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Why was the IBM PC so successful?

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When I ordered my 486 from Gateway 2000 it came with IDE/HDD/FDD/Serial/Parallel/Game ports on a standardized multi-function card that fit an ISA slot. I was more or less referring to the motherboard when I said it was bare. The mobo had only memory slots, cpu socket, keyboard connector, and 8 8/16 bit ISA slots. The I/O card that provided the basic ports was fairly standardized at the time. And it was possible to uncheck it from the option sheet and thus get no ports. Option delete saved something like $59. And this in the Win 3.1 era. You had a choice!

 

And it's a DX2/50 also. Not a bad thing, having the ports on a card, because as an experimenter it was possible to blow them up and likely sacrifice only the card and not the whole mobo.

 

Of course we'd see those ports stuffed into "Super I/O" chips soldered onto Pentium through Pentium IV boards. Then some would get integrated into the southbridge. Then serial and parallel ports gave way to USB. Mostly.

Edited by Keatah

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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

 

 

That is a bit too simplistic understanding of IBM in the early 90's. Certainly IBM's market share in PCs could have been higher, but IBM was in so many different markets besides PCs and many were shrinking.

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That is a bit too simplistic understanding of IBM in the early 90's. Certainly IBM's market share in PCs could have been higher, but IBM was in so many different markets besides PCs and many were shrinking.

 

Okay let's rephrase that then.

 

"The big irony is what made the PC standard strong also caused IBM to lose control of the standard they created."

 

From what I remember the IBM team largely followed Intel's suggested implementation guide for the 8088, and there were already several very similar systems already on the market in 1981, including the one produced by Seattle Computer Products which led to the creation of Tim Patterson's QDOS, which Microsoft bought the rights to, and licensed to IBM, and the rest is history.

 

The IBM team believed their BIOS would prevent the types of clones already seen in the Apple II space, but lost the court case against whoever it was that cloned it first. Phoenix?

 

Given that Oracle successfully sued Google for infringing their APIs (and not any actual code), I wonder if the court would rule the same way today on that critical case.

 

How different everything might have turned out.

Edited by oracle_jedi

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Okay let's rephrase that then.

 

"The big irony is what made the PC standard strong also caused IBM to lose control of the standard they created."

 

From what I remember the IBM team largely followed Intel's suggested implementation guide for the 8088, and there were already several very similar systems already on the market in 1981, including the one produced by Seattle Computer Products which led to the creation of Tim Patterson's QDOS, which Microsoft bought the rights to, and licensed to IBM, and the rest is history.

 

The IBM team believed their BIOS would prevent the types of clones already seen in the Apple II space, but lost the court case against whoever it was that cloned it first. Phoenix?

 

Given that Oracle successfully sued Google for infringing their APIs (and not any actual code), I wonder if the court would rule the same way today on that critical case.

 

How different everything might have turned out.

 

What everyone forgets to mention is: IBM was in the middle of a huge investigation for monopolistic practices at the time as was AT&T.

 

IBM in 1980 had a "PC" ready to go. All IBM designed hardware software and firmware. The lawyers said absolutely no as they were convinced it would guarantee IBM be broken up into 5 separate companies. The government already laid out how they wanted IBM broken up and IBM was making management changes to be ready in case of a judgement. Note AT&T was broken up and IBM was likely not due to not owning all the intellectual property the PC.

 

So what did IBM do? Well 99.8%+ of the revenue of a $1.5K-6K PC is hardware. So instead of using the already completed IBM designed processor they picked the least threat. They chose Inel an almost worthless company at the time as Motorola, AMD, IBM, IT and even Zlog were more influential with better products. IBM dumped loads of $$ at Intel to make them what they became. IBM also picked a few extremely small companies to license the firmware (aka BIOS) so IBM technically did not own it. And we all know IBM picked at the time some pimple nosed geeky kid to "own" the OS as the OS was only $50 of the $1.5K-6K PC . The rest is well history and and real decision is almost never told as everyone just assumes IBM made a terrible business decision.

 

PS. I worked at IBM in early 90's and knew a few of the decision makers for the original IBM PC launch.

Edited by thetick1
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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.

...

IBM must have considered them a target. IBM was in negotiations with Atari to produce their PC at one point.

There is even a photo of a prototype of the machine somewhere. It looks like a white Atari 800 with a different keyboard and IBM logo.

https://retrocomputing.stackexchange.com/questions/7135/the-almost-was-atari-ibm-pc

 

The actual IBM PC that was released clearly targets the high end of the personal computer market, but that's probably what many IBM employees saw as the real market for IBM and not just the more home oriented machines.

It seems to show a bit of a disconnect within IBM as to what they should have sold, probably due to a lack of understanding of the market.

They seem to have made a better choice than going with the Atari, but they made it too generic for their own good.

 

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Remember that IBM also tried the PCJr for the home market. Its biggest downfall, though, was cost. Well, that and its horrible chicklet keyboard. They at least released a better keyboard, but the system had too many other issues. No DMA meant that when disk activity was going on, the CPU was too swamped to deal with even keyboard activity. It had 16-color 320x200 graphics, but only on the 128K model (even pricier) because it used a shared memory model for the video. In spite of the better graphics, it provided no graphics acceleration and reduced CPU performance over the PC, which took away any gaming advantage it might have had. It did not have any standard peripheral connections, so you needed a dongle adapter for everything. It's basically what happens when you let the mainframe server designers loose to design a toy. It was at least built with reliability in mind though...

 

Later Tandy added the capabilities of the PCJr into a machine with full PC specs and did reasonably well with it though.

Edited by ChildOfCv

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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.

 

 

Not a single maker of 8 bit computers stood even a remote chance of doing anything at all in the business market.

 

Some had potential for the higher ed market, but not one, including Apple could have done it or wanted to do it.

 

Most of the 8 bit computers of the time weren't even looking at the professional market, let alone med to large business. Most of them had virtually zero penetration of even the relatively more flexible higher ed market. Though Apple had some minor success in this, it was more for labs than for any serious work.

 

I think Atari and Commodore were smart not to go after this market. They would have ended up with machines that pleased nobody instead of "some."

 

Frankly, I think people overlook the fact that 8 bit machine were great for home video game and light computer use. Had the 8 bit guys gone after the corp market, they would not have created things like the Amiga, C-64, A800, ST etc. Even the home friendly Apple II is more well known for having been in your school, than in people's homes. Frankly, Apple II is not a good game platform compared to something like an 800 or a C64 and you could buy those computers for a fraction of what an Apple II sold for. So while, yes, we lost the long term game, we had a lot of fun with those machines and none of those memories would exist had they not created these machines and gone after the corp market. And there was absolutely zero chance that any of these 8-bits as they actually existed would have found their way onto some accountant's desk!

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Not a single maker of 8 bit computers stood even a remote chance of doing anything at all in the business market.

...

Exactly what business market are you talking about here?

Tandy was the sales leader (in $) in the personal computer market up until around 1990... maybe 1992.

That included business machines like the Model II, Model 12, and Model 16 which were strictly for business machines.

The Model 100 was supposedly very popular with journalists, and it sold around 7 million units.

There were the pocket computers which had several construction related applications, as well as scientific applications.

Tandy also sold some of the most popular PC's during that time period.

It's not like the only machines they sold were the Color Computer, and Model I/III/IV.

And BTW, the Model IV was originally designed so you could plug in a Z800 CPU, which would have made it pretty powerful if Zilog hadn't flaked on them.

 

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Exactly what business market are you talking about here?

Tandy was the sales leader (in $) in the personal computer market up until around 1990... maybe 1992.

That included business machines like the Model II, Model 12, and Model 16 which were strictly for business machines.

The Model 100 was supposedly very popular with journalists, and it sold around 7 million units.

There were the pocket computers which had several construction related applications, as well as scientific applications.

Tandy also sold some of the most popular PC's during that time period.

It's not like the only machines they sold were the Color Computer, and Model I/III/IV.

And BTW, the Model IV was originally designed so you could plug in a Z800 CPU, which would have made it pretty powerful if Zilog hadn't flaked on them.

 

 

The corp market. I thought I made that pretty clear, but perhaps I did not. Tandy was absolutely incapable of entering, let's call it "enterprise" market. They had no experience doing it, no expertise in doing it, no infrastructure for doing it. They simply could not do it.

 

As far as the small business market and prof market, they probably did OK. But their needs are completely different from the needs of big business.

 

Also, I wasn't thinking about Tandy's PC line, though to be sure they were not used in large businesses.

 

Journalists and the like would count as the professional market though. Journalists did, in fact, like the those portable Tandy machine, though most of them used them as portable word processors. They were good at that because you could type up your story and then use the modem to send it in to the publisher. But they (the 8 bit machines) were likely not used in places like doctor's offices.

 

I remember seeing a story (though it was old, I saw it only recently) of a pilot using one of the Tandy pocket computers in his (private) piloting. (IIRC, it was in the PC JR episode of popular science magazine)

 

Obviously these companies sold a lot of computers, but they were not selling them into the corp market or big business or whatever you call it. They mostly were not selling into the professional market. Also the Tandy PC line was not 8 bit and certainly not in the sense we mean it.

 

One other thing... Tandy was the best positioned of the 8 bit for the reason that Tandy was also a very large reseller of computers via Radio Shack. If they wanted to enter that market, they at least had a presence and distribution networks in most major locales in the country, assuming they wanted to do service themselves.

Edited by christo930

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http://www.retrocomputing.net/info/siti/total_share.html

 

According to this site, IBM PC & compatibles took over the PC market around 1985, from the Commodore 64. The Tandy trs-80 led the PC market from 1977 to 1979 and did alright until 1982 and when the c64 came out. It doesn't look like there was much of a business PC market until 1987.

 

Tandy may have done alright with their IBM compatibles. As was pointed out they had a good distribution and support network.

 

I'm sure there were trs-80, commodore, and apple ii computers in offices in the late 1970s and early 1980s but it would have been rare.

Edited by mr_me
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Before the IBM PC, there did seem to be an active business market based on the 8-bit 8080/z80 processor and cp/m operating system. There were compatible 8-bit machines from xerox, osborne, and the trs-80. There were lots of 8-bit cp/m business applications like wordstar, dbase, multiplan, visicalc, supercalc, fortran. But in 1980, the install base for business was small compared to the IBM PC era.

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An important factor in the PC's success was hardware support via software. When new hardware came out. MS-DOS was right there ready to support it. MS-DOS didn't initially support double-sided floppies. But when they were made available, Microsoft released v1.1 to do so. EMM386.EXE was another example - this to support more memory configurations and AIBs. And to present a standard memory model to all applications.

 

And this support was generic enough that if it applied to one system, it applied to another, and likely a whole family of motherboards and cards. And these cards were generic enough that all software could use them with minimal or no patching. Take DOOM for example. It wants a certain amount of minimum memory. But it doesn't care if that memory is on a multi-function card, or proprietary add-in card, or simply on the motherboard. Contrast that to the 8-bit toy computers, where memory upgrades need to patch software or the software needed to be aware of each manufacturer's upgrade layout/config/amount. Or even worse, highly specific patches and pre-loaders be used.

 

MS-DOS incorporated many concepts from Unix and CP/M, and this also helped the transition from other micros and even minis. Familiarity is a great asset. Ohh you can say Microsoft stole a lot of ideas. Maybe. Maybe not. But they succeeded in breaking them down into common denominators and marketing them where others have failed. And if you vote "stolen", consider all the advancements built upon them. Want to give all that up?

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Today the PC market is stagnating because the driving force behind its evolution is not about technical advances or new ideas or mind amplification through new tools.

 

Instead these past 10 years have been about ways to get into your wallet. And only there have we seen genuine innovations. No matter how distant or innocuous something may seem, mess around with it and you'll see multiple avenues spring up. All having one common destination in mind, the money in your bank account.

 

PC is too complicated a platform for the average person. So the tech industry is abandoning it in favor of the dumbed-down smartphone. Everybody knows how to use one.

 

And abandoning it they are, intel's processors have stagnated for the past 5 years. And they fail in the mobile space. And intel used to be a driving force in the tech sector, not so much anymore. That's just one example. And don't forget suffocating mounds of shovelware used to subsidize machines! Yikes! I don't care to spend days and weeks cleaning up a brand-new PC! I'll just get something else. Honestly who gives a flying fuck about the countless bloated "tools" that "enhance the experience". Ohh bullshit. Enhance my ass!

 

At least the two recent Apple products I got didn't do that to me. Fanbois or haters remain quiet, please. Won't argue solid facts.

 

---

 

Don't mention intel's Atom series, new or old. They're filler material.. Can't even lift an ant's ass by farting. So weak.

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EMM386.EXE was another example - this to support more memory configurations and AIBs. And to present a standard memory model to all applications.

EMM386 is actually a bit of an older concept. Lotus had made boards with "expanded memory" available on the original IBM PC as a method of extending addressable memory beyond 1MB by bank-switching it into a ROM space, though only the businesses running large spreadsheets or databases cared at the time. I'm pretty sure the API provided by EMM386 is compatible with the old drivers for those original hardware boards, but it takes advantage of 386's virtual 8086 mode and virtual memory mapping to do the same thing. This did have the benefit of making all of the 386+'s memory available to DOS programs though, but its most-favored benefit remained in opening up dead ROM space for "high memory" so that DOS didn't have to crowd out your programs.

 

"DOS=HIGH"? I knew it was on something.

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Today the PC market is stagnating because the driving force behind its evolution is not about technical advances or new ideas or mind amplification through new tools.

 

Instead these past 10 years have been about ways to get into your wallet. And only there have we seen genuine innovations. No matter how distant or innocuous something may seem, mess around with it and you'll see multiple avenues spring up. All having one common destination in mind, the money in your bank account.

 

PC is too complicated a platform for the average person. So the tech industry is abandoning it in favor of the dumbed-down smartphone. Everybody knows how to use one.

 

And abandoning it they are, intel's processors have stagnated for the past 5 years. And they fail in the mobile space. And intel used to be a driving force in the tech sector, not so much anymore. That's just one example. And don't forget suffocating mounds of shovelware used to subsidize machines! Yikes! I don't care to spend days and weeks cleaning up a brand-new PC! I'll just get something else. Honestly who gives a flying fuck about the countless bloated "tools" that "enhance the experience". Ohh bullshit. Enhance my ass!

 

At least the two recent Apple products I got didn't do that to me. Fanbois or haters remain quiet, please. Won't argue solid facts.

 

---

 

Don't mention intel's Atom series, new or old. They're filler material.. Can't even lift an ant's ass by farting. So weak.

Why would you spend time cleaning up bloatware when you can just reinstall Windows using an ISO from microsoft.com without that crap. I guess if the system has any special hardware it can be annoying but eh. I do agree that Intel is going downhill especially because of the recently discovered security flaws (that I've heard can't be fixed in software no matter was Intel says).

Edited by DragonGrafx-16

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There are people out there that don't know what an ISO is or that windows can be reinstalled in the first place.

 

I don't believe Intel is failing now because of security issues in their chips, but, instead, their lack of innovation in the past 4 years. Sandy Bridge was their last innovative architecture. Everything after that has been a refinement.

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PC is too complicated a platform for the average person. So the tech industry is abandoning it in favor of the dumbed-down smartphone. Everybody knows how to use one.

 

And abandoning it they are, intel's processors have stagnated for the past 5 years. And they fail in the mobile space. And intel used to be a driving force in the tech sector, not so much anymore. That's just one example. And don't forget suffocating mounds of shovelware used to subsidize machines! Yikes! I don't care to spend days and weeks cleaning up a brand-new PC! I'll just get something else. Honestly who gives a flying fuck about the countless bloated "tools" that "enhance the experience". Ohh bullshit. Enhance my ass!

 

At least the two recent Apple products I got didn't do that to me. Fanbois or haters remain quiet, please. Won't argue solid facts.

 

Umm, did somebody call me? :D Definitely not an Intel/M$ "fanboi" but perhaps could be lumped into the Apple "hater" category.

 

Seriously though, you got me with the "facts" bit. Sorry, but that rant about bloatware and how Apple is allegedly different is just ridiculous. First of all, you don't need to spend "days and weeks" tweaking a new Windows install - an hour will do. Secondly, comparing apples (umm) and oranges is always a bit off - Mac is a walled garden kinda product sold at insane premiums with a heap of problems of its own (such as outrageous "you can't fix it" schemes).

 

Thirdly, PCs are far from dying. Very, very far. Of course, the market has changed and now smartphones are portable PCs, that's all. But there will always be need for a reasonably priced and configurable desktop here, there and everywhere.

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I just spent a lot of time going over my first PC (that I really bought myself) and found that it was rather highly repairable for all the little things like connectors or screws and fittings like so. Thankfully everything was working and no cards had to be replaced. I was also pleased to find loads of software tools and utilities to pretty much examine and test and configure nearly every aspect of the system. Much of these trinkets seemed to be missing from 8 & 16 bit machines - save for the Apple II which had tools for everything also. These tools seemed to give the feeling of bringing the user close to the hardware in whatever capacity they (the user) were capable of.

 

Only recently did I appreciate tools like Norton Utilities and SpinRite, among other smaller one-off shareware things like CacheChk. Many of the tools of the day had beautiful screens done in color ASCII text. A next logical step beyond 80-columns and MouseText on the Apple //e. Not saying it was a successor, but it felt that way to me since I had the //e a long time before I got into the PC.

 

Thing is the Atari 8-bit machines and Commodore 64 had all sorts of graphical text characters. But the machines never really captured the market. They were too slow and the resolutions were too low. Considering the PC's EGA/VGA graphics, and even processors under 16Mhz, these text menus and interfaces were really snappy. Something businesses and professionals expected and appreciated in those days. The 8-bit toy computers were simply too sluggish.

 

---

 

This is an interesting thread, because, when I was a kid I thought graphics capabilities were the end-all be-all of computing. And if a computer could play fast games then it should excel at EVERYTHING else no questions asked. Bwaaahahaa! How mistaken I was.

 

Heh! Back in the day us gamers and hobbyists and enthusiasts might have been bored to tears with "limiting" and "uninspiring" text screens. Marketing departments may have downplayed that type of interface. But, yeah, in retrospect those text-based applications sure as hell got the job done!

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In the 1980s the hercules graphics card and monochrome monitor were the most popular choice for ibm pc compatibles. It was clearly higher resolution than anything plugged into a TV and had high resolution graphics modes as well. Colour monitors were still too expensive. You're still talking a huge 10x or more price difference between an 8-bit c64 and 16-bit ibm pc compatible.

Edited by mr_me

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http://www.retrocomputing.net/info/siti/total_share.html

 

According to this site, IBM PC & compatibles took over the PC market around 1985, from the Commodore 64. The Tandy trs-80 led the PC market from 1977 to 1979 and did alright until 1982 and when the c64 came out. It doesn't look like there was much of a business PC market until 1987.

 

Tandy may have done alright with their IBM compatibles. As was pointed out they had a good distribution and support network.

 

I'm sure there were trs-80, commodore, and apple ii computers in offices in the late 1970s and early 1980s but it would have been rare.

You do realized that Tandy had some of the best selling compatibles on the market right?

And I'm talking about 1 company, not a whole bunch of them.

 

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Thing is the Atari 8-bit machines and Commodore 64 had all sorts of graphical text characters. But the machines never really captured the market. They were too slow and the resolutions were too low. Considering the PC's EGA/VGA graphics, and even processors under 16Mhz, these text menus and interfaces were really snappy. Something businesses and professionals expected and appreciated in those days. The 8-bit toy computers were simply too sluggish.

 

---

 

This is an interesting thread, because, when I was a kid I thought graphics capabilities were the end-all be-all of computing. And if a computer could play fast games then it should excel at EVERYTHING else no questions asked. Bwaaahahaa! How mistaken I was.

 

I did eventually inherit an original 4.77mhz IBM PC. The thing was incredibly slow. I actually think the Atari 8-bit could outperform it at certain tasks.

 

But you are right, the text mode on these machines were snappy, they were a crisp 80 columns (or more), and the keyboard felt awesome to use. Also it was built like a tank. It's easy to see why professionals would choose such a machine if all they were running was business and productivity apps.

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From a European perspective (specifically mine), there were a few reasons that the PC came along and squashed all the opposition:

 

- Atari and Commodore in competition with each other and making some really poor decisions at the top level that sabotaged their own futures.

- The Sharp X68000 wasn't readily available outside Japan.

- 3D came along and it was the new hotness, the PC had the horsepower to shift polygons and the other's were too busy fighting with themselves to respond.

- Doom

- Like them or loathe them, CD-ROMs were easy to drop into PCs and again, the new hotness.

 

For me it led to the golden era of PC gaming. about a 3 year window from 1997-2000 where 3DfX ruled. Some of the greatest PC games of all time occurred during that window. Games that still felt like a progression from the 16 bit era, so had all those sensibilities that I particularly like, before it all went to shit for a LONG period of time as far as I'm concerned. It's why my retro PC is very deliberately specced ;)

Edited by juansolo

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Yes the modular design of the IBM PC was a big plus. It's what Apple had in the Apple II and gave up in the macintosh. And, if it hasn't been mentioned, software and hardware backwards compatibility really helped.

Edited by mr_me
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