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Definition: personal computer timeline


The personal computer industry began in 1977, when Apple, Radio Shack and Commodore introduced off-the-shelf computers as consumer products. People were very surprised walking by store windows with computers being featured for the home.

A Lot of Nostalgia
For people old enough to remember the late 1970s and 1980s, the following should prove nostalgic.

8-Bit, Z80 and CP/M
The first machines used 8-bit microprocessors with a maximum of 64K of memory and floppy disk storage. The Apple II, Atari 500, Commodore 64 and Radio Shack TRS-80 became popular home computers. However, the business world was soon dominated by the Z80 CPU and CP/M operating system with machines from companies such as Vector Graphic, NorthStar, Osborne and Kaypro. By 1983, hard disks emerged, and CP/M was soon to be history. See Z80, CPM and VisiCalc.




The VisiCalc Spreadsheet
VisiCalc was extremely successful on the Apple II, causing Apples to be used in a wide variety of businesses. VisiCalc was also popular on IBM's new PC until Lotus 1-2-3 came out. Almost overnight, Lotus 1-2-3 became the number one IBM spreadsheet, and Lotus purchased the VisiCalc company in 1985. (Image courtesy of IBM.)




Goodbye CP/M, Hello DOS
In 1981, IBM introduced the PC, an Intel 8088-based machine, slightly faster than the genre, but with 10 times the RAM. Still floppy-based, its DOS operating system from Microsoft was also available as MS-DOS for the clone makers. IBM cleverly chose the 8088 so that CP/M applications could be easily converted to DOS. See DOS.




IBM's First PC
The IBM PC quickly became the standard business machine running DOS. (Image courtesy of IBM.)




Early 1980s - dBASE and the IBM Clones
In 1981, dBASE II brought database functions to the personal computer and launched an industry of compatible products and add-ons. The IBM PC was successfully cloned by Compaq and unsuccessfully by others. However, by the time IBM announced the PC AT model in 1984, other vendors had succeeded at cloning, and the PC market began to explode. See AT.






Mid-1980s - Apple's Lisa and Mac
In 1983, Apple introduced the graphics-based Lisa (top), which simulated the user's desktop. Ahead of its time, the very pricey Lisa was later abandoned for the Macintosh in 1984 (bottom). The Mac's graphical interface (GUI) was popular in the art and print worlds, and the interface worked its way to Windows in 1990. See Lisa, Mac computer, Windows 3.0 and Corel Ventura. (Images courtesy of Apple Inc.)




Late 1980s - The Mac Gained Ground
In 1986, Compaq ushered in the first Intel 386-based machine. A year later, IBM introduced the PS/2 with improved graphics, a new 3.5" floppy disk and an incompatible peripheral bus to fend off the cloners. In the same year, OS/2, jointly developed by IBM and Microsoft, was introduced, and more powerful Macs, such as the Mac SE and Mac II, opened new doors for Apple. In 1989, the PC makers introduced 486-based computers, and Apple came out with faster Macs.




Windows 3.0
In 1990, Microsoft introduced Windows 3.0, which became a huge success within a couple of years. See Windows 3.0.




The 1990s - The Winner Is Windows
After Windows 3.0 debuted, software vendors developed Windows versions of everything. In 1991, Microsoft and IBM decided to go it alone on the next OS (IBM OS/2 and Microsoft Windows NT). NT gained significant market share, and OS/2 never caught on. See OS/2.

Lower Prices, Faster PCs and Laptops
In the early 1990s, Gateway and other mail-order vendors began to slash hardware prices, and the PC price wars began. In 1993, Intel introduced the Pentium CPU to enhance the speed of graphical interfaces, and the text-based PC became a graphics workstation competing with machines that cost 100 times as much only a few years before. Within a couple of years, the home market would explode with low-cost, high-performance PCs.

Inspired by Radio Shack's Model 100 introduced over a decade before and ignited by companies such as Toshiba and Zenith, the laptop market had explosive growth throughout the 1990s. More circuits were stuffed into less space, providing computing power on the go that few would have imagined back in 1977.

The End of the 1990s - Dot-Com Fever
In 1995, the personal computer became a door to the Internet for email and the fastest growing information bank the world ever witnessed. Although graphical Web browsers such as Mosaic and Netscape were the catalyst, had the personal computer not been in place, the Web in all of its glory could never have exploded onto the scene.

The 21st Century - The Smartphone
The 21st century was the dawning of the mobile computing world. Although desktop computers continue to sell and laptops and tablets of all sizes are flourishing, smartphones have become the true personal computer (see smartphone).

Summary
When personal computers were introduced in the late 1970s, they were often bought to solve individual problems, such as automating a budget or typing a letter. Within a few years, the personal computer became an integral part of every office. Networked with the organization's mainframes, they became part of the technology infrastructure. Today, the personal computer in all its forms is an indispensable appliance for nearly everyone. See how to select a computer and personal computer.




The First Personal Computer
In the mid-1970s, Xerox developed the Alto, which was the forerunner of its Star workstation and inspiration for Apple's Lisa and Mac. (Image courtesy of Xerox Corporation.)






High Tech in the Early 1980s
Although looking terribly old fashioned today, Alan Freedman, author of this encyclopedia, was very proud of his Apple II and Otrona portable. See Apple II and CPM.






New Words for the Computer Generation
Personal computers exploded in the early 1980s. In 1982, kids were coloring in "The Computer Coloring Book," created by the author of this encyclopedia.