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Why was the IBM PC so successful?

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Mine has the switch that toggles it from AT to XT to Tandy modes. Got it for $4 at a thrift store in central Kansas.

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

 

I don't miss it at all... ;) I enjoy it Everyday!!!

2013-06-15%2008.25.06.jpg

 

 

If you would like to use some of the Original IBM Type M Keyboards on newer computer with no PS2 Port, try of these PS/2 to USB Adapters at http://www.clickykeyboards.com/. The IBM Type M Keyboards use a lot more power than the USB Keyboards currently manufactured, so not all Adapters will work..

Edited by MarkO
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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.

 

I am always surprised that the IBM Type M Keyboards have not just a Date of Manufacture, but an Individual Serial Number..

 

Obviously they were considered of "Significant Value" to need to be tracked..

 

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I have a model M as well, and yea most things have a serial number if the maker gives even the tiniest hoot about quality or warranty

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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.

\

if the pc was the answer it was a dumb question

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The apple II stayed on the market from 77 to 92, not sure how much more time it would have required

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The Apple II was kept on the market pretty much only so they could go "We're not abandoning users! Look, we're still making them!"

 

It's obvious from the sky high prices they didn't want anyone actually buying them. Would you pay thousands of dollars for a IIe when you could get a 386 and change?

 

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.

 

Utter nonsense. Never seen a MIDI port? Amiga Video slot? Atari's killer 4MB, hard disc, and laser printer for $5000 package? Scala?

 

ST/Amiga were business machines by default. All you needed to be a "business machine" was 80 columns and somewhere to plug in a printer.

Edited by Daft_Horse

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Why pay for an Apple ][ at that time?

 

Software, that's why. Software is the same reason people bought PC's. Microsoft made the original MSDOS able to run programs like WORDSTAR with few changes to the assembly language. In fact, WORDSTAR ran with a single byte changed.

 

People today will still buy DOS capable PC's, with older chips like a 486 and an ISA bus for combinations of expensive software and hardware that cost much more to replace, or simply cannot be replaced, which also requires adaptation around a new solution. Generally, those costs exceed the cost of a new machine.

 

"ST/Amiga were business machines by default."

 

Nope. 80 columns was a key requirement at that time, but the bigger one was again software. Business users did not buy machines on specifications alone. They bought machines to get specific tasks done and the software needed to complete those tasks more or less dictated appropriate specifications.

 

This too still goes on today. Business users of high end CAD software will select software, then order PC machines capable of running it optimally. Major PC vendors often send hardware in for certification so that the loop is closed on that whole thing.

 

In general business computing is about getting stuff done much more than it is about the nature of the hardware.

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The key to that was rapid porting of CP/M applications as well as the weight of IBM making development attractive, and early on there were more operating systems to choose from as well.

 

Common business software did not take long at all. From there, a lot of sales were based on those applications. As people either left the 70's CP/M era behind, or moved off an Apple, or started to computerize, the PC was seen as a standard option where the mess of CP/M systems was a real problem.

 

I saw an participated in a ton of that. Hercules equipped PC's running lotus, some word processor and an accounting package were well suited to the basic computing needs business has. You have to remember the perceptions at that time. People asked why a color screen was needed, and computing was not seen as the more inclusive thing it is today.

 

A machine like an Amiga or ST, though capable, just didnt have the mindshare in most business contexts. And very rapidly, didnt get the software either. And by software, I mean things like full accounting suites with support for more than the basics and consultants who would see it through.

 

Even today, a lot is driven by software requirements. This is precisely why we dont see more Mac / Linux out there. Software. Tons of it, often specialized.

 

If you wanted software written, the PC was a great, bland target too. Many opted for that or had their in house stuff brought over from CP/M or other platform too. I saw quite a bit of that as well. Big ass BASIC programs that did specific things. The weight of that continues today in Windows doing well at running old applications.

 

Early DOS machines came with a capable BASIC in which a ton of business automation was done. I did some of that myself and some DBASE type work too. Ugly by the standards of today, but back then it was just put it on screen, get input, process it, output reports or trigger something, next.

 

This was followed by Visual Basic and all that stuff and loads of new stuff ported or written to automate things away so people could so more.

 

Those early PC machines with DOS and a BASIC started out doing that stuff, and running quickly and easily ported CP/M applications which carried the core of common business computing forward on the DOS PC platform, where it mostly never started on most others, but for some common, broad base applications.

 

All very boring stuff, but important and a lot of money moved that way, and where the money is, business computing is, regardless of the actual hardware merits, so long as the hardware does the task and delivers a return that justifies the cost.

 

Say you had a mom n pop trucking company. A single PC cost some money, but the real money was the nice program written to do business. That cost more than the hardware did, but paying it also meant that company never needing more office people, staying lean and focused on drivers.

 

I knew a guy doing this pulling down 6 figures a year, in BASIC, authoring on a monochrome PC, selling the whole works as a package. He went back and wrote them Lotus macros, and when they moved to Windows and or Microsoft, did it again in Visual Basic. That kind of thing was going on everywhere, all over the place. Nobody was using other machines, because everybody knew the PC would have a forward path. Didnt matter how nice, just that it was there.

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It seems to be that there were many home computer platforms in the 1980s, but the PC is the one that endured. Now, I am making the assumption that the modern PC shares the same genes as the original IBM PC and it's cousins, the clones. There were so many different formats in the 80s, and many of them smoked the PC. I am assuming that a lot of the PC's success had to do with it's form factor- full keyboard and internal space for paripherals. But why is this platform still alive while most others have gone by the wayside?

 

Some years later I still continue to examine the question. And there are many angles from which to answer it.

 

In reading the BIOS reference manuals and "chipset" datasheets, I continually encounter the "generic" theme. Means that the PC's motherboard was not constructed with any one task or application or environment in mind.

 

There's little thought to optimizing it for games or business spreadsheets or anything. It's all about the processor working with the memory and expansion slots. It's about pushing data around that trio. And to that end the hardware has loads of registers, tools, commands, DMAs, IRQs, and more. 7 modes of DMA alone in the 386/486 era. The software just works with this switchboard of tools and commands to do just that.

 

Currently reading the 82c206 datasheet. And the chip itself is a whole aggregation of standard gates and PC circuits. Akin to how Apple streamlined the Apple II motherboard into a handful of chips like MMU and IOU in the //e. Despite these chips seemingly wanting to scream "CUSTOM" They're a dime a dozen and have been used in thousands of designs worldwide. Certainly not a one-trick pony.

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There is a lot of bad info in this thread. But probably the biggest thing the PC had going for it was the ecosystem around it. Because IBM was the one who introduced this computer system, it was immediately part of the largest computer ecosystem in existence at that time. You have to think of scale. If you are buying a computer for your home or small business, it simply is not the same as buying computers for a decent sized firm. Also think cost. The basic model was thousands of dollars at a time when money was more than twice as valuable.

 

 

The IBM name played a huge role. Then there was integration with other IBM products, like the ability to use the PC as a full terminal and having software available from IBM to even use a PC printer as a terminal printer. Then there was all these token ring networks. These were major considering in the business market. Then there was IBM's abilities a service company. They could pretty much handle everything onsite 24/7.

 

 

A lot of these other companies were either not traditionally business machine companies or were relatively small. Imagine buying millions of dollars worth of computers and suddenly that computer maker goes under. Good luck with that and woe be the guy who green-lighted that project

 

 

There was never a hope in hell that a company like Atari or Commodore or Apple was ever going to take that market. They had neither the money nor the expertise to do it.

 

This market was a huge cash cow too.

 

From this initial lead, inertia played a large role too.

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That aside. A system like an Atari 400/800 or C64 or Amiga, full of specialized and limited locked-down architecture, would never be able to fit into the role the PC was thrust into.

 

Speeding up an Amiga in any significant form required basically a whole new Amiga or major portions of it on an accelerator card. Or an accelerator card that slowed down to talk on the bus.

 

In the early days of the 8086 and through Sandy bridge, the PC often allowed customers to change processors to gain real speed straight away. In fact the bandwagon was moving so fast that upgrades from 25MHz to 50MHz were happening right in the supply chain via the DX2 class chips. Oftentimes it was a matter of just setting jumpers (and later, softswitches). And then there were the math co-processors - not only from intel but others like Abacus/Weitek. So lots of real-world expandability. One of my vintage rigs started as a Pentium II 266, and ended up a decade later as a 1.4GHz Celeron - having several interim updates.

 

Custom classic rigs like our 8 and 16 bit machines did not lend themselves well (if ever) to even upgrading sound or graphics. My Apple II just gained new video options in 2018, and that's for output & connector "issues", nothing for speed. And what about the C64 or Amiga or TRS-80? Few or no options there. Some may argue the VideoToaster, but that's really a separate system built around the Amiga ecosphere.

 

When I first put together the PII rig I borrowed my graphics card from the 486 days till I could afford a proper 2D/3D accelerator like the Riva-128. In similar patchwork fashion I upgraded hard disks and modems. No other architecture let me do it on budget that fit me at the time.

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My 200mhz AMD K6 system can pretty much play any DOS game from 1985 to 1999. That's support for 14 years of games. If I install Windows 98 it would grow but I keep it strictly a DOS system. Whatever system or console was supported for that long? Well the Xbox 360 is getting close to that but strictly computers (not opening the emulation can of worms) there's nothing else that had been supported that long.

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My 200mhz AMD K6 system can pretty much play any DOS game from 1985 to 1999. That's support for 14 years of games. If I install Windows 98 it would grow but I keep it strictly a DOS system. Whatever system or console was supported for that long? Well the Xbox 360 is getting close to that but strictly computers (not opening the emulation can of worms) there's nothing else that had been supported that long.

 

Nope 14 years that is nothing. Try the same program running for 56 years (actually now 59 years) and the details are well documented:

 

https://www.nextgov.com/cio-briefing/2016/05/10-oldest-it-systems-federal-government/128599/

Edited by thetick1

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Apple were well on their way of dominating the business market. I've read/heard that before IBM launched the PC, they were in touch with all the major software vendors making programs for the Apple, to ensure they would support the IBM PC from day 1, so they could offer the same software packages as the main rival already had. Apple may not have taken IBM seriously, but that move probably was very important. Otherwise IBM would've had a personal computer with very few pieces of relevant software and had to build it from zero.

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Apple were well on their way of dominating the business market. I've read/heard that before IBM launched the PC, they were in touch with all the major software vendors making programs for the Apple, to ensure they would support the IBM PC from day 1, so they could offer the same software packages as the main rival already had. Apple may not have taken IBM seriously, but that move probably was very important. Otherwise IBM would've had a personal computer with very few pieces of relevant software and had to build it from zero.

 

Wow I don't agree with that at all. IBM already was in every medium to large business ? Most people now never knew Apple was nothing in early 80's. Yea they had Apple II and Jobs was rich with a really big mouth but there were few business using Apple computers. Apple targeted and was much more influential in education. Atari, Commodore, TI and Radio Shack were either much larger companies or much larger market share and well IBM dwarfed them all by orders of magnitude. Also of note in '96 Apple was near bankruptcy, a penny stock. Lots of rumors if IBM, Sun, or HP would buy Apple for pennies.

Edited by thetick1

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Nope 14 years that is nothing. Try the same program running for 56 years (actually now 59 years) and the details are well documented:

 

https://www.nextgov.com/cio-briefing/2016/05/10-oldest-it-systems-federal-government/128599/

I'm talking about support for video games not some government program lol

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Apple were well on their way of dominating the business market. I've read/heard that before IBM launched the PC, they were in touch with all the major software vendors making programs for the Apple, to ensure they would support the IBM PC from day 1, so they could offer the same software packages as the main rival already had. Apple may not have taken IBM seriously, but that move probably was very important. Otherwise IBM would've had a personal computer with very few pieces of relevant software and had to build it from zero.

 

Indeed they were but they screwed it all up.

 

The IBM PC was successful for all the reasons stated in this thread - the IBM nameplate, the extensive dealer/support network, the expansion slots that allowed the limited base system to be expanded into something much more useful, etc etc.

 

But IBM also correctly identified the limitations of the Apple II. The lack of lower case text, the slow 6502 processor, a 40 column screen, the limited addressable memory, the spaghetti that ensued after you added two disk drives and a monitor, the lousy keyboard position.... and the tragedy here is that Apple themselves identified the exact same limitations when they designed the business oriented Apple III. Which due to mis-management was a market disaster.

 

It's 1982. You have to decide on your company's exciting new personal computer strategy. Do you choose the Apple II - a rather old, limited machine who's future is uncertain but which can - if you stuff enough official and unofficial expansion cards under the lid in the right slot positions and hang a third part fan on the side - be a useful productivity tool, do you choose the Apple III, which by this point has a well documented failure rate and limited software releases from third parties, or do you choose the new IBM PC.

 

The market voted with its wallet.

Edited by oracle_jedi

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Let's face it, without faster 8 bit CPUs, the 8 bit market was an easy target for IBM.
The fastest clocked machines from the factory had 4 MHz 6502s, 5 MHz Z80s, and a whopping 2MHz or less for almost everything else.
Most of the faster 8 bit machines came out after the IBM.
The one exception is the Lobo Max-80, which came out in 1982, but it was produced by a small company, not one of the major players in the 8 bit market.
The Z80 also has to be clocked much faster due to the 4 bit ALU.
If faster clocked 8 bit CPUs had been out before the PC launched, it would have been a tougher market.
The 8 bit CPUs also needed variants that supported larger memory sizes.
Note that I say tougher, not that 8 bits were ever going win that battle in the long run.

The 65816's 16 bit support, and ability to handle larger memory sizes was a good start, but it was hampered by limitations of the instruction set.
The IIgs was also clocked too slow out of the box to be competitive.

The Z280 was delayed to the point of being irreverent, and it tried to be too much like a mainframe.
The R800 in the later MSX machines is closer to what Zilog should have released in the early 80s, or at least something like the HD64180/Z180.

 

The 6809 was designed for desktop machines, but once the desktop market went 16 bit, Motorola decided it was a dead end.
Too bad they didn't build in support for 24 bit addressing, it's instruction set could have supported that very well, and it could have competed pretty well through the 80s with just a bump in clock speed. It was never going to be a match for the 68000, but it would have been a better option than the 68008 IMHO.

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The big irony is what made the PC standard strong also made IBM weak.

 

from https://www.fool.com/investing/general/2013/08/12/how-ibm-created-the-future-of-the-pc-and-almost-de.aspx

 

The spread of commoditized PCs was an incredible boon to Intel and Microsoft, as both companies retained full control over the pricing of the PC's two most essential components. However, IBM was floundering. The venerable tech company reported a $5 billion annual loss for the 1992 fiscal year, a record for U.S. corporations, despite holding the lead in global PC market share. PCs had become a commodity, and IBM couldn't keep cutting its prices.

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Were early 8-bit machines like the ones we love (or any for that matter) even a target for IBM? Because nothing in the architecture and layout of the hardware seems aimed at any aspect of then contemporary machines.

 

The gaming and home computers had all sorts of standard I/O ports and video and sound capabilities straight out of the box. The PC did not. And IIRC it didn't even have serial or parallel ports. You got a CPU chip, memory, power supply, motherboard, case, keyboard interface, and glue logic.

 

Seems a lot of emphasis was placed on CPU and main memory RAM interaction. And then letting the CPU have good access to the ISA bus slots. And partly conversely, allowing the slots' peripherals access to whatever was inside the machine.

---

 

My personal vintage 486 was/is like that. Just the basics till I outfitted it with graphics and sound, FDD/HDD and CD-ROM interfaces, not to mention 2 serial and 2 parallel ports + additional game ports.

 

I couldn't afford the big boy SCSI drives, so I had to settle for basic IDE drives. But, hey! I got 200MB for a price that didn't break my student budget back then. And it was lightyears faster than anything before it.

 

While Amiga graphics temporarily surpassed price/performance of anything PC, it wasn't enough. Because they wouldn't go beyond Babylon 5. Or essentially what was on the market at the time. And B5 was already using modified rigs to start.. so..

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I think the main contributor to the 1992 issue was the AT, followed by the PS/2 systems. AT was technically better, but the 80286 just wasn't a useful chip. Sure, it could access more memory, but only in protected mode. Once in protected mode, you couldn't leave without resetting the processor. And protected mode was not at all compatible with older software--and the BIOS itself. If you wanted protected mode, you had to provide your own BIOS, DOS, and applications all at once. So in effect, the AT was just a slightly faster PC.

 

Then came the PS/2 disaster--trying to lock down the architecture again after the clones started rolling out? Yeah, that's gonna work. Everybody went Compaq. And the Asian computer market was just getting in gear. You'd be stupid to get yourself brandlocked back into IBM's stranglehold. Even to this day, I don't think the MCA specs have been released.

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Were early 8-bit machines like the ones we love (or any for that matter) even a target for IBM? Because nothing in the architecture and layout of the hardware seems aimed at any aspect of then contemporary machines.

 

The gaming and home computers had all sorts of standard I/O ports and video and sound capabilities straight out of the box. The PC did not. And IIRC it didn't even have serial or parallel ports. You got a CPU chip, memory, power supply, motherboard, case, keyboard interface, and glue logic.

 

Seems a lot of emphasis was placed on CPU and main memory RAM interaction. And then letting the CPU have good access to the ISA bus slots. And partly conversely, allowing the slots' peripherals access to whatever was inside the machine.

I think the operative word is "expandability". They did that quite well, for all the reasons you gave. You didn't even have to give up some memory for the display adapter--it had its own, and the CPU could talk to it like it was standard RAM. Disk drives used the DMA and IRQ mechanisms to minimize CPU overhead. With the introduction of digital sound, they also took advantage of the existing DMA and IRQ to let the computer do its thing while sound played. With the introduction of EGA graphics, no system changes were needed to support it. You only needed a BIOS extension, which the video card provided. Even expanding the original PC to 640K required only an add-on card and a few DIP switches changed.

 

 

My personal vintage 486 was/is like that. Just the basics till I outfitted it with graphics and sound, FDD/HDD and CD-ROM interfaces, not to mention 2 serial and 2 parallel ports + additional game ports.

That's hard to believe. Even by the introduction of the 386, serial and parallel ports (and mouse ports) were already pretty much standard with the systems, along with 3.5" floppy drive. By the 486 they even came with a basic HD. Well, I guess if you built your own, then you'd have to provide the external devices. But the MB still had the basic ports and the controllers for your drives built in.

 

When Intel released the 386, they had already added a bunch of the glue logic into the CPU itself--DMA controller, IRQ controller, timers, wait state generator, and RAM refresh controller. And the north and south bridges were already integrating the common external peripheral interfaces. My Dell 486DX/2 had all the basic ports. The joystick port had to come from the sound card though.

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