Reporters' Roundtable: Happy 30th birthday, IBM PC

Thirty years ago today IBM launched the 5150. We take a look back at the creation of the PC with an interview with Dave Bradley, the guy who invented Ctrl-Alt-Delete, and look forward with Michael Miller, former editor of PC Magazine.

Happy birthday, IBM PC. Thirty years ago today, at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, IBM launched its first mass-market personal computer.

The IBM 5150 PC was not the first personal computer. The Apple II was on the market then, as were computers from Commodore and Atari and from several vendors selling CP/M micros. But it was, by any measure, the most important.

Although not for technical reasons. IBM designed the computer architecture, for example, but neither the CPU nor the operating system. Rather, what made the IBM PC such a watershed was that, first, it came from IBM, the company that had computing technology already installed at just about every major company. Second, it was the first successful open computing platform. The PC-compatible era gave us Compaq and then hundreds of "clone" vendors. It gave us the software industry as we know it. And today, the vast majority of desktop and laptop computers that the world uses are direct descendants of decisions made at IBM in 1980.

In this Reporters' Roundtable, we're going to talk about how the PC came to be today, as well as look at where it is and where it's going, with two guests I think you're really going to enjoy hearing from.

First, a previously recorded interview with David Bradley, one of the engineers on the original IBM PC project. He wrote the BIOS code and is famous for creating the Ctrl-Alt-Delete reset command. Bradley retired in 2004 after more than 28 years with IBM. He has also been an adjunct professor at Florida Atlantic University and North Carolina State University. Bradley received a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Purdue University.

After that interview, we'll talk with Michael J. Miller, former editor in chief of PC Magazine, and now senior VP for technology strategy at Ziff Brothers Investments. I worked with Michael in 1988 when he was my boss at InfoWorld. He is extraordinarily knowledgeable about the history of computing, and has a sharp eye for what works in technology, and why. Michael still writes the Forward Thinking column for the PC Magazine site. This week, he wrote several stories about the IBM PC's birthday.



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Discussion points: David Bradley
We have to start with Ctrl-Alt-Delete, the 9-line reset routine you wrote when you were working on the IBM PC Bios. To kick it off, let's watch this video of you on a panel. This was from an event, 10 years ago at the Computer History Museum, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the PC.

Did you ever make up with Bill Gates? What did you think when MS made Ctrl-Alt-Del the log-on command?

Why no reset button? The Apple II had one...

How was the 5150 project kicked off? What was your job on the project?

The team was a carve-out from IBM. Tell us more about this, why it was necessary, and what it was like to work on it.

Let's talk about a few technical decisions: The CPU chosen, and the operating system.

Were the lessons from the 5150 applied to other projects at IBM?

Do developers have it easy or tough now?

What do you think of computing today?

Discussion points: Michael Miller
Let's first discuss Bradley's interview.

The PC was not a technical tour de force, was it? Why did it take hold, more so than, say, the Apple II or the Commodore Pet or the TRS-80?

How is it that IBM managed to make the PC such a success? You wrote, Bill Lowe went to IBM's Corporate Management Committee in July 1980 to propose the project, and said, "The only way we can get into the personal computer business is to go out and buy part of a computer company, or buy both the CPU (central processing unit) and software from people like Apple or Atari--because we can't do this within the culture of IBM." Doesn't sound like an auspicious beginning.

IBM's relationship with Microsoft was key for both companies. But eventually they diverged. Remember OS/2? What happened there? What happened after?

You said in a column you just wrote, of the PC DOS licensing deal, IBM apparently was expecting Microsoft to ask for more money upfront or at least as for a per-copy royalty, but instead Microsoft wanted the ability to sell DOS to other companies. Why was that important?

What happened to CP/M? At the time, it was the first OS that was compatible with computers from multiple vendors.

Discuss the Compaq. Did IBM lose control or give it away? Let's talk about the Thinkpad. How could IBM sell the PC business to Lenovo? Are we in a post-PC era?

Discuss consumer forces in IT: It's been said the PC project was launched since IT managers (IBM customers) noticed people using personal computers for work. How does this affect business computing? How does business computing affect consumers?

Your job now is to evaluate emerging technologies. What areas are most exciting to you as opportunities for new businesses?

Related reading
• The beginnings of the PC revolution (photos)
• How IBM's 5150 PC shaped the computer industry
• IBM executive says PC era is in its twilight
• Byte's review of the 5150
• Microsoft: The IBM PC is 30 Years Old - And We're (All) Just Getting Started
• Rafe's Google+ followers reminisce
• Don Estridge, father of the PC
• Dave Bradley Describes Some of the Tech Specs of Original IBM PC (video)
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