Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Dawn of the Personal Computer: From Altair to the IBM PC

Dawn of the Personal Computer: From Altair to the IBM PC: "Imagine a world in which all cars are like the Toyota Prius: four-door midsize hybrids. Sure, they aren’t bad cars, you can paint them any way you want and even modify some parts, but in the end you still just have a generic Toyota with a funky paint job.

That’s the world of personal computing today. It doesn’t matter if you’re running Windows, Mac OS, or Linux. Your machine is almost certainly using Intel chips at its core and almost everything else is fairly generic—even the world’s greatest case mod with water-cooled dual-Xeons and quad-SLI graphics is just a really fast PC.

This was definitely not the case 35 years ago. A quick tour of the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA, reveals machines that were as varied and unique as the companies that made them.

The microprocessors, if there even was one, were supplied by Intel, MOS, Zilog, RCA, or any number of other companies. Memory was static, dynamic, and shift-register. And without the Internet, programs were loaded from paper tape, punched cards, cassette tape, floppy disks, cartridge, or even manually switched in by hand."