It's time again to rewind that fleshy cassette storage device in your head to yesteryear. This old box logo This week, we're headed back to August 12, 1981 — the date IBM introduced its Personal Computer, a system that would shape the industry and make the term "PC" synonymous with home computers. But let's not get ahead of …
"ogle your hardware"
hehe, I bet there was no inuendo inferred there!
Ah! The beeb?
At least the beeb (BBC computer/Archimedes?) did not have quite so demanding a footprint and all that RISK?
No No No !
"a small company called Microsoft, which had built some fame for itself as the creator of BASIC Programming Language"
It's bad enough that every kid today thinks that Bill Gates "invented the computer" without El Reg spreading this kind of rubbish, The BASIC programming language was developed by Kemeny and Kurtz in 1963 (when Bill Gates was still in short trousers).
I think what you meant to say was "a small company called Microsoft, which had built some fame for itself as the creator of a BASIC interpreter for the Altair 8800".
Whoever invented BASIC...
...it certainly wasn't MicroSoft.
BASIC was written at Dartmouth College in 1963 and was widespread on mainframes and minicomputers within the next decade.
What MicroSoft wrote wasn't the first microcomputer BASIC either. That was Tiny BASIC, defined in 1975: I saw it running on an SWTPc microcomputer in an NYC computer store in 1976.
What they wrote was the first portable 8 bit BASIC, M-BASIC. This rapidly spread across most microcomputer operating systems and hardware because it was good and it allowed BASIC applications to be easily ported. As a result it made them the money to buy QDOS and then bootstrap it into MS-DOS.
Re: Whoever invented BASIC...
Thanks for the catch on BASIC. My fault for letting that slip through. Story has been fixed.
C:\> ? not half.
A 1981 era PC would have only had DOS 1.0, which it is unlikely would have come with a hard drive, since it didn't have support for directories (added in 2.0). (Hence the stupid path char). So no C drive, or extra prompt part. Further, that prompt was only default in quite recent (5ish) version of DOS, before that it was plain old A> or C>
I wonder how IBM
feels about this now. It's hard to believe they didn't do the operating system in house strange days indeed.
Intel would now be dust...
...if IBM had picked the 68000 as the processor. They would be still making DRAM and EPROMS as the name INTegreated ELectronics implies. Oh well. We're stuck with this decision for ever more.
At this point I can only dream of what should be. Such is life (*SIGH*)
"BASIC was written at Dartmouth College in 1963 and was widespread on mainframes and minicomputers within the next decade."
And BASIC is possibly the only worthwhile thing to come from New Hampshire.
I take that back, the "Old Man of the Mountain" was pretty cool when he fell off the mountain. If you haven't seen it, it's worth the laugh, the "Old Man" fell off and all that remains is a huge pile of stones - across the highway is the favored viewpoint of the "Old Man" and now there are signs that explain how it fell off and why, mostly Asian and Eastern European tourists can no longer languish in the magnificence of "The Man".
The signs alone are worth the trip to NH.
The old microsoft branding sucked :)
@Grundy - WTF have those rocks to do with the PC or IT in general?
Anyway - I remember getting the first PC in the Byte Shop and wondering why IBM thought they could break into the microcomputer business. Compared to some of the CP/M business machines (Sol-20 anyone? - I've already mentioned the Cromemco and the North Star Horizon in the PET thread) it was very expensive, had a non-standard operating system (at the time!), and had limited expansion capability. But it was IBM and the Big Blue branding was very important to corporates. When I worked at Lloyds Bank there used to be a running joke - Why are London Buses red? Because if they were blue, Lloyds would buy them.
@El Reg - slightly off topic. I know, but are you going to cover the Osborne 1 (or was it 2?) you know, the one that was about as portable as an electric sewing machine and about the same shape?
The guys at CP/M...
...did not show disinterest. They were just unfortunate: Gary Kildall was out of the office when IBM came round, and the guys and gals there weren't willing to sign the NDAs IBM wanted them to sign. So IBM just went to the next supplier...
History will probably show that incident to be the most expensive out-of-office decision, ever: It's a good example of opportunity knocking only once!
As for the 68000, IBM originally going to choose it for Project Chess. It was a lucky campaign by Intel that got them into the picture - not merely a decision by IBM, although they did have the final say of course. Intel was always far better at marketing than Motorola, which is why Intel is where it is today, and why Motorola *isn't* where Intel is today. As much as I love the 68k (I hacked around in 68k on my Amiga for most of my youth), it's fairly obvious that Motorola weren't up to the challenge posed by Intel - either R&D-wise or marketing-wise. Their CPUs went to the embedded market, and nobody's heard of them since.
Many people (particularly applications programmers at Microsoft), totally hated the x86 instruction set. Some of the guys who worked on Office for the Mac (who were, of course, lucky enough to use the 68k) - even said that there were some things that just could not be done on the x86. With the horrible segmented memory model that was ubiquitous before the days of the 386, that's actually pretty easy to believe. It was awful. But in the end, IBM and Compaq (with other vendors soon to follow) were shipping the lion's share of the market, and Apple - the only non-x86 vendor was barely a blip on the radar. So what choice did you have? Ignore 99% of the market for ease of programming, or cash in because everyone bought these IBM compatibles?
It's an interesting point that IBM's machines got cloned. If it hadn't been for Compaq, it's likely we would have seen the 386 chip in PCs a *lot* later than it came out. IBM had its own mainframe business, and it did not want to see 32-bit chips on the desktop. But then along came Compaq, who had no mainframe business to protect - and Intel was only too pleased to let them sell 386-based clones.
Read it again
I think you'll find it says "as the creator of a BASIC interpreter for the Altair 8800"
Not the inventor of BASIC.
> Big Blue was able to own the personal computer market until the end of the '80s
Really? I'm sure Alan Michael Sugar of Amstrad fame would like to hear about that. He introduced the Amstrad 1512 and then 1640 in about 1986, and I think he sold one or three of those - it's possible that Paris Hilton might have got hold of one (hang on a minute though - either the owner was trash or the thing being owned was trash - it wouldn't be right for both ends of the ownership chain to be trash now would it?).
Picking a CPU because the others were "too powerful"?
No, they weren't too powerful, instead they would have required a 16-bit design around them making the thing too expensive, and in the case of the 68000 the part itself was probably quite expensive as well. It is interesting to speculate how things would have turned out had the 8-bit external bus variant of the 68000 (the 68008) been available at the time...
Even back then they knew how to actually sell things to businesses and (to a lesser extent back then) home users- "more software!" "Easier to program for!"- rather than "It's open source!" "It's more secure!" and other such things that 75% of the world don't care about until it's too late (hacked, patent issues, etc). For a car comparison, people ask "how many Horses does it have?", "How fast does it go", or maybe "how many MPGs?" or "How many seats?". When was the last time Top Gear covered a car because it had a large number of airbags or a really great security system?
Linux, fantastic OS though it is, really could learn a lot from MS's marketing if it wants to hit the big time!
@"I wonder how IBM"'s Annonymous Coward, and "Tom", if IBM had made it's own in-house OS and used the 68000, wouldn't that have made them... Apple?
Oh the good old days...
I remember a friend of mine asking a PC engineer to fix a computer which had started giving "Bad or missing command interpreter." He charged £160, which I thought was rediculous.
It wasn't until I had a look at the PC and saw it had a 5.25" FDD that I understood...
This was 10 years ago...
I feel old.
(I wasn't born in 1981)
'User friendly error messages'
Where did it all go wrong?
the IBM PC ..
> Big Blue was able to own the personal computer market until the end of the '80s.
The begining of the end was when Columbia Data Products produced the first PC clone in 1982, followed by Eagle Computer (who tha') and Compaq. They did this by figuring out how to cleanroom the BIOS and Microsoft were more than willing to license MS-DOS to these IBM PC clone companies. IBM later tried to clawback control of the PC with OS/2 only to fail, yet gain ...
I remember it different ..
> IBM also decided to create an open architecture .. Other manufacturers would be allowed to build and sell peripherals and software, thus creating the "IBM-compatible" legacy of PC equipment.
Not so open that other manufacturers would be able to walk off with the IBM PC. They later on tried to clawback the PC with their own interface (Micro Channel architecture), only to fail again ..
Secondly IBM considered 'software' irrelevent, it was the hardware was where the money was. That they had a plan to create the IBM PC software/peripherals industry is news to me and I'm sure to the executives that were around at the time.
> Project Chess was juggling between using the 16-bit Intel 8086 processor, Motorola MC68000 and the Intel 8088. The latter was eventually chosen because the others were determined to be too powerful.
Another opinion was IBM choose a low-spec design so as not to cut into their more expensive hardware based word processor ...
Re: Read it again
@Neil: If you look further up the comment thread you'll see an entry from the author acknowledging the mistake and saying that it's been fixed in the text look for the quote with the super-special Vulture icon:
Re: Whoever invented BASIC...
By Ashlee Vance
Posted Saturday 17th November 2007 01:57 GMT
Thanks for the catch on BASIC. My fault for letting that slip through. Story has been fixed.
Re: Intel would now be dust...
"At this point I can only dream of what should be. Such is life (*SIGH*)"
We would be lamenting why we have keep up with chipmaking giant Motorola and what would be if IBM had chosen Intel.
Seeing Apple's success made IBM do it
Apple's upstart success in taking computers beyond the hobbyist market goaded IBM into this first PC. Like the Apple II, it was intended for home use as well as for business, with cassette data storage, TV display, and even games paddle ports. It was a competent entry into a crowded market. (the Jan '82 Byte magazine in which it was launched is 500 pages of competitors) Such was IBM's prestige & mind share in business, that IBM was able to advertise it as "the IBM of personal computers". Home use was quickly forgotten, and it immediately became a business standard. Bill Gates was smart enough to understand the significance of IBM entering the market better than IBM themselves, and negotiated accordingly.
And thus we were all condemned (even Intel has never escaped despite multiple attempts) to the ghastly x86 architecture and a Microsoft monopoly.
IBM PCs? Blehhhhhhh
If anyone at Reg HQ likes to clean up the rather large pile of vomit in front of me here, they can reach me at the e-mail adress associated with my account.
There was more than PCs
Come on come on! If you're going to reminisce you've got to talk about The Sinclair ZX-80, first home computer under £100! The BBC Model B that got put in to every school. The Atari Amiga that had the best graphics around! The Vic-20 and the Commodore-64 that had the best games (as long as you were prepared to type in all those hex codes!).
The PC came in to the home due to its use in the office but THESE were the grandfathers of the home computer!
And what about Xenix?
Back in 1980.. things were rather different.. Digital Research had the OS everybody wanted (CP/M) .. but they were having trouble with the port.. and it was not available when the PC launched.. instead of coming clean.. Gary hid in the skies.
Microsoft on the other hand, did have an OS, based on Unix called Xenix.. that they tried to sell to IBM.. and sold DOS as an escalator-pitch to move IBM onto Xenix later.
If history was different and IBM had not created the PC, we’d still see Microsoft dominating the industry, but we’d all be running Xenix and AT&T would not have been so dumb to cut-off academic source access thus creating Minix then Linux.
Perhaps the only difference would be that the Pascal p-code (the original bytecode) that ran Microsofts Pascal & COBOL runtimes back in the ‘80’s would be what Java became.. ooh hang-on a minute.. that’s what .NET and ISO standard CLR is..
OK, so y'all feel great because, what?
You're not old enough to be repelled by new tech, but young enough to have grown up watching the early stages. Freakin' whoo pee. Me too. That does not make anyone interesting, special. Please shut up.
And yes, x86 sucks so hard. Oh wait, nope. This C2D with 4GB which cost almost exactly as much as the 1981 machine but can do a xillion times more is not sucking. How about that.
I should get a life and stop reading others comments and replying to them. You too :)
From the beginning of the PET article last week 'Over the next few weeks, we'll retrospect some of the computers that made the industry what it is today'.
Have a little patience Martin... Don't know what El Reg has planned for the next reminiscence, but it looks like more is to come!
Bill Did the Decent Thing
I believe Bill went to Seattle Computer and was offerred the $50,000 per customer normal deal. Of course Seattle couldn't imagine any customer could possibly sell thousands let alone millions of pcs, or that they might be called IBM, so Bill trousered all the profit. He did I believe later incorporate Seattle into Microsoft so I guess quite a few millionares were made anyway. I dispute Bill had Xenix at this early stage.
the PC and XT weren't IBM's first personal computers!
the PC 5100 was earlier, but failed as a product, the PC as we know it was a totally different architecture despite being the 5150.
I recall first encountering PC XTs as a undergrad in Elec/Electronic engineering at the University of Leeds, when IBM gave them enough to build a classroom full of machines, with network and a file server - the staff knew IBM was going to make the gift but didn't expect it to be so generous, especially as the machines were higher spec than normal (memory etc) nor did they expect to get a network and file server!
Many of us had Amigas or Ataris and though the specifications of the PCs to be a bit of a joke - no colour, crap graphics, no sound except a beep, and hugely expensive! Four years later I was using a 386 @ 16MHz with a whopping 4MB of ram to write C and assembler, but I still went home to an Amiga. I didn't consider owning a PC for many years still until an affordable system with accelerated graphics (matrox were king at the time) and quality sound (soundblaster) came my way in the early/mid 90s.
The C:\ prompt still has it's uses!
In fact I'm doing it tomorrow morning...
If you're stuck with a non-bootable CD of WinXP one of the few ways to get a system working is to boot off of a DOS disk, install Win98 and then upgrade it to WinXP.
An even more fraught exercise is doing the same stuff with a cd and floppy devoid machine but it's still possible using a PXE boot environment (did that last week on my Tablet PC)
There's life, and a real - albeit limited - need for the old dog still
Plus ça change...
> Microsoft wasn't up to the challenge of writing an operating system itself
Yeah, things have changed so much since then...
In 20 years you'll be saying the exact same comment in the new era's forums, and some little brat will laugh at your C2D and point at the now-ubiquitous multicore quantum architecture with holographic storage for the same price.
I hope you're right, although given the source of the machines being photographed I doubt there will be many UK machines.
Gosh, I wish I had kept all my issues of Personal Computer News... a new machine being reviewed every week! Happy days.
68000? I have to add text here as apparantly "68000?" doesnt count as a comment title
if only they had picked the 68000, i reckon something like 7000 billion years worth of human time could have been avoided arsing about with the 640k limit, loadhigh, quemm etc. With the amount of cash that intel got, motorola could have RULED.
From somebody who coded in assembler at that time, I wouldnt code 8086, it was like a glorified z80, whereas the 68000 made some sense and didnt involve shoving registrers into memory every 4 instructions.
credit where its due though (and through law of unintended consequences) the segmented architecture really worked for dlls in 16 bit windows.
BTW Atari Amiga? hand in your geek badge at the door man
Some obvious (or maybe not, eh?) mistakes or omissions.
"Gates managed to convince IBM to let Microsoft retain the rights to the operating system"
Wasn't very hard as mom Gates was a member of the board in IBM at the time and IBM expected to sell a couple of thousands these small toys, insignificant. Also made very simple to "choose" junior Gates as provider.
MS was founded in a garage, a garage belonging to a millionaire and board member of the biggest IT company. Shouldn't be too hard to anybody and by no means Bill-boy isn't stupid. Greedy bastard maybe, but not stupid.
"IBM also decided to create an open architecture for the system (now known internally as project "Acorn"). Other manufacturers would be allowed to build and sell peripherals and software, thus creating the "IBM-compatible" legacy of PC equipment."
Yes and no. Architecture was open only to accessories, not cloning. There were some legal disputes between first cloners and IBM about this matter. IBM lost and the reason follows.
Unfortunately for IBM, they were and still are, very thorough, documenting everything, and PC's technical manuals (bought separately) included BIOS listing (I've one of those manuals in my archives, somewhere). When components used were standard components and BIOS wasn't a secret anymore, it was just a matter of time that somebody writes functional equivalent of BIOS. Of course they couldn't use the same code due the copyright, but BIOS listing gave enough information to offer same functionality.
IBM's copyright of course couldn't stop recreations and by some mysterious reasons, they didn't bother to patent anything. Gates older is suspected, as IBM at that time and even now is known for patenting everything.
" ...Intel 8088. The latter was eventually chosen because the others were determined to be too powerful."
Too expensive. And 8 bit buses are much cheaper to make. "Low cost" was showing everywhere: Mass media: a C cassette!, Display:TV, Sound/Graphics: None. Expansion slot: 8 bit, slow as hell.
Also was the advantage of easy porting of CP/M-programs to 8088, one segment was like 8080.
How many know why there was that famous 640k limit?
8088 had only a megabyte (1024k, 20bits) of address space and as a cost saving method, the BASIC ROM (384k) was in same address space. Leaving 640k.
As a hardware design limitation, it wasn't easy to circumvent cheap and low cost was the primary feature in any PC. It still is.
Don't know if anyone bothered to read the microsoft ad in the article but at some point it says "And MS-DOS' descriptive error messages make it a user friendly OS".
Don't know about that but I guess that's why they later went for the BSOD, that's their marketing tool for user friendliness.
Not exactly the brilliant product of the age
In the same time frame as the clunky IBM PC, Digital Equipment Corp. turned out the Professional series of pdp-11 based desktop microcomputers. These little honeys had 22-bit address space, separate floating point processors, imbedded telephony, hard drives, zoomy VGA-level (monochrome) graphics and a reliable multitasking operating system based on RSX-11M with a track record and thousands of applications (alright, maybe hundreds). They even sold at Sears for a while, alongside the IBM PC.
DEC also sold Rainbows, which offered the 12-bit pdp-8 with COS-8 and WPS word processing alongside the 8080 with CP/M in one box.
Of course, all this typical first class DEC equipment was sunk by Ken Olsen, the founder of DEC, who uttered the most absurd comment of the age: "I cannot imagine why anyone would want a computer in their home", thus proving that marketing is everything. Microsoft continues to sell incomplete, clunky, unreliable product, which doesn't stop them from being by far the industry leader.
@The Mighty Spang
> BTW Atari Amiga? hand in your geek badge at the door man
It's a fair cop -- Jay Miner and many other Amiga designers were refugees from Atari, and Atari had funded some of the early development. Meanwhile the Atari ST, Amiga's closest rival, was designed under the whip of Jack Tramiel, founder of Commodore.
In some sense, it's as if Atari and Commodore swapped product lines at the 32-bit juncture.
I'm loving these articles, keep 'em coming!
The range did go on
The XT as you mention was the extended technology monica. What most dont realise IBM had its first RISC system out then commercialy under the RT monica. This was early AIX days folks and indeed installing of 70 floppies was memories you dont get today. The model I was familar with was the RT/6150 which was the early birth of the whole POWER CPU range. It wasnt until AIX version 3 that we say AIX realy kick of and alas iirc the 6150 was at best AIX 2 based. Lovely machines, but there again I used to like the cute Honeywell bull DPS6's.
Fear: The Record (1982)
"I wish I had kept all my issues of Personal Computer News... a new machine being reviewed every week!"
I used to have a stack of them. Every issue had a chart of the ten best-selling business computers of the previous week, or month, and another chart with the ten best-selling home computers. The second chart always had Sinclair at the top, and then Commodore, and Atari a distant third.
There were lots of names that are either obscure nowadays (Sord, Altos, ICL, NEC) or that are not usually associated with computers (Casio, Canon, Sharp, and Tandy, who made a computer based around the obscure Intel 80186). The magazines filled up space with articles about Prestel, which was an interesting idea whereby distant computers were connected together over the telephone line, and also articles about add-on keyboards for the ZX81. It's fascinating to compare the iPod's parasite peripheral market with that of the early 1980s microcomputers, with joysticks and new cases and the Multiface etc.
This was at a time when the games magazines had type-in listings, and I distinctly remember Your Sinclair/Spectrum running a series of guides on how to hack into Jet Set Willy and modify the code(!).
"Standard cassette tapes were used to load and store programs."
I wonder if the loading process was anything like the 8-bit microcomputers of the era, with the psychedelic colour bars and the challenging avant-garde music that the manufacturers used to play as the tapes loaded. I picture the fusty old IBM showing the text "LOADING - REFER TO SERVICE MANUAL #83.4 IN CASE OF ERROR" on the screen and, in even bigger writing, "DO NOT LEAVE THIS MACHINE UNATTENDED".
One day this article will have to describe a standard cassette tape, because they are falling out of use.
Dartmouth BASIC was pretty influential in the 1960s, when some computer companies adapted it as their operating system interface (e.g., Control Data's timesharing systems).
Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) pioneered the minicomputer, and its operating systems for the PDP-10 and PDP-11 were what a lot of students used in the 1960s and 1970s. Systems like TOPS-10 and RT-11 were what people had in mind when they wrote CP/M or DOS. The BASIC user interface disappeared, but the programming language sort of survived. It wasn't really very popular for a while, viewed as just a toy, so FORTRAN, FORTH, PASCAL and C were a lot more important as programming languages in the 1970s.
Visual Basic breathed new life into the language in the early '90s, by combining it with a nice object-oriented graphical user interface builder. The language was also extended and modernized a lot since the non-structured language that Dartmouth originally designed (remember GOSUB?). Today, the BASIC language has declined, but GUI scripting lived on in Java and C#, both of which owe a lot to Visual Basic.
> The PC came in to the home due to its use in the office but THESE [ZX-80, BBC-B, Vic-20 etc.] were the grandfathers of the home computer!
No no - they were but the first pre-built & badged generation to be sold generally.
The real grandfathers of the home computer were the many home-brew machines available before Sinclair, the BBC and IBM etc. got into the game. Some of us were wielding soldering irons and working on binary dumps for a few years before things got wrapped in fancy plastic - er, or any case at all...
Although the IBM RT/6150 was an early RISC computer, and built by IBM Austin, there is not really a huge amount that was carried across from the 6150 to the POWER RISC System/6000.
There was no code compatibillity (apart from re-compiling the source), no compatible media, no compatible devices. And AIX version 2 was even at the time an archaic UNIX version, being based on SVR2, when most people had moved on to SVR3 or BSD 4.3 and later based unicies with proper demand-paging.
Anybody who had used the tools to configure the VRM on a 6150 (it was essentially a hypervisor - in 1987!) would know that it really was a bodge, with the VRM presenting a larger virtual system to the OS than was physically present. Still, I guess that some of the work probably made it into the current p5 and p6 IBM systems.
Still, it was streets ahead of the IBM PC products that were around at the time, but Sun, Apollo, and numerous other small vendors (like Altos, Whitechapple, NCR et. al.) were selling much better workstations.
I had a 6150 model135 in my home until about 2001, with a megapel adapter and a 5157 (I think) at home. Unbelieveable size, weight (I still pity the poor removal man that carried it up two stories when we moved), and noise.
I found an original IBM PC keyboard (not even XT), new-in-box, up in our old storage a few weeks ago. Quite literally, NEW IN BOX.
I come to praise the 8086/88, not to bury it...
What people nowadays don't seem to appreciate is the tremendous wisdom that guided the the design of the Intel 8086 and its eight-bit datapathed variant, the 8088.
The ingenious scheme of 16-bit paragraph + 16-bit address with 4-bit overlap cleverly divided up RAM into 64KByte areas, clearing the way for the immediate porting of many (perhaps even dozens!) of perfectly serviceable 8080 CP/M programs to the IBM PC.
The result, as everyone knows, is that WordStar became the dominant word processor on the PC, and dBase went from strength to strength with its 8086 port as well.
This gutsy decision to support the generous, tried-and-true 64KByte 8080 data space in its new processor line saved the world from the threat of constantly expanding memory dangled in front of programmers who could only be counted on to abuse the same in an orgy of bloatware creation.
Unfortunately, Intel's valiant effort to hold the line on the 64KByte memory model started to crumble as programmers insisted on constantly manipulating the DS register to slake their insatiable thirst for more memory, and Intel finally signalled its capitulation by making linear addressing available on the 386.
But let us not forget Intel's noble gesture to 8-bit compatibility and those invaluable CP/M programs that lived on in the golden twilight of small memory model programming on the 8086/88. It was the hardware equivalent of the brilliant 32-to-16-bit thunking layer that Microsoft later created to secure for posterity the benefits of a finely-tuned, 16-bit OS in a 32-bit-besotted world, and that world will be forever indebted to both Intel's and Microsoft's inspired backward-looking technological initiatives for the stability and predictability they have brought to the art of computing.
Well, I think Bruce is right. My parents rented a IBM PC that runs MS-DOS 1.0 back in the late-80s, and it only shows A> and B> .
I only recall seeing the A:\> prompt on MS-DOS 2.11 or later (2.11 came with the Sharp PC-7000A portable that my mom rescued from the company dumpster in the early 90s).
God, I feel old.
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