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History

Of The

Microcomputer

Revolution

"Raw Bytes Computer News"

Frank Delaney, Producer

 mailto:frank@mtamicro.com

Transcript of The Radio Series
Originally Broadcasted in 1995 

 

(C) 2013 MTA Micro Technology Associates

http://www.mtamicro.com

 

This is copyrighted material and may not be reproduced in any form without my written permission.

Please email me with your request to use this series in an educational setting. mailto:frank@mtamicro.com

 

Broadcast on

KPBX FM 91.1

http://www.kpbx.org

Spokane Public Radio

National Public Radio Network


 

 

Dedication


To Gary Kildall

And to All the People

Who Contributed to

And Created

The Microcomputer Revolution

And

To KPBX and Public Radio

"The Theater of The Mind"


Support Public Radio


 

Foreword - with update in 2007



1977 Pullman, Washington. I was working as a Sales Executive for the Xerox Corporation. One of the Xerox Service Technicians and I were walking down one of the main streets after work - headed for a local watering hole - when we passed a Radio Shack store that had one of the new TRS-80 Microcomputers on display in the window.

He said "I've been reading about these - let's go inside and look at it." I wasn't sure why he would want to look at a computer - we were working for the world's largest copier company and I had absolutely no interest in computers. He walked up to this computer and began typing on the keyboard. In less than a minute he had a message appearing on the computer screen that kept repeating his name and "Xerox Corporation." I was both astounded and fascinated. Here was an ordinary human being - a regular guy - who walks up to a computer and gets it follow his commands! This was a moment that changed my life.

I've been fascinated with microcomputers ever since. I started talking to people and found out that no one knew much about them - they were so new. I went back to Radio Shack and bought 2 books. One was on Digital Computers which was very technical and hard to read. The other was on learning BASIC for the TRS-80 which I found to be interesting and logical. Not having a TRS-80, I just worked through the lessons in the book mentally.

In 1979 I left Xerox to become the Marketing Director of one of Spokane's first Microcomputer companies. We sold Apples, Commodores, and CP/M systems with names like Polymorphic, IMSAI, and Cromemco. I also worked with an Apple II, learning Apple Basic to write small programs for myself. Later I worked for Univac selling mainframe computers, and for a time with IBM in their VAR program. By 1984 my desire to work with and program computers - not sell them - caused me to make a career change to become a programmer.

I worked at KPBX as Business Manager/Programmer; writing their Membership Program, Classical Library, creating many spreadsheet models, and bringing the accounting in-house onto PC's. I did this using CP/M and MSDOS (Not IBM compatible) PC's. Later we got a "modern" IBM AT.

In 1987 I started my own programming and support company. Over the years now I have heard an incredible amount of misinformation about how "IBM created the first PC," or "Microsoft first wrote BASIC," or "Isn't great that Windows finally gives PC users a choice of operating systems."

On the 20th anniversary of the personal computer in 1995, I wanted to write a chronology of what actually happened, and how the industry evolved. I began with a general idea for several segments, which evolved to these 16. I think it could have easily gone 20, as I have had to do a lot of editing. This series reflects a lot of my own perspectives and biases, but I hope it gives you a clearer understanding of The Microcomputer Revolution.

 

2007 Foreword Update

 

Since I wrote this in 1995, the PC Industry and the Internet or WWW – has continued to evolve.  Through email and the internet I have talked to many of the people I wrote about. Ed Roberts, whose idea for a computer kit launched the PC industry, is now a Southern Physician. He was not very cooperative and reneged on a promise to do a radio interview. On the other hand, Dr. Thomas Kurtz, co-developer of  BASIC at Dartmouth College, was wonderfully informative, as have been others in my brief email correspondences with them.

 

In looking back at my series, I realize the irony of my leaving the Xerox Corporation to enter the PC Industry.  Xerox had created all the basic concepts and technologies which launched the PC industry at their Palo Alto Research Center. This included the concept of laser printers with fonts, the graphical user interface, the mouse, pc networking , etc. – yet as a corporation with a paper – not digital – mindset – they didn’t know what to do with it !  This was one of the largest blunders in American corporate history. I can recall that after IBM introduced the IBM PC and had taken over the industry, Xerox made a feeble attempt to sell their own PC, but it was a dismal failure. Xerox understood copiers, but not data processing.

 

Ironically also in 2007 is the fact that IBM has sold its entire PC division to the Chinese Multinational Firm Lenovo, and admitted after the sale that their PC division had been unprofitable for years. My story on this is at The End of an Era .

The World Wide Web has been truly a phenomenon that has changed the world; the way we communicate; the way we do business; and what tasks are done on PC’s today.  I’m seeing complete PC’s with wide screens and huge hard disks selling for under $ 500. 

 

But kids today think of the PC as a communications – not computing device.  They have their webcams and their Myspace pages and instant messaging and email and they socialize via the World Wide Web after school. They use the WWW to do their homework assignments and research, and to download MP3’s and movies. 

 

Businesses are still doing the same basic tasks on PC’s – word processing, spreadsheets, database, accounting. But now email has replaced traditional paper snail mail, and most businesses also have web sites.  Most documents and data are stored in digital format and displayed on monitors, rather than always printed out. Business is now conducted at the speed of the World Wide Web.

 

My own business has changed very much over the 20 years I’ve been in business.  I do a lot of web pages and maintain them, all from my home-based office.  I have always been a programmer and support specialist, and a lot of that I can do from here, and send programs or offer assistance through the World Wide Web also.  There’s actually been times when I realized I hadn’t seen a regular client for over a year, as we do all our business online.

 

I have done my weekly radio commentary – Raw Bytes -  for KPBX FM 91.1 Spokane Public Radio http://www.kpbx.org for well over 22 years now, and I have several years of shows online in the Raw Bytes Section of my website  Raw Bytes Computer News which you might find interesting.

 

Best wishes and please contact me if you have any questions or comments.

 

Frank Delaney

MTA Micro Technology Associates 

www.mtamicro.com

 mailto:frank@mtamicro.com




 

Table of Contents



Show Segment Title Page

1 The Historic Background 5

2 The Revolution Begins 7

3 The Washington State Connection 9

4 High School Kid's Computer Company 11

5 The World's First Commercially Available PC 13

6 What good is a computer without Software? 15

7 Send in the Clones 17

8 The First Operating System Standard 19

9 Home Brewing and Computers Named Apple 21

10 The Killer Application 23

11 IBM's Secret 25

12 The Deal of The Century 27

13 A Walk in the PARC 29

14 Send in the Clones again - Freud would have said GUI-Envy 31

15 The PC Industry at Age 11 in 1986 33

16 Will the Circle Be Unbroken? 35

Bibliography 37



In computer news this week (February 1, 1995):

History of the Microcomputer Revolution - Part 1 - The Historic background

Human beings have been thinking about computers for hundreds of years, they're not really unique to the 20th century. Since humans walked the earth and engaged in commerce, there has been a need for a system of counting and calculating. For thousands of years this was done either in peoples' heads, or with simple clever devices such as the abacus.

In the early 1800's a French inventor named Jacquard revolutionized the weaving industry by creating a loom which could create extremely complicated designs by reading instructions which were punched onto cards. The holes punched into the cards - which were strung together into a chain of continuous instructions - directed the loom which threads to use and what to do.

In the mid 1800's a British inventor named Charles Babbage came up with the idea of an Analytical Engine which would do mathematical computations using this same concept of storing instructions onto cards, but he lacked the technology to create the powerful engine needed.

A contemporary of his, a woman named Augusta Ada Byron, who was the daughter of the poet Lord Byron, was a gifted mathematician who immediately understood the concepts and the possibilities of Babbage's analytical engine. She was able to expand this concept into actual theoretical steps and procedures which would be used in the computations, and she is credited by some as the first computer programmer.

In the late 1800's an American inventor named Herman Hollerith invented a punchcard counting device which was used successfully for tabulating statistics in taking the 1890 census. Hollerith's business eventually ran into financial difficulties and he was forced to sell out to a company named CTR, which stood for Computer Tabulating Recording.

A young salesman at CTR named Tom Watson had started off his career selling pianos off the back of a horse-drawn cart. Now Watson had worked his way up through corporate America - spending time at the National Cash Register Company along the way - and he recognized the potential of selling punchcard-based calculating machines to American business. Watson would later take over this company himself and in the 1920's rename it the International Business Machines Corporation, IBM.

Necessity is the mother of all invention, and the modern day mainframe computer as we know it was created by the United States Military's need to calculate such things as shell trajectories in a minimal amount of time. The electronic vacuum tube ENIAC computer, operational in 1945, was a thousand times faster than the older electro-mechanical calculating machines previously used for such tasks.


The inventors of this computer, J. Presbert Eckley and John Mauchly, went on to become part of the Univac corporation, a name which became synonymous with computers, until the late 1950's when IBM fought back and regained the industry with its IBM 360 mainframe.

In the 1960's a new generation of computer appeared - the mini-computer - introduced by Digital Equipment Corporation. Physically smaller and far less expensive than the mainframe computers, and in some ways better, it was still exclusively a business computer - far beyond the budget of individuals.

Vacuum tubes were replaced by transistors; transistors merged into integrated circuits, the age of microelectronics was born. Long-haired hippies of the 60's would soon turn into the bell-bottom disco dancers of the 70's.

In 1969 a small California electronics company named the Intel Corporation received an order from a Japanese firm named Busicom to design a set of chips for programmable calculators. But a young Intel engineer named Ted Hoff had a better idea, and next week we'll learn how this tiny company became the architect of the microcomputer revolution.

For Raw Bytes, this is Frank Delaney

(C) 1995 MTA Micro Technology Associates Frank Delaney

PO Box 31522  Spokane, Wa 99223-1522 (509) 624-7230

Raw Bytes Computer News - KPBX FM 91.1 National Public Radio




In computer news this week (February 8, 1995):

History of the Microcomputer Revolution - Part 2 - The Revolution Begins

Computers began to get smaller in the 1960's with the introduction of Digital Equipment Corporation's Minicomputers. These DEC minicomputers went on to play an interesting part in the Microcomputer Revolution and I'll tell you about that later, but minicomputers were still designed for businesses, not people.

Advances in electronics brought about the microcomputer revolution. The room-sized first mainframe computer - the ENIAC - was replaced by the technology of the transistor, invented by engineers working at Bell Laboratories in the early 1950's. William Shockley is credited as the co-inventor of the transistor, and he left Bell in 1956 to form his own company, Shockley Semiconductor Laboratories, in what was to become California's Silicon Valley.

One of the engineers working for him in his new company was a young man named Robert Noyce, a talented individual from a small town in Iowa. Noyce and several other engineers soon left Shockley to form a new company, Fairchild Electronics, financed by a venture capitalist. While working at Fairchild, Noyce came up with the idea for the integrated circuit around 1959, and is credited as its inventor. He worked his way to become manager of the Fairchild operation, but he longed to own and operate his own company.

In 1968 Noyce and another engineer, Gordon Moore, left Fairchild to start their own electronics firm, which they named the Intel Corporation. The company started with 12 employees and their first year revenues were $ 2,672.00. Now, over a quarter century later, Intel's innovations have changed the world.

Intel focused initially on making semiconductor computer memory - practical and affordable. Within a year, Intel had rolled out its first product - the 3101 64-bit memory chip. Intel continued to successfully develop memory chips, but in 1971 the event happened which changed the world and launched the microcomputer revolution.

A Japanese calculator company named Busicom had approached Intel back in 1969 about designing a set of chips for a programmable calculator and had advanced Intel $ 60,000. Their original design had called for multiple custom chips, but Ted Hoff, a young Intel engineer, thought it was too complex. His solution was to develop a single-chip, general purpose logic device which would retrieve its instructions from semiconductor memory. He envisioned this solution to enable an off-the-shelf processor to handle many different functions, and eliminate a lot of custom circuit design.

Hoff's vision was transformed into silicon by a team of engineers and designers, and within several months the Intel 4004 microprocessor was created. 1/8"wide and 1/6"long, and consisting of 2300 transistors, this revolutionary computer on a tiny chip had as much computing power as its ancient great-grandfather, the room-sized ENIAC. Intel decided to buy the rights to this product back from the Japanese company, which had run into financial problems - and the rest - as they say - is history.

The Intel 4004 was introduced by the end of 1971, sold for $ 200, and was followed less than a year later by the 8008, an 8-bit microprocessor which sold for $ 360. For the first time, affordable computer power was available to everyone.

Next week we'll learn how the Intel 8008 caught the attention of a couple Seattle high school kids, and how they fit into the microcomputer revolution.

For Raw Bytes, this is Frank Delaney

(C) 1995 MTA Micro Technology Associates Frank Delaney

PO Box 31522  Spokane, Wa 99223-1522 (509) 624-7230

Raw Bytes Computer News - KPBX FM 91.1 National Public Radio


In computer news this week (February 15, 1995):

History of the Microcomputer Revolution - Part 3 - The Washington State Connection



In 1968 a mother's group at a private Seattle High School- Lakeside School - decided to raise money for a mathematics class project. They wanted to give their children access to the fast-emerging technology of computers, and with the $3,000 they raised they arranged to buy some time on a computer for the math class. This was a common situation called time-sharing. The school installed an old teletype machine hooked up to a telephone, and they were able to access a DEC Minicomputer owned by General Electric located in downtown Seattle. The school dialed into this computer at a scheduled time, and they were charged for their usage.

2 of the gifted students in this math class became instantly obsessed with this amazing concept of being able to dial in to a computer located miles away, type in commands, and have the computer instantly type back the answer, right there in their classroom. The younger student, an 8th grader, was a boy named Bill Gates, and his friend - 2 years his senior - was a boy named Paul Allen. In an instant 2 math class nerds turned into 2 computer nerds. They began learning how to program the computer - make it follow their instructions - in a computer language named BASIC which had been developed at Dartmouth College in 1964. BASIC stood for Beginner's All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code. The boys quickly mastered this language, and began delving deeper in the computer; getting their hands on any manuals they could find. They quickly knew more than their instructor and most of the people in charge of this computer.

Computers became such a passion in their lives that they quickly depleted the $ 3,000 the mothers had raised for the project, but another door opened for them when another private computer time-sharing company named Computer Center Corporation offered the school a similar agreement. This company had been founded by UW graduates and was located in Seattle's University district, much closer to the boy's homes.

The company immediately realized that these whiz kids could be useful to them by detecting problems in the company's software, and began giving them free computer time on the company's DEC PDP-10 computer in exchange for the kid's finding bugs in the programs that caused crashes. The boys would make notes in a log of what they had done to cause a program to crash, and the company's programmers would fix the problem. The boys also began to learn about the DEC computer's operating system. Free computer time was absolute heaven to them, and they came in contact with many interesting and talented people. One was a programmer named Gary Kildall who would later play an important part in their future.

Computer Center Corporation unfortunately went bankrupt in 1970, causing the boys to lose their free computer access, although by this time their expertise was well known enough to provide other computer time opportunities they were able to hustle up for themselves. They also got valuable experience with different languages and operating systems.

Bill Gates continued his studies to ready himself to attend Harvard, and his friend Paul Allen planned to enroll at Washington State University for the Fall quarter of 1971. Paul was an avid reader of electronic magazines, and the Announcement of the Intel 4004 caught his eye. We'll hear about this next week.

For Raw Bytes, this is Frank Delaney

(C) 1995 MTA Micro Technology Associates Frank Delaney

PO Box 31522  Spokane, Wa 99223-1522 (509) 624-7230

Raw Bytes Computer News - KPBX FM 91.1 National Public Radio


In computer news this week (February 23, 1995):

History of the Microcomputer Revolution - Part 4 - High School Kid's Computer Company

In 1971, The Intel Corporation introduced the 4004 microprocessor chip which began the microcomputer revolution. The 4004 was limited in power and was more of an industrial controller than a general purpose computer chip. The architecture of the chip worked with 4 bits of data as its basic unit. 4 bits of data can be used to express computer instructions, but not characters or letters. Even the old teletype machines used a 5 bit code to represent uppercase characters only.

Less than a year later, Intel introduced the 8008 - an 8 bit computer on a chip. With an 8 bit architecture, you can do a lot of things. With 8 bits you can express computer instructions, upper and lower case characters, numbers, and symbols. In computer terms, 8 bits of data comprises a byte, as in "Raw Bytes".

Intel's introduction made a lot of people take notice. One of them was Paul Allen, who read about it while attending Washington State University. He and his friend Bill Gates had already worked summers at a variety of computer jobs which provided them with invaluable on-the-job computer learning experience.

In 1971 the boys had started a part-time company named Traf-O-Data related to traffic analysis. We've all seen those boxes with rubber hoses that stretch across a road that cities use to count cars. The cars rolled over the hose, and inside the box a device punched holes in a paper tape. The paper tapes were then transcribed by people onto punched computer cards, and these cards were then entered into a big computer which analyzed the data and produced reports . The boys had hired other students to do this data entry, but they knew there had to be a better way.

As soon as Paul Allen read about Intel's 8008 microprocessor he realized this chip had the power to do some real work. In 1972 they bought one of the first 8008 chips for $ 360, and hired a Boeing engineer to design and build the electronics. Their idea was to be able to have their device read the paper traffic tapes and convert this raw data into computer format - eliminating the manual data entry. They had a modest amount of success with their device and sold it to several cities. This experience with electro-mechanical devices and a very early microprocessor may have reinforced their belief that software - not hardware - was their future.

Paul Allen tired of college and dropped out to become a programmer at a northwest computer company. In 1973 Bill Gates enrolled in Harvard and applied for a summer computer job at Honeywell. He was able to get his friend Paul a job at Honeywell also, so Paul left Washington to travel to Boston. The two friends were together again, pursuing their dreams of starting their own computer company.

In 1974 Intel introduced the 8080 - the first true general purpose microprocessor. Using new technology, this chip offered 10 times the performance.

In January 1975, Popular Electronics magazine's cover featured a picture of a computer and a related cover story which read:

"Project Breakthrough! World's first minicomputer kit to rival commercial models - the Altair 8800 ".

The story went on to say that this was a complete minicomputer kit anyone could purchase for under $ 400.00.

In historical perspective there were a few minor inaccuracies here I'll point out -

The picture was actually a mockup - not the real computer. The real one had been lost in shipment to the magazine.

It was not truly the world's first minicomputer kit - there had been other earlier computers in kit forms.

It wasn't a minicomputer - It was actually a microcomputer - using the Intel microprocessor - but the term microcomputer hadn't been invented yet.

But it was enough to make Paul Allen go running off to tell his friend that the revolution had truly begun, and we'll hear more about that next week on Raw Bytes.

For Raw Bytes, this is Frank Delaney

(C) 1995 MTA Micro Technology Associates Frank Delaney

PO Box 31522  Spokane, Wa 99223-1522 (509) 624-7230

Raw Bytes Computer News - KPBX FM 91.1 National Public Radio



History of the Microcomputer Revolution - Part 5 -

The world's 1st Commercially Available Microcomputer

In January 1975, Popular Electronics magazine's cover featured a picture of the Altair 8800 computer - the world's first microcomputer which used the new Intel 8080 processor - sold mail order by a tiny company in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This company's name was MITS - which stood for Model Instrumentation Telemetry Systems - and its owner was a fellow named Ed Roberts who had previously written some articles for the magazine.

Ed Roberts' company built electronic equipment, but his company had fallen onto hard times and was a 1/4 million dollars in debt to his bank. His company had sold electronics kits, calculators and the like , but he realized that the new Intel chip could have the capability to be used in an actual computer. Faced with looming financial ruin, Roberts decided he would make a last ditch attempt to save his business by selling a complete computer in kit form, based on the new Intel 8080. He contacted Popular Electronics magazine, and they agreed to do the cover story on it. Roberts didn't even have a name for his computer. He asked his daughter what would be a good high-tech sounding name, and she suggested Altair - which was the name of a star in the popular tv series Star Trek.

Through shrewd negotiations, he was able to offer the kit for $ 397. Intel agreed to sell him cosmetically blemished chips for $ 75 each, instead of the going price of $ 360. This price was somewhat of an in-house joke at Intel, because they decided to price their new microprocessors at $360 to poke fun at the IBM 360 Mainframe computers, which cost millions of dollars.

Roberts estimated if he got lucky he would sell enough computer kits to keep his business afloat while he looked for other revenue sources, possibly 200 kits in a year. Like many things which have happened in the microcomputer industry since, he had absolutely no idea what impact his computer kit would have on the future of the world. Once the article appeared, the phones started ringing, and Ed Roberts and the rest of the world was soon amazed at how many people wanted to have their own computer. Things never settled down - in one day they sold 200 computers over the phone. People sent checks in sight unseen - completely on the faith they would some day receive their kit in the mail. MITS's cash flow flip-flopped virtually over night - and over time they would receive thousands of orders for the Altair 8800. Some fanatics even drove to Albuquerque and camped out in the parking lot to wait for their kits.

And what were people waiting for? Quite literally for a computer in absolutely completely disassembled bare bones kit form. To build this thing you'd have to be an electronics technician - it would take hundreds of hours - and after it was built it only had 256 characters of memory, no keyboard, no monitor, no permanent memory, and then you had to be a computer programmer to program it in machine language; zeros and ones. What could you do with it ? Hardly anything. But it was a real computer; a personal computer that people could own - and they loved it.

You see, people looked past the limitations of this first computer kit, and realized that someday things would get a lot better. Ed Roberts realized the limitations of his kit, and worked hard at creating other peripherals which would make the Altair a more usable computer. This included making boards with more memory, the capability to hook it up to a teletypewriter, and the ability to store programs permanently on paper tape, and hopefully on cassettes and maybe even floppy disks. But he and the others knew that software - not hardware - was the solution to making things really better. With usable software, people could write their own programs to do really useful things.

Roberts was already aware that the Intel 8080 had the power to run Basic - the computer language that had been invented at Dartmouth college and which was now in the public domain. Basic was easy to learn, and then people could really start getting some use out of their computers. The problem was - there was no Basic language available anywhere for the newly invented Intel 8080. But one day Ed Roberts got a letter from a company which said they had already created a version of Basic which would run on the Intel 8080, and next week we'll get back to learning more about the Washington State connection in the microcomputer revolution.

For Raw Bytes, this is Frank Delaney

(C) 1995 MTA Micro Technology Associates Frank Delaney

PO Box 31522  Spokane, Wa 99223-1522 (509) 624-7230

Raw Bytes Computer News - KPBX FM 91.1 National Public Radio


History of the Microcomputer Revolution - Part 6 -

What good is a computer without software?

Ed Roberts realized that his Altair 8800 computer needed software - a computer language - to make it really useful. Only hackers would tolerate programming in zeros and ones. An easier language was needed. The problem was - there was no Basic language available anywhere for the newly invented Intel 8080. But one day Ed Roberts got a letter from a company which said they had already created a version of Basic. He immediately called the company but reached a private home in Seattle - where nobody knew anything about the letter.

Paul Allen and Bill Gates had written and sent the letter using letterhead they had created for their high school computer company - Traf-o-Data. Bill was attending Harvard, and Paul was working in the Boston area for Honeywell. They had sent the letter - planning to do a phone followup. They soon called Ed Roberts in Albuquerque to see if he'd be interested in their Basic, (which didn't actually exist yet), and he said that he would be as soon as he could get some memory cards for the Altair so it would have enough memory to try to run Basic; maybe in a month or so.

Herein begins some of the most misunderstood facts of the microcomputer revolution, so pay close attention. Also remember that way back in the 2nd show of this series I told you that DEC minicomputers played an important role, and now we'll learn how.

Gates and Allen figured they had a 30 day window (if you'll pardon the pun) to get a version of Basic ready to run on the Altair microcomputer. But they didn't have didn't have a microcomputer to develop this with, because the only microcomputer in the world at that time was sitting in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Seems like a Catch 22 situation - but wait.

They hadn't had an 8008 processor either, which they used in their high school computer company Traf-o-Data - which measured vehicle traffic flow. So how did they program an 8008 earlier without having one?

Well, when Paul Allen was a student at WSU he had actually tried to create a simulator on the IBM mainframe there, but he wasn't familiar enough with mainframes to make it work. When they later got a summer job at a company that used DEC minicomputers, Paul was able to create a simulator of the Intel 8008 on the DEC computer. Being intimately familiar with DECs from the ground up, and having the Intel manual for the 8008, Paul had written a program on the DEC which would simulate the exact operation of the Intel chip. Then Bill Gates was able to use this simulator to write the program which ran their Traf-o-Data computer.

Having developed this software tool previously, they used it again to create a simulator on another DEC computer at Harvard, this time for the Intel 8080. The Basic language they didn't actually write from scratch. Basic had been released into the public domain, so they used bits and pieces from various dialects of different versions of Basic to come up with their own to run on the Altair. This was a frantic few weeks, while they both worked and attended school, and spent their evenings in the school's computer labs. Then, still having never touched an Altair computer, Paul Allen flew to meet Ed Roberts at MITS in Albuquerque with a paper tape of their just completed version of Basic to try out on the Altair 8800. And miraculously it worked the first time.

Finally there was usable software to make this computer really useful, and to change the world. Paul Allen quit his job and went to work at MITS. Bill Gates soon dropped out of Harvard and moved to Albuquerque too. They authorized MITS to sell their Basic as part of the Altair kit. They also retained the rights to market it themselves. A lot of controversy arose over whether it was really theirs to sell in the first place, as the boys had used government funded computers to develop their Basic on, and as Basic was in the public domain. Many of the early hackers fiercely resented this, and early copies of Altair Basic were pirated and passed from user to user.

Gates and Allen eventually formed their own company, Micro Soft - originally spelled as two words - there in Albuquerque. Within months, they were modifying their Basic to run on other early microcomputers. They got into a law suit with Ed Roberts over the rights to Basic, and eventually won. Ed Roberts sold out and retired from the industry he had started himself within a year, and is now a country doctor in Georgia. Microsoft began doing business with other emerging companies, and next week's show is titled "Send in the clones."

For Raw Bytes, this is Frank Delaney

(C) 1995 MTA Micro Technology Associates Frank Delaney

PO Box 31522  Spokane, Wa 99223-1522 (509) 624-7230

Raw Bytes Computer News - KPBX FM 91.1 National Public Radio




In computer news this week (March 15, 1995):

History of the Microcomputer Revolution - Part 7 - Send in the clones

Many people think that the term "clones" is unique to microcomputers - but like many other things that were handed down by the mainframe marketplace - this also came from the mainframe world. The actual mainframe term was PCM - which stood for Plug Compatible Mainframe - meaning you could unplug an IBM mainframe and hookup up a clone computer - Amdahl was one of the clones - and run your IBM software fine - for a lot less money actually.

The success of Intel's new microprocessors and Ed Robert's world's first Altair microcomputer kit didn't go unnoticed by their rivals. Some Intel engineers jumped ship and started their own company - Zilog - which produced a competing microprocessor - the Z80. This chip was software compatible with the Intel chip - meaning it could run any software designed for the Intel - but it was more powerful and more adaptable to computer applications.

Ed Roberts tried desperately to promote his computer while he had an exclusive product. His company, MITS, had its staff travel around the country promoting the Altair computer in a large camper they called the Mits-mobile. But in just several months - other companies began building microcomputers - this time for business people to use. One of these early companies produced a computer called the IMSAI 8080 - which used the same Intel processor as the Altair computer. But the makers of the IMSAI computer included a keyboard, computer screen, and floppy disk drives - all things that business people would need. The original Altair computer had none of these fineries and had originally been targeted at hackers. Another early microcomputer had the strange sounding name of Sol, which stood for Solomon - known for wisdom.

Ed Roberts even came out with another microcomputer kit which used a Motorola 6800 processor - named the Altair 680 - but again this was a hobbyist kit, and the marketplace was headed in another direction. And Ed Robert was better at inventing an industry than actually working in it. He tried to demand that stores which sold his computers wouldn't carry any other competing brands - but by this time the tide had turned - and there were other, better computers to choose from.

Other people came up with their own version of Basic - after all - the source code was accessible and in the public domain. This included dialects like Tiny Basic, Basic-E, Cbasic and others. By 1977 several large companies had entered into the marketplace; including Commodore - with its Commodore Pet computer - Personal Electronic Translator; Radio Shack with its either loved or hated TRS-80 - known as the Trash-80, and some very tiny but ambitious companies - including one run by some California kids who called their computer the ridiculous name of Apple. We'll talk about them later in this series.

Microcomputer clubs sprung up across the country- again - a tradition started with mainframe computers. The first recorded computer hackers supposedly were a club at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with the unlikely name of Tec Model Railroad Club. Their interests soon switched from model railroads to the early mainframe and minicomputers of the 1950's and 60's. One very famous later microcomputer club evolved out of California's Silicon Valley. They called themselves the Homebrew Computer Club and many now famous computer people attended these early meetings.

If this sounds like a wild and disjointed period in microcomputer evolution - it was - because anyone could buy all the parts needed for a computer literally off-the-shelf, find plans on how to build one, and even find some software to run, or write their own programs in Basic.

But there actually was a need for some standardization in this emerging industry, so that programs on one computer could be run on another. And this could only be attained by some kind of a universal operating system that would allow it to happen. And once again, next week we'll find out about still another Washington State connection in the microcomputer revolution.

For Raw Bytes, this is Frank Delaney

(C) 1995 MTA Micro Technology Associates Frank Delaney

PO Box 31522  Spokane, Wa 99223-1522 (509) 624-7230

Raw Bytes Computer News - KPBX FM 91.1 National Public Radio




In computer news this week (March 22, 1995):

History of the Microcomputer Revolution - part 8 - the first operating system standard

Gary Kildall will always be one of the misunderstood people related to the PC industry. At one time this true PC pioneer was a bigger name than Microsoft's Bill Gates. Other people knew him in later years as the co-host of Public Television's Computer Chronicles. Unfortunately, some people will claim he was the man who missed one of the biggest opportunities in business history, but there are several sides to this story. But to all of us who use PC's, we daily use commands he had written into the first PC operating system standard. Every time you use the directory command - DIR - to list files, you're using a cp/m command that is one of many carry-overs in today's Dos operating system.

Gary Kildall was born in Seattle and later received a computer science degree in 1972 from the University of Washington. While attending UW, he rubbed elbows with the young Bill Gates and Paul Allen when they were working at part-time jobs at computer companies in Seattle's University district. Gary had the same appreciation for DEC computers that the boys had. After graduation, he joined the Navy and was stationed in Northern California at Monterey, teaching computer science at a Naval postgraduate school. When Intel introduced their first microprocessors, Gary bought one just to play around with. After his Naval tour ended, he stayed in the area, continuing his teaching, and working on several projects in his company which he named Intergalactic Digital Research.

He actually wrote his operating system for microcomputers - which he called CP/M - control program - microcomputer - in 1973 - two years before the Altair computer kit appeared on the cover of Popular Electronics later in 1975. As many things have evolved off tangents in the PC industry - he actually wrote it as part of another project he was working on. Gary was trying to get his own language to run on an Intel 8008 microprocessor. He called this language PL/M - Programming Language for Microcomputers - and he decided that there needed to be a software interface - or an operating system - that would enable the microprocessor to communicate with a floppy disk drive input/storage device. Floppy disk drives at the time cost a fraction of what a teletype machine with a paper tape cost. Gary figured correctly that floppy disk drives were the superior technology.

Being a fan of DEC minicomputers, he borrowed a lot of the features he admired in DEC's TOPS 10 operating system for PDP-10 computers and adapted them to his CP/M system.

A few years later - after Bill Gates and Paul Allen had written their version of Basic - borrowing many features from DEC's version of Basic - successfully fed it into the Altair computer using a paper tape - and after the Altair computer had been cloned by IMSAI and others and when microcomputers began to take off - Gary Kildall was in the right place at the right time with an in-place operating system - CP/M - which would allow these early computers to use floppy disk drives - and in theory at least - allow programs from one computer to run on another computer - because they shared the same operating system.

CP/M became the dominant operating system used by the majority of the early microcomputers, and at one time there were over 100 different micros running CP/M. Gary Kildall toned down his company name to Digital Research Inc. or DRI - dropping the seventies sounding "Intergalactic. The PC market place from 1975 until 1981 was dominated and divided between Digital Research and Microsoft, with an informal understanding between them that Microsoft was THE PC languages company, and Digital Research was THE PC operating system company.

Of course there were exceptions to this rule. Radio Shack had their TRS 80's and other micros with their own Basic and TRSDOS operating system; Atari and Commodore were in similar situations, and then there was this crazy company named Apple which was started by a couple California kids in a garage which had its own operating system. But ironically, even the Apple II had an add-in card - developed by Microsoft called the Soft Card - which allowed an Apple to run CP/M - and over 100,000 were sold.

But we'll talk more about a lot of other ironies associated with Apple computer next week..

For Raw Bytes, this is Frank Delaney

(C) 1995 MTA Micro Technology Associates Frank Delaney

PO Box 31522  Spokane, Wa 99223-1522 (509) 624-7230

Raw Bytes Computer News - KPBX FM 91.1 National Public Radio


In computer news this week (March 29, 1995):

History of the Microcomputer Revolution - Part 9 - Home Brewing and computers named Apple

In early 1975 - just a couple months after the first microcomputer kit had appeared on the cover of Popular Electronics magazine - a group of electronic hobbyists in California's Silicon Valley held a meeting to start a computer club. The first micro - the Altair 8800 computer - was demonstrated at this meeting, and other meetings followed, attended by more people. They put the name of the club up for a vote, and decided on the Homebrew Computer Club.

Many of the early attendees went on to become famous names in the emerging industry. The club also become somewhat infamous because of an incident involving the pirating of one of the first computer programs - a paper tape copy of Bill Gates' first version of Basic - allegedly acquired by a club member who distributed for free to anyone who wanted it.

One of the people in attendance was a young man named Steve Wozniak, who worked for Hewlett Packard. He also did free lance design work for a game company called Atari, and had met a friend there - another Steve - Steve Jobs. Wozniak was a dreamer, designer, and builder, well liked by people and called Woz by his friends - while Jobs was a hard driven entrepreneur, a couple years older. Inspired by what he saw at the Homebrew meetings, Woz set out to build his own computer for the fun of it. He also decided to use a MOS Technology 6502 microprocessor, because it was cheap - around $ 20 - and it looked like it could do a lot of things. Woz also wrote his own version of Basic for his computer, which they named the Apple I.

He showed it at one of the Homebrew meetings, impressing the audience, but most particularly his friend Steve Jobs who immediately decided they should start their own computer company, and come out with an improved model - an Apple II. They sold some of their possessions, including a Volkswagen bus, and started building computers in their garage, although Woz continued working full-time at HP.

Eventually they drew the attention of an ex-Intel marketing executive, who was able to see the potential and arrange for venture capital for the company - providing Woz would quit his job at HP and dedicate himself full-time to the Apple II project. After some convincing, he agreed, and the rest - as they say a lot in the microcomputer industry - is history.

The Apple II was a unique machine in the industry, with its sleek sexy design, its Apple logo, its open architecture - allowing anyone to design plugin cards to it, and its capability to hook up to a color tv set and give you sound, color, and graphics - things you just didn't get with the monochrome CP/M computers it competed against. My first computer was an Apple II and I wish I still had it as much as I'd like to have my Ford Model A from my high school days.

The year was now 1977, and Apple computer began a meteoric rise - elevating both Steve's to millionaire wunderkindt status. The Apple II became one of the hottest computers in the industry - everyone wanted one. Dozens of developers began writing software for the Apple II; games, home programs, even business accounting programs.

By 1979 Apple competed strongly against 8080-based CP/M systems which dwarfed them both in size and price. A CP/M business computer at that time could easily cost $ 10K without any software. An Apple II with 48K of ram, 1 floppy disk drive, and a green NEC monitor sold for about $2500. Where there were by now over 100 manufacturers of CP/M clones, Apple was very tightly controlled and sold through an authorized dealer network.

By 1979 the entire thrust of the industry had changed - microcomputers were no longer targeted at hobbyists and hackers - they were targeted at business users, both small business and corporations.

But what really contributed to Apple's success - and what really launched the microcomputer industry from a hobbyist market to a serious business users market- was THE KILLER APPLICATION.

And next week, we'll learn about the software program that let microcomputers do what mainframe and minicomputer users couldn't.

For Raw Bytes, this is Frank Delaney

(C) 1995 MTA Micro Technology Associates Frank Delaney

PO Box 31522  Spokane, Wa 99223-1522 (509) 624-7230

Raw Bytes Computer News - KPBX FM 91.1 National Public Radio


In computer news this week (April 6, 1995):

History of the Microcomputer Revolution - Part 10 - The Killer Application

By 1979 there were lots of microcomputers and a fair number of software programs, including word processing and accounting programs. The industry was somewhat standardized on an operating system - CP/M - although there were notable exceptions like Radio Shack and Apple, and the Apple II had emerged as an industry star, with its sound, graphics, and sleek design. But these programs duplicated what was already existing on mainframe and minicomputers, and in a horse race - micros really were out of the running.

What the industry needed was a Killer application - a software program that would let a microcomputer do something the other bigger computers couldn't do, and a MIT graduate named Dan Bricklin - came up with an idea. Dan already was a computer programmer, working on - you guessed it - DEC minicomputers - but when the microcomputer market began to happen, he realized that the people who used them would want powerful but simple to use business-oriented programs. He went back to graduate school at Harvard and came up with the idea of creating a program designed for generic business applications that would let people work with numbers on a microcomputer; build financial models, and have the computer do all the calculating. What will our profit be if we sell 10,000 gizmos at fifty cents each? What if our inventory expenses rise suddenly?

The concept was the traditional accounting worksheet with its rows and columns, except that everything would be magically hooked together - so that if a value in one row changed - any other values it effected would automatically be recalculated and changed. This would be a calculator program that would show you visibly onscreen the results - hence he named it Visicalc...

The market for it - was virtually every small business and corporation in the world. Even though big corporations had big computers, there was a tremendous backlog in submitting jobs and getting work back - weeks, months, even years. Rather than depending on centralized data processing departments, across the country thousands of corporate midmanagers were doing it themselves - working with traditional paper spreadsheets, penciling in amounts, changing, erasing, and using desktop calculators to create reports such as forecasts and budgets. Small business people were doing the same thing.

In actually writing the program, Dan Bricklin didn't even have his own microcomputer, but he met up with another Dan who was already writing and marketing micro software - Dan Fylstra - who felt they should write it for the industry star - the Apple II. They actually first wrote it using a procedure which should be familiar to those of you who have been following the series. Yes - using a DEC minicomputer they created an Apple II emulator program initially. Later, they wrote it on a real Apple II . In a few months they had a finished product designed specifically for Apple computers. The market response was incredible, because this was not just computer hardware and software - it was a complete business solution. Managers could buy an Apple II with Visicalc, bring it into their departments, and immediately increase their productivity. Budgets and forecasts that traditionally took weeks could now be done in hours.

Word spread so quickly and so many people recognized the productivity potential that people would walk into computer stores asking for a Visicalc system, as if it was all one thing. This was the true killer application that launched the industry - it appealed to virtually everyone - from the corporation - to small business - to home users. And you could buy the whole thing for only a couple thousand dollars - put it almost anywhere and learn it quickly - it was a small, portable, productivity system.

Visicalc was soon modified to run on other microcomputers; Radio Shack at first, then others. But the most significant point here is that people were buying a ready made solution and microcomputers were beginning to infiltrate American corporations by the thousands. This was a case of the tail wagging the dog - a hundred dollar piece of software was selling a two thousand dollar computer, and sales increased exponentially into the millions.

The industry had grown from hobbyists and long haired kids in garages into a business market generating serious money, and on the sidelines the world's largest computer company had been watching and studying it. Next week we'll learn how IBM planned to get a piece of the action, but ended up getting a whole lot more than they bargained for.

For Raw Bytes, this is Frank Delaney

(C) 1995 MTA Micro Technology Associates Frank Delaney

PO Box 31522  Spokane, Wa 99223-1522 (509) 624-7230

Raw Bytes Computer News - KPBX FM 91.1 National Public Radio


In computer news this week (April 20, 1995):

History of the Microcomputer Revolution - Part 11 - IBM's Secret

IBM had been watching the emerging PC marketplace. By 1980 the company had made a couple feeble attempts at their own PC products. One was the IBM 5100 computer which was a big desktop with a tiny screen, and the Datamaster - another future failure. IBM also had entertained the notion of buying the game company Atari and its early PC line.

IBM's chairman at the time decided to take a different approach, and gathered a group of the company's renegade successful managers - wild ducks in IBM-speak - to start a project code named the Manhattan project. Its mission was to explore building a PC that the market really wanted, and to try to end the embarrassment of the world's largest computer company being beaten out by long haired kids and unknown tiny startup companies, and to build it in a non-IBM company way. The IBM team approached Microsoft under pretense of doing a market survey, requesting Microsoft to sign a non-disclosure agreement which would enable IBM to disavow the meeting ever happened - (Mission Impossible tactics) - and asked Bill Gates for his opinions on what a PC should have and do. Gates had no problem with IBM's secrecy, and had many opinions as to what a PC should be like.

His ideas included using the new Intel 8086 16 bit processor for better performance, and desiring the computer to have better graphics and several other features not found in the current generation of PC's. IBM soon returned with the admission that they were interested in building their own PC and were considering using many of Gates' ideas. They asked if Microsoft would be able to write a special version of Basic for this PC project - they wanted Basic to be in a ROM chip in the computer. Microsoft had already written a version of Basic for Intel for their new 8086 processor, and readily agreed. This new generation PC would need an operating system, so naturally Gates told IBM to contact his friend Gary Kildall at Digital Research - who had written CP/M. Digital Research already had plans to develop a new operating system - CP/M for the 8086 - named CP/M 86.

Herein lies one of the most interesting stories of the microcomputer revolution. There are many war stories about this incident - including how Kildall deliberately kept IBM waiting while he flew his private plane - or how he refused to sign IBM's non-disclosure agreement. Gary Kildall had his own different story of exactly what happened here also - but the net result was that IBM wrote him off as a potential partner and returned to Microsoft still looking for an operating system. Wanting desperately to be part of this new project, Microsoft committed to writing the operating system also - although they had never written one before.

Fate smiled on Microsoft twice in these proceedings. First, IBM was somewhat leery of dealing with what they considered a somewhat flakey tiny software company, but it turns out that in addition to Microsoft's proven reputation as a viable language vendor, Mary Gates - Bill's mom - had served on the national board of United Way with one of the involved IBM senior executives - providing the validating social reference that they were working with "Mary's Gates' boy Bill".

The second fateful event was even more interesting and involves yet another Washington State connection in the microcomputer revolution.

Microsoft soon realized that they knew nothing about writing an operating system and began to panic, but someone remembered talking to a Seattle hardware hacker who had already built a prototype computer using the new Intel 8086 and who had mentioned he was tired of waiting for Digital Research - so he had gone ahead and written his own operating system for it.

Ironically, this individual - whose name was Tim Patterson - had previously talked to Microsoft employees and had been very interested in the File Allocation method that Microsoft Basic used. Patterson worked for a local company named Seattle Computer Products and had indeed written his own operating system for his prototype 8086-based computer which incorporated a similar File Allocation system for disk management - and he had named it QDOS - for quick and dirty operating system.

Next week on Raw Bytes we'll talk about what many have called the deal of the century, and we'll learn about what impact IBM's new PC had on the world.

For Raw Bytes, this is Frank Delaney

(C) 1995 MTA Micro Technology Associates Frank Delaney

PO Box 31522  Spokane, Wa 99223-1522 (509) 624-7230

Raw Bytes Computer News - KPBX FM 91.1 National Public Radio


In computer news this week (April 27, 1995):

History of the Microcomputer Revolution - Part 12 - The Deal of the Century

Microsoft - in the deal of the century - bought Seattle Computer Products "Quick and Dirty operating system" for a mere $ 50,000 - without Seattle Computer Products knowing it was for IBM - and then proceeded to talk IBM into letting Microsoft also market it separate from the IBM PC project. Microsoft had the market savvy and already realized the potential profit - or "revenue bomb" - their own operating system and languages might generate.

It was a frantic several months of around the clock work to meet the product introduction deadline. IBM gave Microsoft hardware prototypes of their PC to develop Basic and the new operating system for. IBM required strict security procedures, which Microsoft felt were silly. Microsoft's Bellevue offices and IBM's Boca Raton, Florida, production facilities were at exact opposite ends of the country, necessitating hundreds of flights to hastily called meetings - usually by IBM. Despite these problems, and the clash of corporate cultures, - the deadline of introducing the IBM PC on August 12, 1981 was met. However, Microsoft - to whom the project had been a labor of love - was not even invited to the product introduction. To IBM, Microsoft was just another vendor. The PC was just another product.

The finalized IBM PC was close to what Bill Gates had specified should comprise a new generation computer. IBM decided to use the Intel 8088 chip - a 16/8 chip - instead of the true 16-bit 8086 chip, saving a few dollars in production cost, but slowing the system down. The 8088 could address up to 1 Megabyte of memory - 16 times more than the 64K CP/M computers - more than what mainframe computers used - who would ever need that much memory? The system had a built-in cassette tape interface but was designed to use 5" floppy disk drives and have monochrome graphics. The Basic language was in a ROM chip inside the computer, and you had your choice of 3 operating systems - The New MS-Dos, CP/M-86, or the UCSD P system. Several application software programs - including a modified version of Visicalc - were offered. Configuration prices ranged from about $ 1600 for a 16K RAM mono system, up to over six Grand for a 320K system which included color graphics. What really made the IBM PC unique from previous IBM traditions is that it was built from off the shelf parts - available to anyone - and that it was marketed by computer dealers - not IBM salesmen.

IBM was so unsure of market acceptance that they made a low key product introduction. Other PC makers of the day such as Radio Shack expressed little concern. Apple Computer even ran a newspaper ad welcoming IBM into the marketplace. The new IBM PC didn't really have the power to blow its competition away, there wasn't much software available, it used 3 new and untried operating systems, and it was marketed through a new non-IBM marketing channel.

And the market acceptance - was phenomenal. Software for it seemed to grow on trees. A new spreadsheet program called Lotus - written to take advantage of the 8088 - soon became a reason to buy the new IBM PC. Quality Word Processing and Database programs emerged. 3rd Party hardware companies began creating drop-in cards such as the Hercules monographics adapter. People rushed to computer stores like Lemmings to the sea. Demand was so high that stores had lotteries for the chance to buy an IBM PC at grossly inflated prices.

Within 18 months IBM was forced by market demand to introduce a PC-XT which had a hard disk and a new version of DOS. Business demanded more RAM and storage. The unheard of 1 meg of memory was soon eaten up by the demands of huge spreadsheets, and tricks - such as the Above Board and the LIMSpec or Expanded memory specification were created to fool the systems into being able to use resources that theoretically weren't there.

So incredible was IBM's success that the October 3rd, 1983 issue of Business Week magazine ran a cover story entitled "Personal Computers - and the Winner is - IBM", which went on to explain how IBM had gone from zero to market domination in 2 years.

And the future certainly looked much like George Orwell's 1984 - as IBM was poised to dominate the world again, and was readying the introduction of its new Advanced Technology PC and even a home PC they planned on calling junior.

And this probably would have happened, were it not for some interesting developments at - of all places - a Copier company's research laboratory - and next week we'll learn how both Apple's Steve Jobs and Microsoft's Bill Gates took a walk in the "PARC", and how it changed the future of personal computing.

For Raw Bytes, this is Frank Delaney

(C) 1995 MTA Micro Technology Associates Frank Delaney

PO Box 31522  Spokane, Wa 99223-1522 (509) 624-7230

Raw Bytes Computer News - KPBX FM 91.1 National Public Radio


In computer news this week (May 3, 1995):

History of the Microcomputer Revolution - Part 13 - A walk in the PARC

Just 2 years after the introduction of the IBM PC, Business Week magazine ran a cover story in October 1983 declaring IBM the Winner of the race for the PC marketplace. 1983 was a bad year for many other computer companies which had drastically reduced earnings or went bankrupt. Even Apple computer had its problems, falling behind in sales to IBM and having what looked like a dismal new product failure in its Lisa computer - which coupled high technology with a high price that noone was buying. This disappointment followed the Apple III, another product failure. The future certainly looked rosy for IBM, and many business analysts and reporters thought that IBM had really won the battle.

But IBM had never gone for a walk in the PARC, as had Apple's Steve Jobs, and Microsoft's Bill Gates, and so IBM had not seen the future of computing.

PARC stands for the Palo Alto Research Center, created by the Xerox Corporation in the early 1970's as a think tank for computer research. Unfortunately for Xerox it was only - that - a think tank. Xerox never capitalized on the major PC technologies thought up and made into working prototypes at the PARC. They had created what some people say was the true first personal computer - the Alto - back in 1972, and from this Think Tank came most major PC world technologies, including the concept of a Graphical User Interface with Icons, the handheld mouse, object oriented programming, PC networking, desktop publishing and laser printing.

In 1979 Apple Computer allowed Xerox to buy a million dollars of Apple stock in exchange for allowing a few key Apple people - including Steve Jobs - to view inside the Xerox PARC and talk to the think tank people for a limited time. Jobs and his Apple associates were literally amazed at the technology they viewed, but they were more amazed that Xerox wasn't doing anything with it. To the Xerox scientists, the Apple people were the first people they had talked to who understood what they were doing. Some of these scientist who worked at the PARC later went to work for Apple and Microsoft, or started their own companies.

From this brief visit, Apple's perception of what a personal computer should be was changed instantly, and they began planning to produce a new computer which would be based on the ideas they had seen at the PARC. In 1980, Microsoft's Bill Gates also had an opportunity to see what was inside the magical kingdom. In these early days of the microcomputer revolution, Apple and Microsoft actually worked very closely together on many projects.

So when IBM announced its personal computer in 1981, the Apple people were dismayed both at how bad it was technically - and how well it sold. Even Microsoft - who had come up with the operating system for it and the Basic language, also knew at the time how much better a personal computer should really be.


In 1983 Apple introduced its first computer based on PARC technology - the Lisa - which sold for over ten thousand dollars, and which used a mouse. It went nowhere - based more on its price than its capability. Things had changed internally at Apple by this time. The company had become a corporation. Steve Wozniak had been injured in a plane crash and had gone into semi-retirement. Apple had hired Pepsi-Cola's John Sculley as its president to lead the company to market domination, and Steve Jobs was fighting for his own survival in the corporate power structure. Jobs took over a secret division that Apple insiders referred to as the "pirates" and moved forward on a secret mission.

During the 3rd quarter of the Super Bowl in 1984, people saw an advertisement which left people saying "What was that ?" and which marked the introduction of the Apple Macintosh computer, a smaller and better version of PARC technology, reasonably priced at $ 2495, and portable - a computer which Apple advertising said was "For the rest of us.."

The Mac was an immediate success in many areas. Bill Gates even said it was finally a computer his Mom could use. It drew a cult following of technology junkies and IBM haters, despite the fact that it was somewhat underpowered and radically different from all the other PC's at the time. The Mac soon developed powerful niche market segments. Meanwhile, IBM had stumbled with its PC Jr, and the Mac rained all over IBM's introduction of its 80286-based Advanced Technology computer later that year.

But even more important, was that fact than now there were some clear choices in the emerging PC marketplace as to how computers should actually work, and next week we'll examine the saga of Microsoft and IBM's stormy relationship, and how IBM managed to lose the PC marketplace as quickly as it had almost won it.

For Raw Bytes, this is Frank Delaney

(C) 1995 MTA Micro Technology Associates Frank Delaney

PO Box 31522  Spokane, Wa 99223-1522 (509) 624-7230

Raw Bytes Computer News - KPBX FM 91.1 National Public Radio


In computer news this week (May 10, 1995):

History of the Microcomputer revolution - part 14 - Send in the clones again, and Freud would have called it gooey-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.

For Raw Bytes, this is Frank Delaney

(C) 1995 MTA Micro Technology Associates Frank Delaney

PO Box 31522  Spokane, Wa 99223-1522 (509) 624-7230

Raw Bytes Computer News - KPBX FM 91.1 National Public Radio




In computer news this week (May 24, 1995):

History of the Microcomputer Revolution Part 15 - the PC Industry at age 11 in 1986

Most 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 around 2 million.

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 week on Raw Bytes, the final show in this series - Will the circle be unbroken?

For Raw Bytes, this is Frank Delaney

(C) 1995 MTA Micro Technology Associates Frank Delaney

PO Box 31522  Spokane, Wa 99223-1522 (509) 624-7230

Raw Bytes Computer News - KPBX FM 91.1 National Public Radio


In computer news this week (June 1, 1995):

History of the Microcomputer Revolution Part 16 - Will the Circle be unbroken?

They say that despite how rebellious we are in our youth, we always grow up to become our parents. The PC Industry at age 20 is in many ways different from its parent - the mainframe world - but in many ways also the same.

This industry was started by people with the dream of having computers available for everyone. They felt information should be free. They wanted to break the tyranny of their dependency on centralized Data Processing departments.

These are the people who in the mid 70's spent hundreds of hours building their own computer kits, then learning arcane languages just for the pure joy of seeing their own computer do their own commands. These are the people who later went out and bought their own Apple II computers with Visicalc, brought them into their departments at work, and got their budgets and forecasts out themselves in record time. These are the people who believed in their own abilities and who felt that given the proper resources - they could do things themselves; the true American pioneer spirit.

The idea of computers for everyone has become a reality. Virtually anyone can afford a PC today, and I've seen people buy PC's as impulse items at discount stores. With many PC users now on their 3rd or 4th system, you can buy older PC's at garage sales for bargain prices. Technologically obsolete perhaps, but still functional.

But the #1 obstacle to learning and using PC's is and has always been the issue of ease of use, with vendors always promising us that one version that really is easy enough for everyone will be here in their newest release. Microsoft's Bill Gates said that first about the Mac, then about early Windows, then about Windows 3.1, but now Microsoft introduces BOB - a GUI with talking animals - for those millions of folks who just can't figure out the ease of use of Windows. And we forever hear the promise of Programmerless programming. We just never see it.

People sit down at multimedia Pentium systems that come bundled with software that has online help, tutorials, and on-screen training videos with sound - and complain about ease of use. What would these people do if you sat them in front of an Altair?

What good is a spreadsheet program to someone who doesn't understand the concept? How can someone who struggles with word processing concepts ever hope to use a database program? We see people struggling - being forced to learn computers, whose aptitudes might lie in completely different areas.

Why do we feel that anyone can sit down and learn computers? Can anyone be a doctor, or a lawyer, or a welder, or a dental technician? Do people have different learning capacity and different aptitudes? Aren't there indoors and outdoors people?

Computer hardware and software has advanced remarkably over the past decade and decreased in price. Cdrom and telecommunications technology now give us instant access to vast amounts of information. Our children now walk to the computer, instead of to a bookcase or a library to do their homework. You can now - if you wish - spend your whole life in the emotionless void of Cyberspace - and withdraw from the world of humans.

The PC is becoming more of an entertainment and information appliance than a computer. We even sometimes see the ultimate irony of someone using a PC exclusively as a word processor - with one of these little stick-on calculators on the keyboard for when they need to actually compute something.

Millions of people are telecommuting; Technology has created the virtual office - wherever you are with your portable, faxmodem, and celphone - that's your office.

But while many things have changed, many things have stayed the same.

We see centralized PC services departments in companies that are just as inaccessible to end-users as the old DP departments. Computer priests still protecting their temples.

We see people in PC management positions with no real world PC experience.

We see owners of companies virtually held hostage by their computer people, because management is still computer illiterate. They watch their money being spent.

Several studies have challenged the actual true productivity of PC's.

We see commercial information services - Compuserve - AOL - where you pay for every online second, and even the Internet has its dark sides.

Vendors constantly promise faster and better, but deliver bigger, slower, and worse.

We see Microsoft dominating the PC world as much or more than IBM did the mainframes.

And we see businesses in 1995 in a continuing upgrade cycle - never getting to a point of stability because there's always the promise of something new and better.

There's an old blues term that says "No matter how much things change, things still stay the same." Maybe that's the nature of the computer world, in any form.

But for the PC world, as the Memphis bluesman Furry Lewis was fond of saying, "Times done been, won't be no more..".




History of the Microcomputer Revolution Series Bibliography



CP/M & MS/DOS Books & Magazines:

Hackers - Heroes of the Computer Revolution

Steven Levy, Dell Books, ISBN 0-440-13405-6

Big Blues - the Unmaking of IBM

Paul Carroll, Crown Publishers, ISBN 0=517-59197-9

The Making of Microsoft How Bill Gates and his team created the world's most successful software company

Daniel Ichbiah & Susan L. Knepper, Prima Publishing, ISBN 1-55958-071-2

Hard Drive - Bill Gates and the Making of the Microsoft Empire

James Wallace & Jim Erickson, John Wiley & Sons Books, ISBN 0-471-56886-4

Gates - How Microsoft's mogul reinvented an industry ..

Stephen Manes & Paul Andrews, Simon & Shuster Pub., ISBN 0-671-88074-8

Accidental Empires - How the Boys of Silicon Valley make their millions ..

Robert X. Cringely, Addison Wesley, ISBN 0-201-57032-7

Intel: Architect of the Microcomputer Revolution

Intel Corporation Document provided for the series

Defining Intel: 25 Years / 25 Events

Intel Corporation Document provided for the series

The Tinkerings of Robert Noyce

Tom Wolfe, Esquire Magazine Dec. 1983, Reprint provided by The Intel Corporation

Software - Understanding Computers Series

Time-Life Books, ISBN 0-8094-7554-5

The Best of Byte - Volume 1 March 1977

David H. Ahl & Carl T. Helmers - Editors, McGraw Hill Publication, ISBN 0-916688-04-6

"The Personal Computing 500 - PC Industry Trivia"

Patrick Honan, Additional Research by Others - Personal Computing Magazine October 1986

Whatever Happened to ...? Series - Stan Veit's History - Misc. Articles

Stan Veit, Computer Shopper Magazine, Ziff-Davis Publishing

Programmers at Work - Interviews with 19 Programmers who shaped the computer industry

Susan Lammers, Tempus Press Microsoft Books, ISBN 1-55615-211-6

From Chips to Systems: AnIntroduction to Microprocessors

Rodnay Zaks, Sybex Books, ISBN 0-89588-063-6

Soul of CP/M - How to Use the Hidden Power of Your CP/M System

Mitchell Waite and Robert Lafore, Sams & Co. Books, ISBN 0-672-22030-X

CP/M Assembly Language Programming

Ken Barbier, Prentice-Hall Books, ISBN 0-13-188250-3



Apple Books:

Insanely Great - The life and Times of Macintosh, the computer that changed everything

Steven Levy, Viking Penguin Books, ISBN 0-670-85244-9

Steve Jobs - The Journey is the Reward

Jeffrey S. Young, Scott, Forseman & Co., ISBN 0-673-18864-7

Odyssey - Pepsi to Apple... a journey of adventures, ideas, and the future

John Sculley with John Byrne, Harper & Row, ISBN 0-06-015780-1

Miscellaneous:

Personal records, notes & recollections on my experiences in the PC Industry since 1977

 

Frank Delaney, President, MTA Micro Technology Associates, (509) 624-7230

Producer, "Raw Bytes"


mailto:frank@mtamicro.com

 

MTA Micro Technology Associates

611 E. Hoffman Ave.

Spokane, WA 99207


www.mtamicro.com

 

 

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