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Why was the IBM PC so successful?

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Tons of people bought Apple ][ computers to run VISICALC. Tons more bought a PC for Word Perfect and LOTUS 123. (A name I never did understand).

I'm pretty sure that "1-2-3" came from the phrase "as easy as 1-2-3". In fact, I remember that one of the computer vendors of the time (was it Leading Edge?) got into trouble with Lotus for bundling a 1-2-3 clone called "As Easy As".

 

(They also marketed a great word processor, the Leading Edge Word Processor, which was modeled after the old Wang dedicated word processing machines. It used to be my favorite, and I'm sure I still have a complete copy. I remember reading a review of it in which the reviewer took issue with the fact that its "AutoSave" feature was enabled by default, on the principle that he didn't like the computer doing things in the background without his knowledge.)

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it also is repersentitive of the 3 products you got within 123, spreadsheet, charting, and database all integrated into a single package (remember sharing data between programs was very iffy back then)

 

and yea it was leading edge, they copied everything, ultimately killed them as they had a direct copy of the pc rom bios in their machines

Edited by Osgeld

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The thing is the PC DOS machine was a terrible HOME computer. For business tasks it quite did what it bloody well needed to and its absurd prices and complications to make it do anything "fun" really make them things nobody but businesspeople with more money than sense (or the smarts to have their office pay for it/let them borrow it) really should have ever wanted in the home.

 

My friend's family got a 1000+ plus dollar PC the same year I got my Commodore 64 (Christmas 87.). My machine cost less than half theirs. And for gaming it kicked its ass completely. They had CGA, awful joysticks (at least for that era of gaming. Analog sticks would eventually come into their own. Eventually.) and some beeps and boops. Mine had GEOS which basically turned the 64 into a 16 color Mac with a bigger screen (19" tv for me!), and all the good apps bundled with it. (Somehow I used the GEOS 1 disks for other things like an idiot so it wasn't till GEOS 2 that I got down n dirty with it.)

 

Honestly PCs weren't home computers till Windows 95 and Pentium 166s and better really. (Then 3d cards came out and confused up a stabilizing market. And the endless increasing system requirements.. but that was even in the 80s.)

 

The first DOS machine I had in 93 had 2 megs ram SVGA with a tiny amount of video ram (still need to hunt down those chips if I can ever figure out which ones my Tandy 486 needs), a wimpy 2400 baud modem, no sound or CDROM, 2 button mouse, Windows 3.1, DOS 5, a 13" monitor, and was only a 486 25 with a 130 meg hard disk and 1 3.5 HD floppy. For 1400 bucks. I spent the next 4-5 months upgrading the damned thing to be a proper games machine (Navy paychecks aren't big as an E2), and the next 3 or so years trying to keep it current. (Eventually I gave up and got a new PC on credit. LAUGH AT THE MACHINE THAT BLEW MY MIND IN EARLY 97: SAM_1931.JPG

 

(And I had to upgrade it a couple times. Up to a Pentium Pro 200 and I think a Voodoo Banshee.)

 

Whereas my C64's only upgrade was .. a Fast Load cart I got a couple months before I sold off the machine (STUPID ME. STUPID STUPID STUPID.)

 

The closed or mostly closed systems were a better value to a home user who wasn't made of money and just wanted to write out some reports, maybe do some light programming & artistic type work, and play some damn fine games.

 

To be sure, Commodore borked up the 128 which probably should have replaced the C64 entirely by Xmas 87, or at the least developers making it so users would actually WANT to buy RAM expansions, but the dumb things Commodore, Atari, Coleco, TI, and Tandy (among others) did could (and DOES) fill volumes of text...

 

But in case yall are wondering, Frankenstein is still around. (Sold it to my uncle who eventually sold his house and left a ton of stuff in my basement since.. 07 or so. Which at least meant I got my old friend back. Cleaned up a spare keyboard from the Athlon 800 days, my 15" flat glass monitor, a new floppy drive from ebay, a Sound Blaster 32 Discovery set for 30 bones on ebay (originally like a 400-500 dollar item!), DOS 6.22, and the existing machine with its 16 megs of RAM, a Cyrix P5 133 Overdrive chip upgrades and it works quite nicely. Oh, and an extra 210 meg HD. I really need to get a gig HD in there one of these days. But most of the time I just play DOS stuff in DOSbox.)

 

SAM_1408.JPG

Edited by Bloodcat

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Don't forget that people that didn't own a home computer back then, but worked with a pc at work, would be buying a pc for home use as their first computer. Because they already knew how it worked. And copying programs for home use wasn't that difficult. Just copy the discs or if it was hdd installed, the directory, and it would work at home.

We bought a pc, after we had a cpc-464, because i needed a computer to do homework on and at school we used pc's. So since we used the cpc-464 for gaming only, we didn't have a printer, we bought a $1200 dollar+ Philips 286 12.5Mhz pc with cga graphics and 1 Mb ram and a 20 Mb Hdd and a star lc10 printer.

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By the time of the 386 with VGA graphics the PC was coming to it's own as a good gaming system, and the 486SX-66 with Windows 3.1/DOS, SVGA, and a 8 speed CD-ROM drive was a GREAT gaming machine. This by the early 90's, though, that the process started.

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ATTACK OF THE CLONES!!! That's what made it so successful. The actual (IBM-branded, that is) PC (and PS/2, etc - real IBM machines) weren't that successful in the overal scheme of things, were they? Of course not! It's the clones that IBM itself faught vehemently - that can be attributed to the success of the architecture (etc) that they spawned.

 

Clone makers were seriously undercutting IBM's ripoff prices, and then IBM itself made a series of mis-steps, of course, with hindsight. First off, they thought the 286 was all the desktop user would need, which is why Compaq (back when they were a real tour de force) handed them their ass by beating them to the punch with the first 386, the Compaq Deskpro/386.

 

As well, IBM fucked-up big-time when they made the move to "Micro-channel" architecture on [most of] the PS/2 line. By this time, the rest of the industry had already cloned them significantly, and responded with the much more sensible EISA architecture. That was a major beat-down on IBM, who - obviously - had to eventually abandon Micro-channel. By the time Intel's PCI (and beyond, obviously, forgetting VESA LB) became the standard, IBM itself was a small player in the field of "PC-compatibles" that it had created.

 

So I don't think the question should be why the IBM PC was so successful, but the evolving architecture that it spawned. Sure, the original IBM PC was successful in that it wasn't a failure. It's just that the clone market that it spawned was so exponentially more successful, that it dwarfed the original IBM PC's success, by comparison. The clone makers not only made it cheaper, but the aftermarket (clone makers, etc) turned an overpriced, underpowered green screen boring machine into something that kicked the ass of everything else on the market by any measurable metric - speed, graphics, sound, price.

 

I think it's too much to claim that "The IBM PC" won, as it had its ass handed to it by others, who improved upon it, for incredibly less money.

wood_jl,

I was fairly impressed by IBM's Microchannel architecture; you could double up the send and receive lines in burst mode for 64-bit throughput; the 32-bit PCI standard that came out years later paled in comparison.

 

Ditto for OS2/Warp - awesome OS compared to Windows but IBM did mess up again and for similar reasons here; they wanted to charge developers something like $500 for their Warp dev kit at expo - I wasn't buying given that multiple Microsoft reps had shoved no less than 3 free copies of their kit and docs in my hands before I could get out the door. Seemed neither was anyone else :)

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By the time of the 386 with VGA graphics the PC was coming to it's own as a good gaming system, and the 486SX-66 with Windows 3.1/DOS, SVGA, and a 8 speed CD-ROM drive was a GREAT gaming machine. This by the early 90's, though, that the process started.

 

That's the thing though isn't it? The PC really shouldn't have ever gotten to that point for a home machine. Yet somehow it did. Clever actions by Microsoft. Bad ones by IBM. Businesses doing typical things. (Well typical in the days before Reganomics really took hold and started trying to kill Capitalism/turn our modern era into a Cyberpunk dystopia except without the Knight Sabers being hot n stuff. :( )

 

The PC standard basically won out by a bunch of weird factors.

 

Commodore's success with the C64 basically killed any chances the Amiga had. Atari was both tarnished by its' name and Tramiels being Tramiel. Nintendo's home base power and savvy. Ray Kassar being a prototype of a modern businessman.

 

So many things happened. One little change could have turned everything. What if the 7800 came out in 84 like it was supposed to? What if the Coleco Adam wasn't less reliable than the first few years of the X Box 360? What if the Atari 5200 was instead basically the XEGS or both skipped and the 7800 was the replacement for both the x00 series computers AND the 2600? Hell, what if the NES went the computer route like it was planned? What if the Amiga went console like originally?

 

What if Jobs quit fighting for the failure Apple machines and let the II team keep trucking without any interference? What if Tandy didn't do the 1000 series and supported the CoCo better? What if TI didn't try to have a NES like hold on their computer's development? What if Commodore didn't make the 128 an unsupported mess?

 

It was just a massive series of errors, mistakes, and dumb luck.

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I got to agree with the "attack of the clones" statement. It is possible to win by just flooding the market. It reminds me of this thing I once saw on the battle between vhs and beta. It was well known that beta was the superior format. Retailers who didn't want a surplus of vhs machines when beta took over started giving them away with tv purchases. A while later so many people had their free vhs player it just became the standard even though beta was superior. Oh and the porn industry decided to go with vhs that had a lot to do with it too. Any one no if the porn industry sided with the pc?

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and like beta many machines were a closed proprietary machine that was difficult to develop for

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A business computer can evolve into a gaming machine easier than a gaming machine can evolve into a business computer.

 

The toys by Atari and Commodore never really went anywhere outside the home. But the serious workhorse PC spawned a whole era of 3D gaming.

 

And I feel that if the Apple 2 was allowed to stay on the scene Apple would have a bigger share of the desktop & laptop market today. Maybe not by an Apple 2 derivative, but with something anyhow. Not the pissant micro-sized piece of the pie they have now. But this is all irrelevant, as more and more people use tablets and smartphones for daily computing.

 

And if you look back, it was all politics and marketing missteps that killed many-a platform. Despite what advertising would have you believe; death by obsolescence or technological failure was not a driving factor. Oh sure there were advances in speed and storage capacity, but they were (and continue to be) evolutionary. No one bit of hardware all of a sudden stopped working or when through any rapid replacement by the masses. It was all a smooth progression. Directed by marketing & politics.

 

It's been that way since the days of RAMAC. Marketing and planning came into R&D office and presented a problem. R&D solved it.

Edited by Keatah

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What most seem to forget is the fact that computers where still a niece product. Also most people that had a home computer became annoyed when switching to newer hardware, that they had to re-buy a lot of peripherals and software since those weren't compatible with each other. Hence the fact that the MSX standard was launched. But those where still home computers and a lot of people didn't trust those manufacturers. So when IBM stepped into the business and create a standard format that proved to be backwards compatible more and more people felt confident enough to buy a pc.

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wood_jl,

I was fairly impressed by IBM's Microchannel architecture; you could double up the send and receive lines in burst mode for 64-bit throughput; the 32-bit PCI standard that came out years later paled in comparison.

 

Good grief! You have an excellent memory! I knew there was some technical innovation to it, although I couldn't remember what it was. The trouble was, the market perception of the Microchannel was not to advance the architecture, but for IBM itself to regain control of the platform, should Microchannel have been successful. Turns out that EISA's backward compatibility was deemed more important by the market. But kudos to you - a technically-minded fella with a good memory! :)

 

 

My first IBM-compatible PC was an actual IBM-branded PS/2 model 30-286. I think it was one of the few branded PS/2 that did NOT have Microchannel, but had ISA. It was a 286-10Mhz, with "wait states" in the RAM. I remember there was an upscale model (still a 286) called "PS/2 model 50Z" and the Z stood for "zero wait states," meaning "extra" performance and I used one at school, but I can't remember if it had Microchannel, or not.

 

 

Ditto for OS2/Warp - awesome OS compared to Windows but IBM did mess up again and for similar reasons here; they wanted to charge developers something like $500 for their Warp dev kit at expo - I wasn't buying given that multiple Microsoft reps had shoved no less than 3 free copies of their kit and docs in my hands before I could get out the door. Seemed neither was anyone else :)

 

I never got to check out OS/2 Warp. I missed out on that! Was there much software support, or did it mostly run DOS apps?

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I never got to check out OS/2 Warp. I missed out on that! Was there much software support, or did it mostly run DOS apps?

OS/2 Warp was amazing. I ran it exclusively until Windows 95 took over. Warp ran Windows 3.x programs better than a native Windows install.

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Good grief! You have an excellent memory! I knew there was some technical innovation to it, although I couldn't remember what it was. The trouble was, the market perception of the Microchannel was not to advance the architecture, but for IBM itself to regain control of the platform, should Microchannel have been successful. Turns out that EISA's backward compatibility was deemed more important by the market. But kudos to you - a technically-minded fella with a good memory!

 

Thanks wood_jl :) I agree; if IBM had allowed Microchannel to be an open standard it would have been the standard.

My first IBM-compatible PC was an actual IBM-branded PS/2 model 30-286. I think it was one of the few branded PS/2 that did NOT have Microchannel, but had ISA. It was a 286-10Mhz, with "wait states" in the RAM. I remember there was an upscale model (still a 286) called "PS/2 model 50Z" and the Z stood for "zero wait states," meaning "extra" performance and I used one at school, but I can't remember if it had Microchannel, or not.

 

I never got to check out OS/2 Warp. I missed out on that! Was there much software support, or did it mostly run DOS apps?

Yes, Warp was a much better OS and initially gained a foothold in the business world - there was interoperability where it could run the new business Windows (Windows NT 3.5, Windows NT 4.0) software, but Windows NT could not really support the Warp software.

 

I think if IBM gave those development kits away free instead of charging developers and, if they didn't charge users so much for the Warp OS they could have taken market share with it!

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OS/2 Warp was awesome. IBM started to get a hint and basically gave out copies to college students. RAM was a major issue as OS/2 gobbled it up like crazy. It had a scripting language called REXX used by Amiga as well.

 

Better in many ways. IBM just failed at Marketing (compared to M$)

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Tried os/2 warp on my ibm model 80, was nice, but i was stupid enough to give my ibm away.

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I remember when I graduated high school in 1987, a friend of mine wrote "IBM" in my yearbook, drew a circle around it, and crossed it out (he was an Amiga owner). In the end, as we know, the PC architecture won. My take on it is that while PC's generally sucked hard for gaming at that time, that wasn't why people bought them. We had 1st, 2nd, and even 3rd-gen gaming systems (Nintendo, SMS) at that time. The people who shelled out $2G in 1987 dollars or more for a PC were dropping serious money down for a machine with which they intended serious work--not gaming. We had IBM or -compatible PC's at work and were familiar with the software and peripherals that those PC's used.

 

PC's sucked for games. I received no end of ridicule for having an original IBM PC, complete with CGA adapter, 20M HDD, and Epson MX80 while my friends all had Commodores. That's what my dad bought, and I'm ever so thankful for it. I had Intellivision (and later on, Atari) for gaming, but my PC was perfect for writing all those term papers, and it didn't stop me from attempting to write games for it anyway (and failing miserably). I still have the blue IBM Technical Reference Manual binder, complete with the full assembly source code to the PC BIOS, which was my starting point for learning assembler (I already knew Basic from my TI-99/4A days).

 

And the IBM had Turbo Pascal. Having a third-generation compiled programming language was killer. I was working part-time writing software on (yes, an IBM PC/AT) in Turbo Pascal 3.0 before I even graduated high school.

 

The PC architecture, with (for its day) insane amounts of RAM, open standards, and easily-upgradable persistent storage was poor for gaming, but great for raw computing power. The 80-column display was perfect for BBS'es, writing papers, and general business tasks (and writing code). It was the tortoise that eventually won out.

Edited by JohnPCAE
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The PC architecture, with (for its day) insane amounts of RAM, open standards, and easily-upgradable persistent storage was poor for gaming, but great for raw computing power. The 80-column display was perfect for BBS'es, writing papers, and general business tasks (and writing code). It was the tortoise that eventually won out.

 

Very good post, and very well-stated! :)

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The main advantage of the 8088 and 8086 were the 20-bit address bus and low cost. The early home computers were running 8-bit CPUs with an 16-bit address bus. Even the 16-bit TMS9900, designed for mini-computer use, was limited to a native 64K address space. The one thing everyone in any classic computer circle talks/complains about is the limited RAM and RAM expansion. RAM was expensive and the home computers were not designed for large expansion. On systems that did have expansion, it was typically via 3rd party boards that were not compatible with one another, so there was no common standard for software developers. Plus having to program a memory manager IC or do bank switching meant you didn't have native CPU instruction support for accessing the RAM expansion. Even though the PC came with typical amounts of RAM, i.e. 64K, 128K, etc., it was expandable up to 640K in a standard way. But even 128K or 256K was well beyond what you could get with many home computers.

 

The PC was also targeted to businesses as a machine for doing work. A business will spend money on equipment that makes them more efficient or helps them run their business in some way. It is a "no brainer" decision and part of the annual operating budget. A "home computer user" is buying the computer as a luxury, and will typically make the final decision based on cost. At the time the PC and XT appeared (early 80's), home computers were still just that, i.e. for the "home", and mostly being bought by technical people or by parents for their kids to play games or get involved in the "computer revolution".

 

Once people started to get used to computers, and the computer prices started dropping and moving more into the home (late 80's), people would buy what they were familiar with from using a computer at work, i.e. a PC.

 

There is much more to the reason the PC dominated, and everyone's comments are probably part of the equation. I don't think you can pin-point any single piece of the puzzle and say "without such-and-such, the PC would never have dominated". The PC obviously filled a lot of needs and perceptions for a lot of people / companies that other computers of the time were not fulfilling.

 

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I'm going to be blunt. If the IBM PC had any name on it but IBM it would have been just another machine.

A lot of businesses and individuals bought it just because it was an IBM.

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I'm going to be blunt. If the IBM PC had any name on it but IBM it would have been just another machine.

A lot of businesses and individuals bought it just because it was an IBM.

 

That may be true, but IBM had an earned reputation of building and supporting computers and other office machines that very few other companies in the world had. If you were going to be spending a huge sum of money to equip your office with desktop mircocomputers you want to make sure who you buy it from will back it up. I'm not really confident that any of the other makers of 8-bit desktop computers at the time had the expertise or the ability to support their machines in the enterprise environment like IBM did.

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The IBM brand name may have been true at the start. Ironically, the success led to cheaper, enhanced clones in short order. What made IBM so successful may have been the imitations that followed.

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The IBM brand name may have been true at the start. Ironically, the success led to cheaper, enhanced clones in short order. What made IBM so successful may have been the imitations that followed.

Yeah, and if it hadn't had IBM's name at the start? There probably wouldn't have been any clones. There might have been other 8088 machines but certainly not clones. Everyone would have been doing their own thing.

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Yeah, and if it hadn't had IBM's name at the start? There probably wouldn't have been any clones. There might have been other 8088 machines but certainly not clones. Everyone would have been doing their own thing.

Guess that isn't the cause. A lot of people that had a computer didn't like the fact that most periperals weren't interchangable between the computer companys. That's why the msx standard was released. If not ibm some company would have made a design that would be a blue print for other computer eventually.

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