The PC turns 25

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The PC turns 25

Intel powered, MS DOS device evolved into US$200b industry.

The IBM PC will celebrate its 25th birthday this Saturday.

Over 1.6 billion units have been sold since IBM launched its first PC on 12 August 1981. It has spawned an IT industry that today tops annual revenues of US$200 billion, according to data from Gartner.

The analyst firm attributed the PC's success to its open and extensible platform, allowing it to quickly adept to new trends. Initially it harnessed software and later became the premier device for accessing the internet.

The term personal computer indicates that the device is suitable for personal use, differentiating it from the mainframe systems that dominated the IT industry prior to its launch. A mainframe's processing units were shared by many users through so-called minicomputers.

Xerox PARC is credited for developing the first PC with the Alto in 1972. The system never made it to a commercial product, but it is said to have inspired early systems for Apple and Sun Microsystems.

The first IBM PC model 5150 sold for US$1,565. It used off the shelve components such as a 4.77 Mhz Intel 8088 processor, up to 640Kb of memory and ran Microsoft's MS-DOS 1.0 operating system.

Its open nature allowed competing manufacturers to copy IBM's design. This allowed for a volume market to evolve that has been successful at fending off competitors like the thin client.

Several of today's IT trends however could erode the PC's market domination.

Smart phones are often viewed as a potential PC replacement, but they are generally more limited in their functionalities.

System management costs for enterprises however have been rising as users are demanding additional functionalities and online security has been deteriorating.

PC boot times also are considered too slow for the consumer market. And as competition between manufacturers is increasing, profit margins have reached record lows.

Meanwhile hosted applications are gaining popularity, increasingly challenging the PC's domination. But the computers could once again put their flexibility to their advantage to address new markets by embracing up and coming technologies such as virtualisation, Gartner predicted.
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