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Jewish World Review
August 18, 2006
/ 24 Menachem-Av, 5766
What a brief, strange trip it's been
Twenty-five years and three days ago, a suburban New York company made a
brief, but important announcement: "IBM Corporation today announced its
smallest lowest priced computer system, the IBM Personal Computer.
Designed for business, school, and home, the easy to use system sells for
as little as $1,565."
Today, the PC platform first conceived under the IBM name, but quickly
"cloned" by what seemed a planet-full of garage-based entrepreneurs,
accounts for roughly 90 percent of the computers used on Planet Earth,
with a Microsoft-designed operating system at the heart of most of these.
IBM no longer manufactures personal computers, having quite the desktop
business, more or less, years before selling what remained to China-based
Lenovo, whose chief IBM-style products are ThinkPad notebook computers.
And while the first "luggable" PCs, from a Houston, Texas, startup called
Compaq, were roughly the size of a sewing machine and weighed about at
much, today's portables are sometimes so light and thin, you might forget
they're in your briefcase.
I've worked with, and written about, this technology almost from the days
of that first IBM PC, 23 of those 25 years. While a lot about computing
isn't as strange and new as it once was, there's still plenty out there to
surprise, and amaze, even the most jaded user. Some observations, then, at
this milestone juncture:
First, nothing lasts forever. IBM, Compaq, Leading Edge, Kaypro, and a
bunch of other names once intimately associated with desktop computing are
pretty much gone. IBM remains, of course, as a company providing software
and services to large enterprises and smaller to medium-sized ones. But
apart from the Lotus Development Corp. software it acquired a few years
back, there's precious little that IBM would sell directly to a small
business or home user. Twenty years ago, however, there was at least a
chance that IBM could have dominated those markets, too.
Thus for companies who believe their position in the marketplace is
inviolable, and you know who you are, it's not a bad idea to run over to a
computer museum, have them dig out an old Compaq or Kaypro and contemplate
it for a while.
Second, "failure" is never final. Apple Computer, Inc., which had a
desktop computer on the market two years before IBM did, has been down for
the count more times than a cauliflower-eared pickup boxer. Yet, each time
Apple has been counted out by industry experts, it's bounced back. The
firm's widely touted "five percent market share" could well increase over
the next year or two, thanks to its switch to Intel Corp. processors and a
tweak of the operating system to match.
Then again, tons of folks, this writer included, were inclined to dismiss
the UNIX (stet) operating system and its variants to the realm of
scientific or scholastic computing. But if you look closely behind the
operating facades of today's computers, you'll find UNIX and its
"windowing" graphical interface, somewhere. The last couple of versions of
Microsoft Windows draw heavily, some say, on the UNIX-based "Motif"
interface, and the Mac's OS X operating software has UNIX at its core, as
Apple happily admits.
Third, the future remains full of surprises, many of which should be quite
pleasant. Microsoft is readying Windows Vista, which might well trump
earlier versions of Windows, itself a 20-year-old product. New versions of
old standard word processors and other applications are appearing
regularly. Advances in computer design and power continue almost unabated.
The $1,565 you'd have spent in 1981 for a now-anemic original IBM PC will
buy you a very nice Windows machine - or even 2.25 such units, if you know
where to shop.
It hasn't been as long and strange a trip as the late Jerry Garcia may
have sung about, but the PC era has been a great one, and tons of fun for
many of us. I have a feeling the adventure will still surprise us for the
next few years, if not the next 25.
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
JWR contributor Mark Kellner has reported on technology for industry newspapers and magazines since 1983, and has been the computer columnist for The Washington Times since 1991.Comment by clicking here.
© 2006, News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of The Washington Times. Visit the paper at http://www.washingtontimes.com