Micro History Part 15

History of the Microcomputer Revolution

Part 15 - The PC Industry at Age 11 in 1986

Many people using PC's today came into the PC world in the mid 1980's. This was after the market establishment ground work had been done by tiny startup companies, most of whom were out of business by this time.

By 1986 IBM and Apple were the major players in the marketplace, followed by a game computer company - Commodore - and by the Tandy Leather Company - now known as Radio Shack. IBM's estimated combined PC sales were around 7 million units, Apple claimed 5 million, Commodore's 64 and Vic20 totaled 4 million, with Radio Shack's TRS-80 models 1, 2, 3, and 4 around 4 million+, now discontinued after the Intel 16 bit microprocessors were introduced.

Small businesses were buying Spreadsheets, Word Processing Programs, and Databases programs off the shelf to run their businesses with.

The #1 business program sold was Lotus 123 - a PC world clone of the original Visicalc spreadsheet, which was followed by Multiplan, offered by Microsoft.

Dbase III - a converted CP/M world database program, was the top selling database program, despite its user unfriendliness, followed by PFS:File.

PFS:Write - was the leading word processor, followed by Wordstar and Microsoft Word, with Word Perfect just beginning to make moves.

The combined sales of Spreadsheets were greater than all the Word Processing programs, which meant that at this time people were computing more on PC's than doing word processing. Today word processing is the #1 application.

In 1986 a business could buy these software programs for a couple thousand dollars, and then buy a PC and printer to go along with them. An IBM AT with 2 Megs of RAM, a 30 MB hard disk, and a laser printer would set you back about $13000. Going the cheapie route, an IBM PC with no hard disk and a dot matrix printer ran about $3000.

Having made this major investment, you could run your business quite well, except you might also need an accounting program, and there has never been an industry standard in this category. Many people in fact used spreadsheets or databases to do parts of this function for them.

A tiny Utah company named Novell - started by consultants as a part-time project, emerged into dominance in PC networking, beating much bigger companies to the punch, and today is the leading Network Software company. The majority of PC's today, however, are not networked.

PC users have had modems since the early days, but by the mid 1980's there were more pc's and more places to call, including Compuserve, and the concept of telecommuting or working from home began to happen.

The 5 biggest software companies in 1986 were Lotus - Ashton Tate with Dbase - IBM - Apple - and in 5th place - Microsoft.

Laser printers began to get more affordable. Luggable computers became true portables. A popular software utility called Sidekick - which you could access while you were in the middle of other programs - started people seeing the advantage of being able to do more than one thing at once on computers. It was the first big selling TSR or Popup program.

A new marketplace emerged - created by the popularity of PC's - 3rd party books. Books written by computer users - not programmers - which started the whole "Made Easy" book trend, which in 90's terminology has become "The Dummy Series". This was followed by a new generation of "Made Easy" accounting and database programs.

Desktop publishing became an industry buzzword, delivering the promise of eliminating outside printing and reducing costs. But the majority of companies found the investment in the required hardware, software, and personnel training far outweighed the supposed benefits. The emergence of new generation graphics-based word processing programs which come with templates to do newsletters, etc, has become the popular and affordable choice of most businesses today.

And in the late 1980's Microsoft hailed a new technology as what they called "The new papyrus" to be the future of computing, but CDROM was much slower getting out of the blocks than anticipated. In fact, most new pc technologies have followed this pattern.

Today its almost impossible to buy a new computer without CDROM and Sound.

Today Businesses are using basically the same generic programs they used 10 years ago - but on a different class of PC - with a new look, and with a supposed new user friendliness.

But in 20 years, many wonder how far have we really come, and what has really changed.

Next in the final chapter in this series - Will the circle be unbroken?

On to Segment 16, "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?"

Back to the Table of Contents

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