Micro History Part 14

History of the Microcomputer evolution

Part 14 - Send in the Clones again - Freud would have said GUI-Envy.

The PC marketplace changed radically after the introduction of the IBM PC in August of 1981. As the IBM PC was built from commercially available off-the-shelf parts - a concept similar to the original Altair microcomputer, companies began trying to clone it. This created a generation of MSDOS computers which called themselves compatible, but which weren't 100% compatible. This created numerous headaches for unsuspecting end users. Some systems offered the capability to run both CP/M and MSDOS. The first company to successfuly build a 100% compatible IBM PC clone was Compaq computer, who introduced their first system as what they called a portable, but its size and weight made it a luggable computer. Then other companies followed with true IBM compatibles, mostly built overseas in Taiwan. Most of the CP/M computers quickly disappeared, as did the not true compatibles, leaving their owners in a category which is now well known and feared in the PC world - orphaned computer owners.

Just as IBM appeared to conquer the marketplace by 1983, Apple Computer introduced the Macintosh, whose graphical user interface and mouse presented a totally new approach to personal computing. Microsoft was having to walk a careful narrow line, saying nice things about the Mac because they worked closely with Apple, while not offending IBM, while at the same time Bill Gates had plans for his own graphical user interface, which he called Windows. Gates had taken a walk in the PARC too and was convinced that a graphical user interface based operating system was the future. In fact, he made the brash statement that one day soon all IBM pc's would be running Windows. His estimates were so far off that he is credited with inventing the term "vaporware".

IBM also had plans for its own new operating system, trying to break its reliance on Microsoft by developing their own character-based but windowing operating system they called TopView, announced at the release of the IBM AT computer in 1984. This went absolutely nowhere. The heralded new Intel 80286 processor also wasn't fast enough to run Microsoft's Windows at acceptable speed, and had a design flaw related to multitasking which caused Industry Analysis to refer to it as "brain dead". Microsoft and IBM continued to argue over operating systems, with Microsoft trying to convince IBM to go with Windows. IBM however opted to develop their own GUI operating system which they named OS/2, and enlisted Microsoft's help in writing it. This created years of doublespeak by the two companies as to where each product was going to fit into the marketplace. Meanwhile the millions of IBM pc and compatible users got along fine with plain old DOS, and Apple's Macintosh with a GUI-that worked continued to gain market acceptance.

In 1986, Compaq computer beat IBM to the punch and introduced the world's first 80386-based PC, using an Intel processor which finally had the power and design to run a GUI-based operating system. By this time, IBM's PC sales were taken over by clone PC sales. In fact, the word clone was a misnomer, as these copy-cat computers actually offered better performance and features, and more bang for the buck.

In 1987 IBM made an attempt to recapture the marketplace with its new line of PS/2 personal computers and microchannel architecture, but users stayed away by the millions. The relationship between IBM and Microsoft finally exploded and evaporated, with IBM taking over the job of trying to write OS/2, and with Microsoft going full speed ahead with a marketplan for Windows to dominate the world. The power of the 386 processor made this happen, and Windows 3.0 actually worked - to a degree. The introduction of the Intel 486, coupled with Windows 3.1 and Microsoft's aggressive marketing practice of including Windows along with all copies of DOS sold placed Microsoft into the leader position among GUI based operating systems, along with owning DOS, the PC world predominant operating system. Microsoft today also markets a suite of application programs and is the largest software company in the world, with plans for world wide information systems and financial networking.

Next week as we end this series, we'll look at how far the Microcomputer revolution has come, and how far it still has to go.

On to Segment 15, "The PPC Industry at Age 11 in 1986"

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