Market leader with mediocrity

Market leader with mediocrity

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40 years ago, IBM ushered in a new era with the introduction of its first PC. No other computer influenced work and personal life anymore, although the device was neither innovative nor powerful.

Actually, he was a big disappointment, says Michael Mikolajczak. He is a curator at the Heinz Nixdorf Museumsforum in Paderborn. In front of him is a copy of the IBM 5150 from 1981. A box the size of a typewriter – with a processor clocked at 4.77 MHz. “Technically, the IBM PC was not revolutionary and powerful,” says Mikolajczak. “The advantage over the main competitor Apple was certainly the compatibility. IBM allowed other companies to replicate their computers.”

So the “IBM architecture”, a kind of open construction kit, developed into the standard on the market for many years. However, a look under the case shows that the computer was technically backwards even at the time, according to the computer expert.PC struck a chord with buyers in the 1980s. “People trusted a product from the world-famous IBM,” says Mikolajczak. The US manufacturer stood for seriousness and reliability. A company that has been a leader in mainframe computing for decades couldn’t go wrong with a personal computer, according to many buyers.Within a very short time, IBM developed into the market leader, and the computer increasingly became a mass product. “With the release of the IBM PC, society changed too,” says Mikolajczak. “The computer increasingly influenced everyday life, both in the world of work and in the private sphere. Technology became, so to speak, personal.”The PC was not an IBM invention, but only an answer to the growing market for smaller computers. In the USA, the cheapest version, which you still had to pair with your own screen, cost around 1500 US dollars at the time.

Fear of low margins

Actually, IBM didn’t want to enter the market at all – out of concern that the margins might be too low. In the end, they felt compelled not to leave the competitor Apple to succeed alone. “It’s the computer for everyone who has always wanted a personal computer in the office, on the campus of a university or at home,” said IBM Vice President CB Rogers at the time. In a 1981 advertising brochure, IBM proudly announced: “256 different characters can be displayed on the IBM screen. The basic color of the screen is green.”The computer was suitable for word processing, spreadsheets and also for video games. The calculation program for the IBM PC could execute more complex calculation models than the Apple II. The device pushed the competition out of the office.

The rapid development of technology

The technical development went incredibly quickly. In the end, top dog IBM lost touch, says Michael Mikolajczak. In 2005, IBM sold its PC division including market rights to the Chinese company Lenovo.From the first commercially successful Altair 8800 computer in 1975 to the IBM PC from 1981 to our current technology, 46 years have passed. Within a few years, we suddenly found ourselves in the computer age, which formed the basis for our current digital age. The industry is currently facing major upheavals and major questions, says Mikolajczak. “Which company will prevail, which chip architecture will lead, will the complexity of the PC still be required – or will everything be relocated to the cloud in the future?”


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