•On August 12, 1981, at a press conference at the Waldorf Astoria ballroom in New York City, the IBM Personal Computer was announced with a price tag of $1,565. Two decades earlier, an IBM computer often cost as much as $9 million and required an air-conditioned quarter-acre of space and a staff of 60 people to keep it fully loaded with instructions. The new IBM PC could not only process information faster than those earlier machines but it could hook up to the home TV set, play games, process text and harbor more words than a fat cookbook. The $1,565 price bought a system unit, a keyboard and a color/graphics capability. Options included a display, a printer, two diskette drives, extra memory, communications, game adapter and application packages — including one for text processing. The development team referred to their creation as a mini-compact, at a mini-price, with IBM engineering under the hood.

• It was the IBM PC’s then-radical design, composed of off-the-shelf parts, which ultimately made personal computing accessible to the masses.

• The ubiquity of PCs has, in turn, led to other technological developments, changing nearly every aspect of the human experience. The impact of this device can’t be overstated.

• Rather than design a system from scratch, a group of engineers in Boca Raton, Fla., cobbled together their product from parts available from multiple vendors. The only really proprietary part was the Basic Input-Output System, or BIOS, which controls the low-level functions of the computer.

• This design made it easy for other companies to copy the IBM PC, giving birth to an industry of what came to be known as “IBM clone makers.” One of those early companies was a small Houston firm called Compaq Computer Corp., which didn’t stay small for very long. It grew to become the biggest seller of PCs in the late ’90s before imploding and being bought out by Hewlett-Packard.

• The first IBM PC sold for $1,565, which in today’s dollars would be more than $3,700. For that price you got a computer with dual 5.25-inch floppy drives, a paltry 16 kilobytes of memory , an Intel 8088 processor running at 4.77 MHz and a 12-inch, green monochrome CRT monitor.

• Today, the IBM PC lives on in the design of computers that run Microsoft’s Windows and the open-source Linux operating systems. The Computer Industry Almanac estimates that the number of personal computers in use topped 1 billion in 2008, a number that’s expected to double by 2015. The vast majority of those are based on the IBM PC’s architecture.


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