Thirty years ago today, IBM announced its first PC, the 5150. It wasn’t the best PC of its era, or even the most interesting—but it was surely the most important one. That’s because it spawned a standard that quickly came to dominate the market, and which continues to this day. If you’re reading this on a Windows computer, you’re using a really fancy, highly-refined update to the computer that IBM built.
(PHOTOS: A Brief History of the Computer)
If news of the anniversary puts you in a celebratory mood, may I suggest doing some or all of the following?
1. Visit IBM5150.net.
2. Read InfoWorld’s original coverage.
Thanks to the miracle of Google Books, the entire 1981 issue in which the PC made front-page news is available online. InfoWorld said it was surprised by the PC’s use of a new operating system it called “86-DOS”—you and I know it as MS-DOS. And on the same page with its story on the PC, it reported on Apple’s upcoming Lisa and “McIntosh.”
3. Feast on Creative Computing’s epic 1981 review.
Will Fastie’s story is one of the longest, most thorough evaluations I’ve ever read of anything. He liked it!
4. Contemplate the amazing benefits of Moore’s Law.
Back in 1981, an IBM PC with 128KB of RAM, a monochrome monitor, one floppy disk drive, a printer, and Visicalc cost $6125, or almost $11,000 in 2011 dollars. That’s enough dough to buy 15 Lenovo ThinkPads, the machines that are the closest things to direct descendants of the first PC.
5. Stage a YouTube Chaplin festival.
Or, more precisely, a festival of 1980s IBM PC ads featuring Charlie Chaplin impersonator Bill Scudder. (One’s at the top of this post; here are some more.) For a while, Chaplin was as synonymous with IBM as Steve Jobs is with Apple today. Even the ads for third-party PC-compatible products in computer magazines often had a Little Tramp theme.
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