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Twenty Five Years of Personal Computing

IBM PC's 25 Years Journey of Success

For the past 25 years the word computer is almost synonymous with IMB Personal Computer that is widely known as PC. Its a quarter century of Personal Computing, with IBM PC is celebrating its twenty five years of success story. In this article we trace this journey from the pages of history and then see the impact and future of it.


  History - IBM 5150  

IBM 5150
IBM 5150

On August 12, 1981 IBM launched IBM 5150 - the first successful PC implementation that was a smash hit. This $1565 starting machines were equipped with 16kb of RAM and Audio Cassette port for data loading and saving. Floppy Disk Drive was optional. This machine also boasted of Green 'eye friendly' Phosphorous Screen.

IBM 5150
Release Date August 12, 1981
Price $1, 565 onwards
Procesor Intel 8088 - 4.77 MHz
Memory (RAM) 16Kb (640Kb maximum)
Display Screen Text (80 x 24), Green Phosphor
Storage 5.25" FDD Drive (160 Kb) - Optional
Input/Output Ports Port for Audio Cassette and Keyboard
Operating System IBM PC-DOS v1.0


This machine was the first commercial success for IMB in its PC business. But this was not its first attempt in Personal Computer. The first PC debuted in the year 1975 (IBM 5100), and more models were released till 1981. All were quiet expensive and were failures.

So what made this 5100 tick where as the other, more advanced PCs were a failure? IBM PC was less advanced that other computers available in the market, but it clicked because:

  • It was backed by the brand IBM
  • It used off-the-shelf components (rather than IBM only)
  • It had a Open Design, any one can make peripheral and components for it as well as create an IBM clone PC
  • It was a lot cheaper and almost in reach of common people
  • IBM was not the only one creating the PC, so the over all market for PC grew fast, making it a popular platform
  • This also lead to more people develop software for it, make it even more popular

For creating this IBM deviated a lot from its usual development policies, like, the development team reported directly to the top management, chosen off the shelf components, rather than in house and use of open design rather than a closed one.

IBM had targeted it to sell 250,000 in five years but in actual it sold One Million by the year 1985.

This started the success story of IMB PC. Future models were also a great success. See the chart below for the models and its release years.

IBM PC Timeline (click to enlarge)
IBM PC Timeline (click to enlarge)


  PC Today  

Today it is estimated to have around one billion PCs in the world. Almost all the countries around the world use PC in one form or the other. The penetration and distribution of PC varies largely around the world. See the chart below for a better understanding.

PC Penetration (per 1000 people)
United States 700
France 350
Brazil 70
China 30
India 9
PC Penetration

This penetration has created a lot of wealth. The combined value of hardware and software company stocks is valued at around $0.5 Trillion. PC has also contributed a lot in increase of productivity. It has spun off industries in big ways, like the computer gaming industry. The popularity of Internet is also increased due to the increase of PC penetration, which in turn has created a new set of industry and market.

But it is not that PC has only given goodness to the people. There is a dark side of this coin also.


  PC Blues  

With all the work getting more and more PC centric, people have started to spend more time with their PC than their spouses. This has not only created a different type of work culture and life style but also given a new breed of medical disorder.

PC Health Hazards

Refer the table below for the problems faced by a PC user.

PC Health Hazards
Keyboard / Mouse Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Finger Bones related Problems
Sitting Posture
Long working hour
Back, spine and Neck related Pain and Problems
Monitor Eye Strain and other Vision related problems
PC Health Hazards


Environment Pollution: eWaste

Widespread use of PC and its constant evolution has made a lot of PC getting obsolete quiet quickly. These obsolete PCs are often dumped off. These computer sets have poisonous content that cause pollution of the soil and environment. This e-Waste forms a major concern to nations around the world. Reports suggest that the toxic computer waste is being dumped to the third-world nations like Africa.

Following table lists some of the toxic elements found in the various parts of the computer. As you can see they contain a lot of toxic metals that can surely cause problem once getting into human contact.

eWast Composition
CRT Monitor Contain Lead, Phosphorous, Cadmium and Mercury
Battery Mercury, Nickel, Cadmium, Lithium
Circuit Boards Various elements, notably gold in contact plating and copper in circuitry, Tin Solder, Fiberglass
Computer Chip Germanium, Silicon, Silica, Phosphorus, Boron, Gold, Silver
eWaste Composition

Only solution to this is correct recycling of the computer. Many companies are having strong recycling programs whereby you simply return the old computer/equipment for proper recycling.

e-Waste Recycle



IBM is no longer on the helm of the PC industry. IBM sold its PC business to China-based Lenovo Group in 2005 (unlike GE which is still holding on to its bulb making business, GE Edison™ Bulbs, mostly for sentimental reasons).

But even before IBM was gone, the Open Architecture of PC had already taken the lead out of the PC manufacturer's hands. This was one of the prime reasons why IBM had the business in loss which prompted it to abandon it after around 25 years.

But it does not mean much to this highly competitive PC industry, as the threat to this industry is actually from other devices that grew out of the PC only. These devices are getting as powerful as the PC and provide many features and service that PC used to provide, and some more. These have started to take some of the share of the PC in the overall pie. But they provide and cater to almost a different segment in which PC was present due to its very general nature. Other industries and devices that grew from the PC industry are:

  • The Gaming Industry
    This industry was present from early stages of computing. But PC really shaped it into a multi million dollar industry that has started to rival (and even surpass) the movie industry. It is a big business and it is already churning out different devices like Play Station or XBox. But today also PC continues to have a major pie of the gaming industry in the world.
  • Home Theater Industry
    PC is a cheaper home entertainment system with all the major components inbuilt like DVD, TV Tuner, Live TV recording and pausing and so on. This segment has also started to get out of PC centric to dedicated device centric which perform all the required functions of the Home Theater a fraction of the cost and convenience. Such arrangement will take a big pie out of the PC, but overall PC will continue to thrive due to its generic nature that can adopt new technologies and stuff with an ease.
  • PDA Devices and Smart Phones
    Computer is very general purpose but was always bulky. You cannot take it everywhere and was always an inconvenience to carry. To cater to such unrestricted movement, handheld devices came into the picture. Palm is one of the most successful Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) manufacturer, that almost did the same to the PDA industry which IBM did to PC industry. PDA devices allowed people to carry the mini-computer in their pockets and hence were preferred over PC. As technologies grew PDAs also grew and became quiet powerful and general purpose like the PC. Its integration with mobile phones lead to the term Smart Phone that is basically a combination of PDA and a mobile phone. This became a killer product as mobile phones have already surpassed PC in terms of market penetration all around the world. So this has become a serious competitor to the PC. Only factor differentiating it from the PC is its form factor. This works both in favor and against it depending on the use.



"Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who is the greatest Computer of All?"

I know you all know the answer. Despite the shortcomings and problems with the PC it continues to lead the computer industry as a general purpose Swiss-Army-Knife that can do anything and everything. From productivity enhancer to entertainment & gaming, to specialize business and servers, the list is endless. It continues to grow amid competition from other devices and computers.


Akhilesh Singh
August 9, 2006










































































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