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Why was the IBM PC so successful?

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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.

 

Then IBM's big mistake in licensing MS-DOS instead of buying it enabled the clones that enabled IBMs success. It's a weird world.

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I think the PC won for its design/features more than its branding. In fact IBM was highly fractured internally and actually tried to sabotage the PC to protect its mainframe division*. Because IBM used off-the-shelf chips, others were able to copy and enhance the design. Probably being "compatible with IBM" had more branding weight than IBM itself. Plus, the universal availability of DOS meant IBM hadn't secured a lock on anything. The only company who actively tried to put computers in front of users was Apple as far as I can remember (in the US). They were aggressive about getting their machines into schools and getting productivity applications. The problem was that the 6502 was a dead end compared to the 8086/88 or the Apple II line might be around in some form today.

 

 

* I don't remember where, but there are interviews with the PC's designers who said IBM was completely mainframe focused and they insisted the PC not appear too powerful.

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I remember that too. At the time, I thought it odd. Still do. Of course, IBM is still selling mainframes. Funny that.

 

I can't recall either, but I'm positive that message was out there. Kind of like how Tandy hobbled the Color Computer, because it was better than the early PC's.

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Sadly I was in at the ground floor, and the first PC I bought was an XT. Prior to that I owned Atari (400, 800, ST etc.)

 

It's not accurate to ask "Why was the IBM PC so successful". The ARCHITECTURE was popular, not the brand. While we sometimes called our PC's IBM, we weren't referring to the brand at all, just the architecture. At the time I don't recall anyone caring much about IBM as such.

 

Right from the off, the architecture encouraged customization, which meant you could buy in now, and upgrade different bits. So standard disc controllers gave way to RLL, monochrome graphics to CGA, EGA, VGA, and Super VGA. Sound went from blips and bleeps to Soundblaster stereo. Monitors got bigger and cheaper. Memory went to 640kb, to a meg, to two meg! And so on. Upgrading was common, and we did it often as the latest graphic cards hit the market etc. As a gamer back then, it was a wonderlnd of excitement.

 

Better than that - it was the same computer as we used in the office. So its introduction into the home could be easily justified.

 

On the PC, everything just worked. Meaning, I could buy from any major brand, or build one myself (by far the most common option) and the same software would run on it. If you bought into say, the Atari, then you needed Atari software. The PC was much more open. So the market spoke. We loved going to computer fares, because we knew everything was compatible.

 

Apple have not changed through the years. They had some good stuff out, but it was sold at a premium. It was out of the price range for most. PC's were CHEAP. Unless you wanted the very latest and greatest, of course.

 

Oh for the days of a huge TURBO button on the front of the PC. :D

 

To be honest I think published history is skewed by reliance on easy monikers. The victors write the history, so it's not always entirely accurate. It's easy to look at the term IBM and derive a view that the company itself was the major force in the success of the platform. But honestly, that's not right. We didn't care anything about IBM - but the platform itself was exciting. Swapping motherboards, modems, video cards was exciting. And this is back in the day when plug and play didn't exist, and you had dip switches everywhere, terminators, interrupts you had to control individually, and BIOS settings that actually did something. Hell, changing out a BIOS was normal too. Great days.

 

Computing today is much simpler in so many ways.

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The height of PC (or compatibles as they were known back then) was with the 386 and 386SX. It was then we seemed to have the most variety of hardware and clone mfg's.

 

The 486 was an even point, and the downturn and beginnings of closing-up the system began with the Pentium. Systems became too complex for any one person to know everything there was to know about it. Downhill since!

 

Now? I don't know what the fuck is out there..

Edited by Keatah

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I think they go much easier post 486, less exciting as well, but by then everything was standard, cpu, bus, video, hard drives ... anyone can go out, buy random parts from a store and have it work, no so much in the 386 days when you might have bought a hard drive and needed a new controller card cause it was IDE or RLL and you got a SCSI drive

 

or you bought a new video card to find out it was not compatible with your practically brand new EGA screen

Edited by Osgeld

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Indeed, building a PC back in those early days meant you had to have some real knowledge. Anyone hoping they could just buy a card, plug it in, and have it work were to be disappointed. All those damn IRQ's that had to be manually configured, and DMA addresses.

 

Building your own PC only got easier - imo - when Pentium II's were around. The last system I recall building from scratch was a Dual-CPU Pentium Pro. Man that was a nice machine. But it wasn't the chip that made things easier really, it was the whole Plug and Play standards that came in. Once the OS got smarter than building PC's got easier.

 

On the subject of branded PC's, I avoided them. Mainly this was because, most of the time, they used custom cases (or chassis if you prefer). This could limit upgrades. Some of those cases were built like a tank!!!

 

Fun memories of getting a 5 and 1/4 AND a 3 and 1/5 inch floppies into one system - and then adding a CD Drive!!! I had one of the very early recordable CD drives too, which was a bitch. Fecking "Memory Overflow" the whole time. if you knocked the table while it was copying, it trashed the disc!

 

Don't get me started on Modems, which went from pitiful speeds up to 56kb in no time - each time needing new kit. Back then I'd customize all the time, but today I don't bother. I doubt it's much cheaper to build your own now - back then it was cheaper......

 

If I recall correctly, the Pentium was the first chip that needed a fan - right?

 

And remember the 386 SX? That was an upgrade that made Lotus 123 fly, but did virtually nothing else. ~:D

Edited by Vaughan

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On the PC, everything just worked. Meaning, I could buy from any major brand, or build one myself (by far the most common option) and the same software would run on it. If you bought into say, the Atari, then you needed Atari software. The PC was much more open. So the market spoke. We loved going to computer fares, because we knew everything was compatible.

 

LOL. :-o You have got to be kidding me. :-o OMG. :-o

 

I can tell you horror stories of putting together PCs with different components from different companies. Everything was NOT compatible! Conflicting IRQs, memory limitations, even motherboard brands. Some cards worked with certain combinations, while others just didn't work at all together. I had sound cards not working with graphics cards or modem cards, etc. These were not cheap Taiwanese no-name cards either. They were Creative, Turtle Beach, Diamond, ATI, Hayes, <fill in other major brand>. Then you had to make sure software was compatible with your card. Again, conflicts, not enough "standard" memory available...golly, who know what else. "Everything just worked" my behind.

 

I still can't believe that quote. You must have had incredible luck or were a PC expert who could fix things in a jiffy. Most people were NOT DOS experts, but as others mentioned, PCs got cheap, plentiful, and work had it so people can pirate all the office software they can. Not to mention swapping with office mates. That eventually lead to the PC "standard".

 

Sorry, but not dealing with all these issues above is my (and I think most people's) definition of "Everything just works." For example, on the Atari, just stick the disk into the disk driver, turn it on, and then the game loads up. It just works. No dealing with compatibility with cards, IRQs, standard/extended memory, etc. It just works. Same with Commodore, Apple, etc.

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I never found that "it just works", and my first job at age 15 was as a pc tech in the "386 is still a pretty darn powerful machine" days

 

BUT, you could buy random crap and eventually make it work by plugging it in, or fussing with it for hours on end, other companies had a lot more limited selection but it was going to work out of the box at a premium cost...

 

cheap, powerful, easy

 

pick 2

 

for example, after the PC "won" ...I remember back when looking at radio shack papers selling 386 SVGA systems on credit for less than 100 bucks a month, then turning around and looking at a macworld where they were hocking 8 bit greyscale graphics cards for nearly 800$, almost the price of a tandy box (no monitor)

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WTF you smoke'n boy?? Just worked.. my ass! My ass just worked trying to make it all work so that I could work.

 

And yeh, the Pentium 60 and 66 needed fans, so did some of the faster 486 overdrives. What came first I don't recall offhand. But I've seen slow-ass 386sx-16 rigs have fans on the chips too. probably because there was little or no other ventilation.

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or were a PC expert who could fix things in a jiffy

 

I was... and no, everything didn't just work.

 

Today things are vastly improved over DOS and early Windows days. PCs snap together almost as easily as LEGO. Standards have made it all pretty easy, and there's a very high chance Windows will install the right drivers with no hassles. It wasn't like that in the 80s or 90s.

 

Mac, ST, and Amiga were far from the nightmares of PC hardware and driver incompatibilities but still had plenty of issues. Even with their quirks they were nothing like the hassles of getting a PC running right.

 

It really is amazing how easy some of the home computer hardware was to use, with plug and play simplicity that wouldn't show up again for decades. The mess of PC "standards" that wouldn't actually become standardized until the 21st century was pretty amazing. Thankfully most of that has passed :D

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On the PC, everything just worked. Meaning, I could buy from any major brand, or build one myself (by far the most common option) and the same software would run on it. If you bought into say, the Atari, then you needed Atari software. The PC was much more open. So the market spoke. We loved going to computer fares, because we knew everything was compatible.

 

I don't know. Going for the "turn it on and it just works" Atari ST to juggling IRQs and editing autoexec.bat, config.sys, using stuff like QEMM to get around the 640K limit, etc. It was sometimes a chore, but I admit I did learn a lot, so for that I'm appreciative. Sometimes the damn Sound Blaster wouldn't work with some games, etc. That was a bit more than "just working" when turned on.

 

Oh for the days of a huge TURBO button on the front of the PC. :D

 

That, and the big-ass "MHz" LED display on the front of the case! My affinity for numerical LED readouts (from the days of the Atari's Indus GT disk drive) was once again satiated. When you went into "turbo" mode, even if there was nothing happening on the screen, the LED MHz readout let you know that your machine was kicking ass.

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WTF you smoke'n boy?? Just worked.. my ass! My ass just worked trying to make it all work so that I could work.

 

And yeh, the Pentium 60 and 66 needed fans, so did some of the faster 486 overdrives. What came first I don't recall offhand. But I've seen slow-ass 386sx-16 rigs have fans on the chips too. probably because there was little or no other ventilation.

 

I remember having a Pentium-60 at work that had a gigantic heat sink instead of a fan. The heat sink was at least as big as an index card.

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I have a gen 1 pentium 90 laptop with a full ceramic chip inside it, it has a plate of aluminum bonded to it which then uses the back of the keyboard as a spreader, so no they dont need a fan with really well thought out heatsinks ... though it runs hot enough you dont want your lap anywhere near it and has actually left damage in wooden tables along the way (its freakin HOT)

 

first CPU I remember seeing with a heatsink was my parents 486/dx2 66 but no fan

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I miss the "click" from the keyboard keys on those old IBM PC's.

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I miss the "click" from the keyboard keys on those old IBM PC's.

 

That was definitely among the great things about them. It was certainly common for other personal computer makers of the time to skimp on keyboards (big cost savings there at the time, actually). The good news is that today there are a plethora of great mechanical keyboards, most of them targeted to gamers. I have a few of the good, new ones, and it's very reminiscent of the original IBM keyboards.

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You mean there are newer style keyboards with the "click"? USB? :)

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You mean there are newer style keyboards with the "click"? USB? :)

 

Of course. Just look for mechanical keyboards with Cherry switches (various colors denote different types of performance). I use an Aivia Osmium, but Razer (I also have a BlackWidow) and others make them too. They're pricey in comparison to other keyboards (around $100 or more), but they usually have extensive feature sets.

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Wow! Just wow! Looks like a mechanical keyboard is now on the "things to buy" list. Thanks!

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You can actually get a new Model M with USB from Unicomp. The cherry switches aren't quite the same, and the build quality of the Model M is legendary.

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The Model M mechanism is a little different. I own a Das Keyboard with Cherry Blues and prefer the feel of a Model M. I would have bought the Unicomp if I had known. But really the difference is marginal, it's not enough for me to buy another keyboard.

 

I have a Northgate Omnikey with Alpine switches that's quite good too. I googled "alpine keyboard switch", hoping for an image of the mechanism. But all I got was a picture of Page McConnell. :D

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You can actually get a new Model M with USB from Unicomp. The cherry switches aren't quite the same, and the build quality of the Model M is legendary.

Seconded! I use Unicomp Model M keyboards exclusively with all of my computers, and they'll probably last for the rest of my life. Here is a link to Unicomp's online store:

 

http://pckeyboard.co...e/category/UKBD

 

Presently, my keyboards are all beige PS/2 "Classic 101" keyboards, but the Model M is now available in black and/or with a USB interface, and with the same buckling-spring mechanism as the original IBM Model M. They also offer rubber-dome "soft touch" models as an alternative to the noisy buckling-spring keyboards, but even these feel ten times better than the flimsy, spongy, sagging plastic wafer of a keyboard that came with your Dell.

 

(If you're looking for a pointing device of the same quality as the Model M, I recommend a trackball from Clearly Superior Technologies; you can buy them at Trackball World. Their CST1000 trackballs are the ones that I use, and they're a perfect match for the Model M. These will probably last the rest of my life also, and like the Model M, they're all built in the United States.)

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After checking out some options, I decided I like the Unicomp 104 Classic Trackball keyboard. It has the retro styling and the buckling spring mechanism that I remember from back in the day. Unfortunately it is sold out. :( I may get the white one if I don't find the black one within a month or two.

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I have a Northgate Omnikey with Alpine switches that's quite good too

 

 

I used Nortgate keyboards in the 1990s and they were EXCELLENT!!!! I hadn't heard that name since the days of other PC mail-order makers like Zeos. You'd have to be older to remember any of 'em.

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