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On the 30th Anniversary of the IBM 5150, Designer Says PC Era is Over

Posted on the 12 August 2011 by Periscope @periscopepost
On the 30th anniversary of the IBM 5150, designer says PC era is over

IBM Personal Computer. Photo credit: Marcin Wichary,

The PC will soon become obsolete, according to the man who helped create one of the world’s most influential  computers. Writing on the 30th anniversary of the IBM 5150 Personal Computer, Mark Dean argued on an IBM blog that PCs are “going the way of the vacuum tube, typewriter, vinyl records, CRT and incandescent light bulbs”.

  • PC revolution. The IBM Personal Computer wasn’t actually the first PC, as Jay Greene explained on CNET; it wasn’t even the best. “Apple, Atari, and Commodore produced so-called microcomputers that preceded it. And IBM’s creation was inferior in some ways to those rivals,” wrote Greene. Nevertheless, the IBM 5150 is widely considered to have kick-started the PC revolution: Christina Bonnington at Wired wrote that the 5150 and its descendents “would ultimately transform people’s opinions of computers and spur their adoption”. According to Michael Muchmore in PC Magazine, this is because IBM used software and hardware from outside developers – most famously, Microsoft: “It allowed competing vendors to license the operating system from Microsoft and build PCs of their own, creating a profusion of choice and a massive PC ecosystem of hardware and software.”

“Some time ago, we extended our ambitions beyond the PC… to the Web and to screens that fit in your pocket, your backpack and your living room,” wrote Frank X. Shaw on the Microsoft blog.

  • Software wins. Indeed, Dan Costa argued that Microsoft’s contribution was key to the success of the IBM PC: “Hardware companies did well building PCs, but the companies that wrote the software for it did even better… This is just as true in today’s world of smartphones, tablets, laptops, iPods, and Web-enabled HDTVs,” he wrote in PC Magazine.
  • Myths and legends. There are various rumours surrounding the Microsoft/IBM deal. As Rupert Goodwins wrote on ZDNet: “Industry legend has it that Gary Kildall, who owned Digital Research, the company behind the then-standard operating system CP/M, was out flying when IBM came to call. IBM subsequently asked Bill Gates to supply an operating system.” According to TMCnet, the problem was that Gary Kildall and IBM couldn’t agree on the terms of their non-disclosure agreement, so Microsoft stepped up.

“I, personally, have moved beyond the PC as well. My primary computer now is a tablet,” said Mark Dean on IBM’s Smarter Planet blog.

  • You say goodbye. In his anniversary blog post, Mark Dean argued that we are now in a “post-PC era”. Kate O’Flaherty reported that Dean “was talking a load of old rubbish”, according to Inquirer readers: “Readers generally agreed that tablets had become a viable option for some users, but said that they are not powerful enough to replace the just PC yet.” However, Dean did write that the PC wasn’t being replaced by a particular device: he acknowledged the popularity of tablets and smart phones, but argued that the real threat to the PC’s dominance was “new ideas about the role that computing can play in progress”. Over at Time’s Techland blog, Matt Peckham felt that this was nothing new: “‘Post-PC era’? Where’ve we heard that before? Oh right, Steve Jobs, the maestro of magical prognosticating.”
  • I say hello. Meanwhile, Gregg Lamm pointed out at TechFlash that Microsoft  executive Frank X. Shaw has a different take from Dean: that the PC is just getting started. On the official Microsoft blog, Shaw referred to the “PC-plus era”, saying that 400 million PCs will be sold over the next year. Shaw acknowledged that the market was moving on, with a host of new devices, and said that Microsoft would be “investing heavily” in cloud computing.

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