- The Washington Times - Monday, August 14, 2006

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 worldwide, with a Microsoft-designed operating system at the heart of most of them.

IBM no longer manufactures personal computers, having quit 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 start-up 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 are in your briefcase.

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.

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.

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.

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 has bounced back.

The firm’s widely touted “5 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.

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 rocker 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.

• Read Mark Kellner’s Technology blog, updated daily on The Washington Times’ Web site, at https://www.washingtontimes.com/blogs.

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