July 15, 2024

The Start of the PC Industry


Microsoft sets the trend

Gates and Allen's MO is exhibited early on when writing a BASIC OS for the Altair.

Ambition and vision are the hallmark of MS.

  1. They took an existing product and adapted it to create a MS product (CP/M to MSDOS).
  2. They took a mainframe language (BASIC) and placed it on the desktop.
  3. They established an industry standard. Gates is claimed to have said "Money is made by setting de facto standards."
  4. G & A were good businessmen as well as good programmers. Gates fought to stop BASIC piracy amongst hobbyists, attracting a lot of criticism in the process.

Operating Systems

An OS has three main functions:

  • Manage the computer resources: The task of looking after the computer is given to the computer itself, and in particular to the operating system. This must manage use of the CPU, allocation of memory, access to disk drives, control of printers and modems, and so on. All the input/output functions of the computer are controlled by the operating system.
  • Interact with the user: For a computer to be of use, its user must have some means of interacting with it. It is the operating system's task to provide a means of doing this in an easy, consistent, flexible and structured manner.
  • Run applications: The application packages, such as word processors or spreadsheets, are what users require to perform tasks. An OS provides the user with an interface to the machine. Furthermore, it provides the programs, or applications, with a number of tools and services. These include commands, which the application can use to fetch data from a hard disk, or to send output to a printer. With graphical operating systems (e.g. Windows XP, MacOS9), the application software will also utilise the menu facilities and windows design offered by the operating system.


The computer needs to load its own OS. It uses a small program in ROM (Read Only Memory) called the boot or bootstrap program. The system is pre-programmed to search for it and load the essential features of the OS. The system first looks in the floppy drive for the boot thus enabling the computer to be started from the floppy should the hard disk be corrupted.

Command Line OS

CP/M, with its later provison of BIOS, was the first command line operating system developed for a microcomputer. No GUIs (Graphical User Interface) were in public use at this time (no mouse etc). Users had to input commands via a keyboard. This was a problem for those unfamiliar with computing at that time. GUI development by XeroxPARC, adopted by Apple and eventually by MS, overcame this issue of "usability". A GUI was easier and more intuitive to use. Applications can be developed with a consistent look and operation ("look and feel"). However, command line users (still) find fault with GUIs, claiming that it hides computer operations from the user, thus removing control.
MSDOS was based on CP/M.
Eventually Mac and Windows GUIs come to dominate the PC market.


See Cringely chapter 4

Apple sets the paradigm for combining technical flair (Wozniak) and aggressive management(Jobs).

Apple was a garage start-up, a fulfillment of the "American Dream".

The Apple II defines the basic technology for all future PCs.

Apple also defines the culture of the industry. Informal, young and intellectually creative. It becomes extremely successful in a short space of time.

Cringely views Jobs as a sociopath, but acknowledges that for all Woz's brilliance it is Jobs who was (and still is) the driving force behind Apple.

The Killer App

The consumer justifies the purchase of a computer by the software that can be run on it.

VisiCalc spreadsheet was the first successful desktop application and ran only on the Apple II. It used the blackboard metaphor, which Dan Bricklin adapted from his time as a student at Harvard. It transformed the working practices of accountants and businessmen throughout the US.


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