30th Anniversary for the PC! – Many Happy Returns

I wonder how many of the people who launched the PC on the 12th August 1981 knew they were creating a platform that would last 30 years, let alone one that would be the main stay of the personnel computing world. However, getting off to a slow start the PC was outselling all other personnel computers within about three years. Granted now a days this growth has slowed somewhat, 85 million desktops and laptop PC’s were sold worldwide in the second quarter of 2011. Why then did the humble PC become so strong? And could it be around in another 30 Years?

At the end of the 1970’s the market for home PC’s took off at a fast pace. Such computers like Commodore’s PET, Tandy’s TRS-80 and a little later Sinclair’s ZX80 took over what was considered the domain of the electronic enthusiasts to a lot wider non-technical market.

At the time IBM was all ready established as a maker of computer’s, however they wanted something that would appeal to the home user market which was starting to expand. In 1980 they took this product onboard and started to set about producing one.

IBM not known for moving very quickly on any product, Don Estridge (heading Project Chess Team) took an entirely different approach when they started to design the PC, using existing third party components rather than their own company’s parts they were looking to keep the cost low and progress on production faster. Developing the product this way took the team to completion within 12 months. IBM took another development decision that of publishing the computer’s architecture therefore allowing third-parties to come up with upgrades that were compatible: this also contributed to the PC’s success.

1983 saw the entry level PC costing less than $700 but unfortunately sales were very low prompting Time magazine to state “one of the biggest flops in computing history”. However, within weeks of IBM launching the 5150 Personal Computer, other manufactures were supplying compatible expansions and add-ons.

Unfortunately for IBM their costs were dear compared to a lot more personal computers on the market, so sales remained low. Because the PC comprised of off-the-shelf components and the architecture was open, copying by other producers the first rival IBM-compatible PC went on sale in 1982. IBM wanted to regain the initiative in 1987 with the Personal System/2 (PS/2) which had their own architecture, whilst selling well to the business sector it did not over take the humble PC by others.

Sealing the success of the platform created by IBM, cheaper third-party PC’s however took away a lot of sales from IBM. A price war driven by Atari and Commodore eventually drove out countless incompatible PC’s. By the mid 1980’s no one single company owned the PC and home users were moving strongly toward it.

In 1985 total sales were in the region of 11 million personal computers rising to some 58 million a decade later, with 207 million by 2005. However growth is now slowing as the market becomes saturated. Government figures show, in the UK 75 per cent of homes had a PC by the year 2009. As the sales of the personal computer increased the price of the products have fallen, heavy completion unfortunately has taken its toll on retailers and manufacturers due to lower margins.

The PC has a lot of completion, but will remain an important part of people’s lives for a while yet.