After about a year of design and development, IBM released the IBM PC on Aug. 12, 1981, with the expectation that it might sell about 50,000 units. But the company went on to sell millions of the original PCs, along with series of successive models. They included the PC XT with a 20- or 30MB hard-disk drives (an amazing capability at that time); the PC AT with its modestly faster Intel 80286 processor; and the short-lived PCjr, which was IBM's failed attempt to market a PC designed expressly for home users and children.
IBM sold millions of PCs because people in businesses large and small realized that this small, relatively inexpensive computer was an effective business tool. For starters, the PC effectively replaced the electric typewriter for business documents. IBM's PC design team made several decisions that had a huge impact on the PC's phenomenal success. For example, they designed it with an open architecture so that hundreds of independent companies could produce peripherals for it, such as memory expansion boards, hard disks, printers and a host of add-ons.
Virtually the only proprietary technology in the PC was the ROM BIOS (read only memory basic input/output system). However, other computer manufacturers found it easy to reverse-engineer the ROM BIOS to create their own without violating IBM's copyrights. All they had to do was buy a license from Microsoft to distribute MS-DOS because Microsoft had retained the rights to sell its own fully compatible version of the operating system when it made its licensing deal with IBM.
By 1984 as PC Week debuted, a massive IBM PC "clone" business was gaining momentum, and a host of companies rushed into the business. Some of them—like Compaq, Dell and Gateway—would prosper for many years from the growth of corporate microcomputing. Others, including now-forgotten companies such as Eagle Computer and Morrow Designs, would debut as IBM PC-compatible computer models and soon go out of business.
In the days before the Internet, print publications and print advertising were the kings and queens of the media business. PC makers and business software developers needed special-interest computer publications to reach the corporate decision makers who would buy their products.
As a weekly news magazine, PC Week was perfectly positioned to tell those decision makers which computer hardware and software companies were worth a closer look. The publications grew explosively in wealth and influence along with the PC industry. In those early days, a few column inches of editorial in PC Week could help set a startup PC maker or software developer on the road to success.
Our eWEEK 30 series of retrospective articles recounting the evolution of the PC industry will continue next week with a look at the growth of corporate networking in the mid-1980s.