A single user computer. The term was very popular in the 1980s when individuals began to purchase their own computers for the first time in history. "Microcomputer" was another popular term. Today, the terms PC, desktop, laptop and just plain "computer" are synonymous with personal computer. See how to select a computer.|
Personal Computer Timeline
The industry began in 1977, when Apple, Radio Shack and Commodore introduced the first off-the-shelf computers as consumer products. The first machines used an 8-bit microprocessor with a maximum of 64K of memory and floppy disks for storage. The Apple II, Atari 500, and Commodore 64 became popular home computers, and Apple was successful in companies after the VisiCalc spreadsheet was introduced. However, the business world was soon dominated by the Z80 processor and CP/M operating system, used by many vendors in the early 1980s, such as Vector Graphic, NorthStar, Osborne and Kaypro. By 1983, hard disks began to show up, but CP/M was soon to be history.
Goodbye CP/M, Hello DOS
In 1981, IBM introduced the PC, an Intel 8088-based machine, slightly faster than the genre, but with 10 times the memory. It was floppy-based, and its PC-DOS operating system from Microsoft was also available for the clone makers as MS-DOS. The 8088 was cleverly chosen so that CP/M software vendors could easily convert their software.
Early 1980s - dBASE, Lotus and the Clones
dBASE II was introduced in 1981 bringing mainframe database functions to the personal computer level and launching an industry of compatible products and add-ons. Lotus 1-2-3 was introduced in 1982, and its refined interface and combined graphics spurred sales of IBM PCs.
The IBM PC was successfully cloned by Compaq and unsuccessfully by others. However, by the time IBM announced the PC AT in 1984, vendors were effectively cloning the PC and, as a group, eventually grabbed the majority of the PC market.
Mid-1980s - Apple's Lisa and Mac
In 1983, Apple introduced the Lisa, a graphics-based machine that simulated the user's desktop. Although ahead of its time, Lisa was abandoned for the Macintosh in 1984. The graphics-based desktop environment caught on with the Mac, especially in desktop publishing, and the graphical interface (GUI) worked its way to the PC world with Microsoft Windows as well as Ventura Publisher, which ran under a runtime version of the GEM interface.
Late 1980s - The Mac Gained Ground
In 1986, the Compaq 386 ushered in the first Intel 386-based machine. In 1987, IBM introduced the PS/2, its next generation personal computer, which added improved graphics, 3.5" floppy disks and an incompatible peripheral bus to fend off the cloners. In the same year, OS/2, jointly developed by IBM and Microsoft, was introduced, and more powerful Macintoshes, such as the Mac SE and Mac II, opened new doors for Apple. In 1989, the PC makers introduced 486-based computers, and Apple came out with faster Macs.
The 1990s - The Winner Is Windows
In 1990, Microsoft introduced Windows 3.0, which became a huge success within a couple of years. Software vendors developed Windows versions of almost everything. In 1991, Microsoft and IBM decided to go it alone, each working on their own version of the next operating system (IBM's OS/2 and Microsoft's Windows NT). NT gained significant market share, but OS/2 never caught on.
Lower Prices, Faster PCs and Laptops
In the early 1990s, Gateway and other mail-order vendors began to slash hardware prices. All the others followed, and the PC price wars began.
In 1993, Intel introduced its Pentium CPU to provide more speed for graphical interfaces. The once text-based PC became a graphics workstation competing with machines that cost 100 times as much only a few years before. Within a couple of years, the home market would explode with low-cost, high-performance PCs.
Inspired by Radio Shack's Model 100 introduced over a decade before and ignited by companies such as Toshiba and Zenith, the laptop market had explosive growth throughout the 1990s. More circuits were stuffed into less space, providing computing power on the go that few would have imagined back in 1977.
The End of the 1990s - Dot-Com Fever
In 1995, the personal computer became a window into the Internet for global e-mail and access to the fastest growing information bank the world has ever witnessed. Although graphical Web browsers such as Mosaic and Netscape were the catalyst, had the personal computer not been in place, the Web in all of its glory would have never exploded onto the scene.
The 21st Century - The Smartphone
The 21st century was the dawning of the mobile computing world. Although desktop computers continue to sell and laptops of all sizes are flourishing, handheld smartphones that can run any kind of application are quickly becoming the most personal of personal computing devices (see smartphone).
When personal computers were introduced in the late 1970s and early 1980s, they were bought to solve individual problems, such as automating a budget or typing a letter. Within a few years, an entire industry sprang up to support them. All of sudden, so it seemed, the personal computer became a desktop appliance in every office throughout the developed world. Networked with the organization's mainframes and departmental computers, it became an integral part of the technology infrastructure of every company, small, medium and large. Evolving into an indispensable appliance in almost every home in the developed world, no single technology has impacted more people than the personal computer.
In the mid-1970s, Xerox developed the Alto, which was the forerunner of its Star workstation and inspiration for Apple's Lisa and Macintosh. (Image courtesy of Xerox Corporation.)
Personal computers exploded in the early 1980s; witness this photo taken in 1982. Only a few years after the Alto was developed, kids were coloring in "The Computer Coloring Book."