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IBM Hardware

IBM Did Not Invent the Personal Computer 293

theodp writes "As IBM gives itself a self-congratulatory pat on the back as it celebrates its 100th anniversary, Robert X. Cringely wants to set the record straight: 'IBM didn't invent the personal computer', writes Cringely, 'but they don't know that.' Claiming to have done so, he adds, soils the legacy of Ed Roberts and pisses off all real geeks in the process. Throwing Big Blue a bone, Cringely is willing to give IBM credit for 'having helped automate the Third Reich'."
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IBM Did Not Invent the Personal Computer

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    I know that not every comparison involving the Nazis is invalid, but does this strike anyone else as being more than a bit reductio ad Hitlerum?

    • You know those wrist tattoos from Auchwitz? IBM-formatted punchcard serial numbers.
    • by CharlyFoxtrot (1607527) on Friday June 17, 2011 @06:29PM (#36481250)

      Yes, a bit hypocritical to just lay the blame at IBM's feet too. The US has a long history of doing business with criminal regimes from banana republics, to the nazi's, to apartheid South Africa, to regimes like Saudi Arabia today.

      • by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968&gmail,com> on Friday June 17, 2011 @08:26PM (#36482132) Journal

        While this is true to be fair the ones doing business with the Nazis were the German branch and from what I understand in Hitler's Germany you did what you were told or enjoy your nice trip to the concentration camp. His regime weren't real tolerant of being told no, just look at how the German commanders captured (and secretly recorded0 by the Brits were all in agreement that attacking Russia was a majorly BAD idea, but none had the guts to walk up to the Fuhrer and tell him that.

        As for TFA, frankly he is full of shit. Sure you may be able to say technically the first home computer that could be called personal wasn't an IBM, but does anyone run 6502 MOSFET chips anymore? Of course not because IBM PC compatible is the standard PERIOD. Hell even Apple now is IBM PC compatible.

        As someone who lived through that time allow me to say thank you IBM, thank you for the 5150 [] and for being stupid enough to publish specs for everything back then which made building add ons easy. today it would be proprietary as hell and innovation would be right out the window, but thanks to IBM we don't have to throw everything out when we want to upgrade for performance. Folks seem to forget that before the 5150 NOTHING worked together, nothing talked to each other, the drives for A wouldn't work on B, hell even computers by the same company often had incompatible peripherals. As someone who had a Trash80 and a VIC20 frankly it was a royal PITA.

        Now thanks to IBM you can buy AMD, Intel or Via, add more RAM or even a new box from a different OEM, it really doesn't matter as it all "just works". Thanks to the hardware being open we were able to route around the douches, like Compaq and their "special RAM", and now it doesn't matter what hardware or even OS you get, your printer still plugs in, you don't need IRQs or futzing or hoping you have the right slots, it all is basically compatible. And frankly that is a GOOD thing. Now if we could only get the same thing in the mobile space, to where laptops had standard motherboards like ATX and mATX, to where we could easily repair or upgrade that would be heaven. Sadly it looks like proprietary in a box will stay in mobile land, which means designed for the dump since third parties can't make cheap parts. Damned shame but thank you IBM for at least giving us one platform that is easy to deal with.

        • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

          by Runaway1956 (1322357)

          The "German branch" of IBM? Buddy, there are no "branches" in a megacorporation. You do what the head honchos at the main corporate headquarters say, or you're out of a job. Look, I know that IBM wasn't the only company to do business with the Nazis, but IBM had more inside information on the goals of the Nazis than anyone else. Tracking and segregating the Jewish population is directly credited to IBM, and quite properly so. The Nazis TOLD IBM what they wanted, and IBM delivered. There is very litt

        • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Friday June 17, 2011 @10:26PM (#36482740)
          Agree with the first responder. There are memos proving beyond a doubt that Thomas J. Watson himself was not only informed about what was going on, but himself helped plan it and actively engaged in doing business with the Nazis.

          Part of that business was supplying machines that kept track of concentration camp prisoners via punch card.

          Was IBM all bad? No. But was it some bad, especially during the Nazi Germany days? Hell, yes! The historical record has proven it beyond reasonable doubt. Of course, Watson and IBM were not the only corporate or finance bigwigs who did that kind of thing at the time, but do it they definitely did.
        • by haruchai (17472)

          Does that mean Henry Ford invented the automobile?

        • by itsdapead (734413) on Saturday June 18, 2011 @04:27AM (#36483990)

          Sure you may be able to say technically the first home computer that could be called personal wasn't an IBM, but does anyone run 6502 MOSFET chips anymore?

          Of course not, any more than anybody runs Intel 8088 chips anymore, uses an ISA expansion bus, Shugart disc interfaces etc. I even believe that modern systems can have more than 640K of RAM...

          The 6502 might not have had any official surviving children (ISTR there was a 16-bit variant used in the Apple II GS), but its pretty well documented that it was a major influence [] on the design of the ARM.

          Hell even Apple now is IBM PC compatible.

          No, Apple uses chips based on the modern x86-32 and x86-64 architectures. I don't think the fact that these have legacy backwards-compatibility with the 8088 was a major influence on Apple's decision to switch. That has more to do with IBM and Motorola's failure to manufacture a mobile version of the PPC G5, at a time when Apple was doing rather well with non-Intel based machines...

          As someone who lived through that time

          You must have been very, very drunk, because you don't remember it very well.

          Folks seem to forget that before the 5150 NOTHING worked together, [snip] As someone who had a Trash80 and a VIC20

          Which is why, pre-PC, serious commercial microcomputer users tended to use one of the many CP/M-based systems rather than VIC20s, to the extent that there were even kludges available to run CP/M on Trash-80s and Apple IIs (the latter requiring a Z80 system on an expansion card). This is what IBM-lovers like to airbrush out of history because the "revolutionary" IBM PC was really just a "me too" CP/M-86 machine (MS-DOS/PC-DOS being, effectively, a clone of CP/M).

          Now thanks to the failure of the IBM PS/2 and MicroChannel architecture you can buy...

          There, put that right for you.

          your printer still plugs in,

          Nice to know that IBM invented the Centronics and RS232 interfaces, and that anybody who remembers using those on non-IBM computers is delusional.

          you don't need IRQs or futzing or hoping you have the right slots

          You seem to think IBM invented the PCI bus. They didn't - the original ISA bus had "IRQs or futzing or hoping you have the right slots" up the wazzoo.

          Now if we could only get the same thing in the mobile space, to where laptops had standard motherboards like ATX and mATX

          If only people didn't want their mobiles to be slim, and light, and, well, mobile...

          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            You seem to think IBM invented the PCI bus. They didn't - the original ISA bus had "IRQs or futzing or hoping you have the right slots" up the wazzoo.

            Indeed, IBM actually went the opposite direction with the PS/2, and you had to have configuration floppies to install MCA cards even for use under DOS. The only cool thing about the hardware I messed with while working for the county of santa cruz HRA as a youngun was the PS/2 model 70, I'd mess with one of those even today. Probably no point though. When I was leaving we were just getting 486SLC PS/Valuepoints... I mean, seriously?

            • by pyrr (1170465)
              And yet, that would be the same PS/2 that gave us the mini-DIN connector in the context of connecting keyboards and mice, which is still found on many modern desktops and docking stations. A 20+ year old IBM Model M keyboard for those old systems can still be plugged-in to many modern computers, well over a decade after the superior USB interface came along.
    • by Penguinisto (415985) on Friday June 17, 2011 @06:33PM (#36481284) Journal

      A little bit.

      I'm not exactly IBM's biggest fan (having to hammer on 370-series mainframes made me quite the IBM-hater for awhile), but to say that IBM automated the Nazis would be akin to saying that {insert item here} helped to {insert what that item does} the Nazis.

      I mean, I'm pretty sure that WWII Germany had light bulbs, motion pictures, aircraft, NCR calculators (the old mechanical kind), and lots of other things pioneered by American individuals and companies. I'm also willing to bet that many of them were used directly in facilitating the Holocaust as well.

      Hell, Henry Ford was an open admirer of Hitler's policies before (and even in the pre-US stages of) WWII, and an unabashed anti-semite... does that make the Ford Mustang a Nazimobile?

      But yeah, basically, TFA is a Godwin.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 17, 2011 @08:01PM (#36481978)

        Uh... but IBM actually did do a lot of contracting for the Nazis.

        They weren't just Nazi sympathizers, they didn't just make general-purpose tools and end up having the Nazis use them, they worked with them extensively in a strategic alliance. They talked to them about what they wanted to get done, they helped them do it efficiently, and they put effort into hiding their role.

        In particular, they were instrumental in accomplishing the identification of members of targeted ethnic groups, while being fully aware of the Nazi party's intent to persecute them. They provided the information infrastructure necessary to round up all of the jews and gypsies, knowing at the very least that they were to be rounded up.

        • by IICV (652597) on Saturday June 18, 2011 @12:44AM (#36483158)

          In particular, they were instrumental in accomplishing the identification of members of targeted ethnic groups, while being fully aware of the Nazi party's intent to persecute them. They provided the information infrastructure necessary to round up all of the jews and gypsies, knowing at the very least that they were to be rounded up.

          Exactly! It was a now-classic consulting scenario: the business (e.g, Nazi Germany) buys a big shiny piece of hardware, and with it they get some IBM consultants to customize it. The business comes up with its business rules, e.g, every generation the Jewishness halves if a Jew marries a non-Jew, anyone who is at least 1/64th Jewish is considered a Jew, and here's some census data that says who has claimed to be a Jew up until the current moment who has married whom (gotta ferret out those crypto-Jews, sneaky though they are), and we want names and addresses out of it. Then the consultants go hmm okay that'll be $lots and implement the system.

          It would have absolutely impossible for IBM's consultant programmers to have worked on this project without realizing that Hitler would be using this information to round up citizens based on their ethnicity. I can totally accept that the consultants didn't realize that the Jews would be killed (it's hard to believe that people are going to die as a result of your work, honestly), but there was no way for them to have done this without realizing that, you know, the names and addresses are popping out of our tabulating machine and going straight to the Gestapo who all run out waving truncheons.

      • by AHuxley (892839)
        Ford is a warning form history about wealthy networks, generational trusts and what they can print in their masters image.
        IBM is interesting too, they have records from that era but how much have historians seen ;)
        The next question is what did the people who sat in on this in the 1940's as younger staff fund in the 1950's, 60's ... as more senior staff and who was groomed to take their place?
        Final solutions for a small planet?
      • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Friday June 17, 2011 @10:46PM (#36482818)
        You missed the point.

        IBM supplied Germany with machines and intelligence during the war, with full knowledge of Thomas Watson himself. Which at the time, if he were caught, would probably have gotten him charges of treason and aiding and abetting the enemy, at the very least.

        There is strong physical evidence, including memos, invoices, and receipts, indicating that IBM (and I mean the US offices, not just some German branch) actively, during the war, supplied the Nazis with machines that were used to keep track of prisoners at concentration camps, and instruction on how to use them.
  • lulz research (Score:5, Interesting)

    by decora (1710862) on Friday June 17, 2011 @06:22PM (#36481170) Journal

    The truth about lulz : Edwin Black, an author holed up in his basement, spending years and years researching the details for a book, reading thousands of documents and talking with hundreds of people, will achieve far more lulz, in the long run, than hacking a website.

    Black's book came out circa 2001. That is 10 years ago, and people still talk about it. And we still wait for IBM to open their archives.

    • by torgosan (141603) *
      The book to which you are referring is:

      IBM and the Holocaust

      The Strategic Alliance between Nazi Germany and America's most powerful corporation

      Published by Crown Publishers, N.Y., 2001

      ISBN 0-609-60799-5
    • Meanwhile the fact that IBM machines were used in the development of a weapon that could kill about 140,000 people [] at once is uncontroversial.

      • I.E. einstein's letter to roosevelt.

        IBM's involvement with various questionable rulers in the 20s and 30s was not done as an act of warfare, it was done for pure profit motive.

      • Killed a lot fewer people. 12 million killed in death camps vs. a couple hundred thousand by the two bombs. But then, nobody seems to cry about the fire bombing of Japanese cities, which killed far more people, mostly civilians.

        Besides, with the atomic bombs, it's not so simple. I think the deciding factor was that only 1.2% of soldiers at Iwo Jima surrendered, the rest fought to their deaths in a bitter battle, in the name of their emperor. If it came to that on the Japanese islands, the country and pe

    • And he didn't rape any Swedish women.

  • This just in (Score:2, Redundant)

    by drb226 (1938360)
    your mom did not invent the personal computer, either.
  • by jra (5600)

    "Press hard, you are making 6 million copies."

    Naw; Godwin's Law concerns *comparisons* to Hitler and Nazis. If you're *actually talking about them for a reason*, it trips out, to avoid a recursive black hole in the fabric of the Universe.

    • by jra (5600)

      And to reply to Cringley's comments on identity theft, if everyone put their foot down and *forced service providers to stop using unchangeable, researchable authenticators like SSNs and Maiden names, all of that problem would dry up in a heart beat.

  • Not even close (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Cute Fuzzy Bunny (2234232) on Friday June 17, 2011 @06:26PM (#36481220)
    Hmm, I sold personal computers for around 5 years before IBM rolled their first PC out, so I guess all the people that bought them will have to look back in embarrassment now that its been revealed that those really werent either personal or computers. Imsai, Altair, Poly, Xitan, Alpha Micro...all came long before IBM rolled anything out the door. Plus we thought the IBM PC was lousy. It had a weird keyboard layout and it was slow. Real expensive compared to other alternatives of the day. You could get a much faster cpu with more memory and a larger capacity floppy drive for half the price.
    • by Burz (138833) on Friday June 17, 2011 @08:03PM (#36481988) Journal

      It has the all the main personal computing features we associate with pre-Macintosh/Lisa systems, like a keyboard, CRT, local storage and user programmability. It probably predates the systems you sold by a year or two. []

      • From History Of Computing Project []: "The company established what was then called the Entry Systems Division, located in Boca Raton, Florida, to develop the new system. This small group consisted of 12 engineers and designers under the direction of Don Estridge; the team's chief designer was Lewis Eggebrecht. The division developed IBM's first real PC. (IBM considered the 5100 system, developed in 1975, to be an intelligent programmable terminal rather than a genuine computer, even though it truly was a comp

        • by Teancum (67324)

          That particular price point for the 5100 was set by the marketing department, because they didn't want it to compete against their mainframe business. It could have been sold for substantially less, and did include a number of features that was well ahead of its time.

          Simply put, it was never given the chance to actually be a real product because IBM didn't want it to be something an ordinary consumer could ever possibly purchase. About the only people permitted to even buy this computer were existing cust

      • Xerox Alto []. 1973.

  • It's not like he invented the single-board self-bootstrapping non-teletype microcomputer...
  • Yay, Nazis again. Computers are what got them to the moon! I saw it in a movie [], it must be true! (btw: The movie looks like loads of fun)
  • Even if you ignore the Altair, and require a personal computer to be something with a keyboard and monitor, the Apple I and Apple II were out before the IBM PC (and far superior).
    • by westlake (615356)

      Even if you ignore the Altair, and require a personal computer to be something with a keyboard and monitor, the Apple I and Apple II were out before the IBM PC (and far superior).

      Not for office work.

      Why do you think Microsoft's Z80 CP/M Softcard sold so well?

      The Apple II has a 40 column display and NTSC or PAL output.

      The Apple II keyboard - sans keypad - was awkwardly integrated into the hard shell case.

      The IBM was keyboard perfection:

      Byte magazine in the fall of 1981 went so far as to state that the keyboard was 50% of the reason to buy an IBM PC.

      IBM Personal Computer []

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Teancum (67324)

        The IBM was keyboard perfection:

        Byte magazine in the fall of 1981 went so far as to state that the keyboard was 50% of the reason to buy an IBM PC.

        IBM Personal Computer []

        The original keyboard for the IBM PC was a pure piece of garbage. As a matter of fact, one of the early accessories that many PC buyers purchased was a keyboard from 3rd party developers, where important keys like the "enter key" was enlarged, along with the shift keys and a spacebar that actually felt right.

        Re-read that article again, to realize how many people hated the thing. I hated it and told my professors at the time.... where they cringed in disbelief that IBM could produce such a piece of crap.

        • by Retron (577778)
          I completely disagree. The model F IBM-XT keyboard was one of the best keyboards I've had the pleasure to use, the tactile feeling is something I'll never forget. In fact, when I ditched the XT (bad move, it'd now be worth a bit as a collectible) I kept the keyboard and I still have it to this day. I took it into work (a school) a year or so ago for a teacher to use in their lesson, showing the evolution of hardware and everyone who tried it was amazed at how good it felt. It makes modern membrane keyboards
  • It seems to me that it's pretty clear that the speaker in the video is saying that that IBM invented the Personal Computer (upper case), not the personal computer, lower case. When you watch the video, the screen is showing the case where it says "IBM Personal Computer". And I think that's worth talking about, since the majority of toeday's personal computers (both windows & mac) can trace its roots back to this architecture.

  • by gavron (1300111) on Friday June 17, 2011 @07:02PM (#36481526)

    S-110 Bus systems
    Radio Shack TRS-80.
    Apple I
    TI 99/4

    These were all the first personal computers. IBM had nothing to do with any of it.

    IBM's only claim to fame is that their hardware specs allowed others to make similar systems.. so the "IBM PC" became manufacturable by many companies... and as a result... it beat out the proprietary hardware guys.

    IBM has invented many things, but the personal computer is nothing they invented.


    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Also: Altair 8080, Altair 680, Imsai 8080, SWTPC 6800 and NS SC/MP were all well before Apple, Commodore, Atari, TI.

      All those others were "me too, me too!" companies.

    • I'm surprised that no one (not even IBM) has mentioned the IBM 5100 []

      By no means is it the first Personal Computer, but it is IBM's first PC. and its arguably the first portable computer as well.

    • by fermion (181285)
      Some of these computers are not what we now consider personal computers, or of 1980+ vintage, The TRS-80. The TRS 80 and Apple ][ are example of mid-to-late-70 computers that are identifiable as what most would call personal computers, that is general purpose assembled machines. My memory of the Commodore Pet annd the early atari machines were that they did not do all that much.

      The early IBM machines were more mini computers rather than personal computers. Tandy also had a number of computer in this cla

  • by tygr6x (2279008) on Friday June 17, 2011 @07:22PM (#36481724)
    Just like Columbus did not actually discover America, IBM did not invent the personal computer. However, just like Columbus for all intents and purposes put America on the map, IBM did deliver the PC to the world in a way that no other did (or could) at the time.
    • by jedidiah (1196)

      Nonsense. All IBM did was provide a brand name that was palatable to corporations.

    • No, Altair and IMSAI were the Norwegians, Apple II and TRS-80 were Columbus, and IBM was the Mayflower.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by iggie (183722)

      Proud Italian Americans tend to say, that once Columbus discovered America, it stayed discovered.

      But that's not a good analogy for IBM's contribution to the PC. The fact is that the PC was already there, and had a decent market, and was starting to make dramatic inroads into small and medium businesses thanks to the PC's first killer-app VisiCalc (the first spreadsheet program). This program first ran on the AppleII and propelled Apple from a small (actually fairly dominant) enthusiast company to Silicon Va

  • by sunderland56 (621843) on Friday June 17, 2011 @07:29PM (#36481768)
    Nobody "invented" the personal computer. Taking an existing product and making it cheaper/faster/smaller/cooler is not "inventing" anything, it is merely developing a better product.

    Apple did not "invent" the smartphone, Toyota did not "invent" the hybrid, and Tivo did not "invent" recording video on hard disks either.
    • Nobody "invented" the personal computer.

      No one user wrote me. I'm worth millions of their man-years.

  • The answer is murky and it depends upon how you define a personal computer. If you're talking about computers in the home, then it was probably the Apple/Commodore/Tandy triad who deserves credit. If you are talking about a standalone desktop computer, it looks like the IBM 5100 is a runner (1975). Then, of course, there are all of the people who include hobbiest machines.

    • by JBMcB (73720)

      Or if you count those funky HP programmable mega-calculators from the mid 70's. []

      Hey, it fits on a desktop :)

      • by MacTO (1161105)

        And a single line display (?) would have made for a mighty exciting game of pong!

      • I had the chance to play with a couple of 9845s in college in the early 80s, and they were definitely superior to the original PC. Their tape drives might have been a bit slower, but not enough to make a difference (maybe 2s to save a file vs. 1s). And their display and graphics library were far superior, not to mention the fact that the ones I used had a bit-mapped thermal printer that could print anything on the display. To get anything comparable on a PC was practically impossible ($-wise) until the E

  • During a speech at work about 10 years ago, my boss started talking about innovation and how one day, out of their garage, two young engineers invented the IBM personal computer. I then corrected him but he just brushed us off. I lost all respect for this fella and transferred to another department. I still love to point out his mistake.

  • by JBMcB (73720) on Friday June 17, 2011 @08:10PM (#36482036)

    IBM *did* invent a few other things:

    Magnetic Hard Drive
    Reduced Operating Instruction Set architecture
    Transistorized DRAM
    Relational databases
    Virtual machine operating systems
    DES encryption
    Scanning tunneling microscope

    To name a tiny fraction. So, they do have some bragging rights.

  • The Scelbi Mark 8H, 1974. 8008 processor. []

  • I looked at Radio Shack, Apple, Commodore, and some S100 stuff at several local computers stores. Apple II required constant hacking and had severe glitches unless lots of extra money was spent on a CP/M card -- unless all you wanted to do was play games. CP/M-S100 boxes were business- and hacker-only. Commodore PET had a calculator-button keyboard and a shape only Wonder Woman could love (IRA?). Radio Shack Trash-80 Model 1 came as a complete system in a box, for a reasonable price (about 1/2 Apple's), w
    • In 1977 my college roommate had a TRS-80, with the expansion rack holding a bunch of cards... I don't even remember now what they all were but one was a modem which came with some pretty decent software at the time. We set the computer up to answer the phone after so many rings, with a computer-generated voice saying "We are not able to come to the phone right now, please leave a message". It was great, for when it was. Of course regular answering machines with tape were already common, but they weren't com

My sister opened a computer store in Hawaii. She sells C shells down by the seashore.