101, a 1965 programmable calculator with some attributes of a personal computer


External links

* [http://www.willyhoops.com/microsoft_vs_apple_history.htm A Short History of the GUI, Apple & Microsoft]
* [http://www.pcmuseum.ca Personal Computer Museum] – A physical museum you can visit in Brantford, Ontario, Canada
* [http://www.oldcomputermuseum.com/My_Collection.html Old Computers Museum] – Displaying over 100 historic machines.
* [http://www.islandnet.com/~kpolsson/comphist Chronology of Personal Computers] - a chronology of computers from 1947 on
* [http://www.blinkenlights.com/pc.shtml BlinkenLights Archaeological Insititute - Personal Computer Milestones]
* [http://arstechnica.com/articles/culture/total-share.ars/ "Total share: 30 years of personal computer market share figures"]

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