I've always found the history of the computing industry important to study, but it's upsetting how few of my peers found it interesting. They're so focused on all the "new" tech. I think there's a lot more to be learned from the companies that have found a way to be around for 50 years than the ones who have just raised a shit ton of money to land a space on the homepage of everyone's smartphone.

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Started with Altair 8080 in 1975, which was just a microprocessor with some switches on it that had to be hand programmed (took a long time) via these switches. But it had no OS of course, or monitor, or even a higher level language that you could use to program it. Ed Roberts at some electronics company in Albuquerque New Mexico.

Hobbyists were intrigued, but that was about it. It wasn’t very appealing to any sort of mass market. It did sell better than they thought it would.

Bill Gates and Paul Allen heard about the Altair, and so they wrote an interpreter called Altair BASIC which would allow high level programming of the device, so that software could be written for it and it would make the device more appealing.

Bill and Paul started Microsoft soon after in Albuquerque to sell their interpreter alongside the 8080.

But this was still really only hobbyists who were into the PC.


Jobs and Woz would go to the Homebrew computer club meetings, and Woz had began building his own rudimentary personal computer, and would show it off at the end of the meetings. They started selling it, it was the Apple I. No case, just a basic computer for hobbyists to construct their own computer from it basically.

They then made the Apple II, which was a fully assembled computer which appealed more to the mass market (no monitor, though, I believe. Had to purchase separately). Got VC money from Arthur Rock, and Mike Markkula oversought operations. The Apple II was a huge hit and had a lot of buyers. But again, it was still mainly for enthusiasts because most people didn’t have a use.

Then some Harvard business school students came up with Visicalc, which was the first spreadsheet program. It made computers a lot more appealing. This drove Apple II sales like crazy, and other PCs.


Then IBM comes in. Apple II was very popular in business, which was threatening IBM’s position. They were losing the hearts and minds of business people. So they set out to create their own PC.

They needed an OS. The current popular OS was CP/M, which ran on a lot of PCs. Apple II’s seemed to have their own OS written by Apple, but they could also run CP/M.

IBM approached Microsoft for both an OS and a language they could use for their PC. Microsoft told them they didn’t have an OS, but they sent them to someone who did. They could offer a language for their PC, though. Microsoft sent them to “Digital Research”, the creators of CP/M, but they had poor negotiations and couldn’t get a deal through. So IBM went back to Microsoft, and Microsoft said they could get them an OS. Microsoft bought an OS from a company in Seattle, Tim Patterson, who had created a sort of hobby OS which was essentially a clone of CP/M (reverse engineered). It was called QDOS (quick & dirty operating system).

Microsoft bought QDOS for $50,000, and they got something like $50 for each sale (maybe?) of the IBM PC. The killer app for the IBM PC was a rip off essentially of VisaCalc, called Lotus123. A term of the deal for Microsoft, was that they could license their products to other companies, and they knew there would be IBM clones.


Compaq was a company who wanted to create an IBM clone. They essentially were pulling a Halt and Catch Fire. They could get the software they needed from anywhere, they could get the CPU from Intel, they could get the rest of the components from anywhere, but they needed a BIOS to boot the machine, which also possibly loaded the OS or was basically how the computer would talk to components? Not fully sure as the function of the BIOS has changed over time. Because the IBM BIOS was copyrighted, they would have to reverse engineer it by having one person examine the function of the BIOS and write specs (trial and error), and then another person who had never seen the BIOS would have to write software from those specs. It took Compaq 15 senior programs several months to do the reverse engineering.

Full compatible with all IBM software. They just priced it cheaper.

It was an unfamiliar industry because things got cheaper all the time, and faster, which was different than products that came before. You had to sell your stock now because its value was dropping every second.

Dell was another clone. All the clones were of course selling with Microsoft’s OS (DOS). They were beating IBM.


Then IBM created their own proprietary operating system, called OS/2. They got Microsoft to write the software, even though it would be competing with Microsoft’s product. They did it because IBM still was so massive that it was too scary to go against them.

Apparently IBM was stupid and cared a lot about KLOCs (thousand lines of code), and a software’s worth was measured in KLOCs.


Microsoft didn’t want to be left in the dust as it developed OS/2 for IBM. So it began developing Windows, which was actually just a GUI for DOS. Bill Gates claims that they were telling IBM that a GUI was the way to go, but they didn’t buy it.

Right before the Windows launch, IBM broke all ties with Microsoft because Microsoft was choosing developing Windows over developing OS/2. IBM didn’t like that.

IBM eventually fell out of the PC market. They did do a lot to validate the PC market because of their name, they dominated the market, and brought the PC to the corporate world.


While the above was happening, PCs were still not very user friendly. This is where Apple steals the GUI.

Xerox’s research lab (Xerox park) was setup because they were afraid of a paperless future due to computers, so they wanted to dominate. They hired top CS people, and isolated them from commercial pressure and gave them free reign. Very ahead of its time, in 1973 Xerox made a PC which had a GUI, a mouse, monitor, and keyboard. But, it wasn’t a commercial product. They didn’t sell them. It had a paper-dimension-like screen so you could print exactly what was on the screen. Way way way ahead of its time. The Altair wasn’t out until 2 years later, even. The Xerox Star seems to be the first one they released with a GUI that actually was for sale, in 1981, but it barely sold any.

Xerox’s main offices in NY just weren’t accepting of the new tech. So, Steve Jobs stole it. He was invited to visit Xerox park in December 1979. They showed him the GUI, computer networking (100s of computers connected, speaking via email), and Object Oriented programming. This is insane, even computer networking wasn’t very common then. Usenet also popped up in 1979.


All Apple cared about was the GUI. They made Lisa, their first computer with a GUI. But it flopped. It was too expensive. They were still riding on the success of Apple II’s, but they needed to hop on the GUI. So they worked on the Macintosh to “save” Apple. While he ran the Mac development, he hired Scully as CEO to keep the good face.

They were in trouble because IBM’s first PC started to dominate the market, growing quickly. It was selling because of the abundance of software available. So Apple needed software for their Mac.

Jobs talked to Gates about it the Mac, and wanted him on board to write software for the Mac. But that means they had given them early access to the Mac, so Microsoft started copying the GUI themselves. This was apparently Microsoft’s first dive into the applications business (which was dominated by Lotus), as they usually just provided a language and OS. Got started in 1982 making software for the Mac.

The Mac sales were disastrous by late 1984. It was too expensive, and it didn’t have enough software (Macpaint, Macwrite). Didn’t have spreadsheets, word processing, etc.


At that point, printing a page didn’t match what was displayed on the screen. A Xerox guy had developed ability to print exactly what was displayed on the screen. He founded Adobe.

Apple needed it, so they bought 20% of Adobe, and got a license to use their software.

Creatives loved the Mac because of this printing ability, and so they did well.


Sales were still not great at Apple though, and apparently Jobs sort of pitted himself against Scully, confident that the board would support him. They chose Scully.

Apple sales started doing better.


Microsoft as mentioned above, saw the threat from Apple and built Windows, which was just a GUI for DOS.

Apple sued Microsoft for stealing the look and feel of their GUI. That wasn’t patentable, but it was copy-writtable. Apple lost. Case took 6 years. Apple may have been lulled during that time into feeling they would be okay against the windows attack.

Windows 3 is when Microsoft’s Windows OS went big, and overcame the Mac hugely.

Windows ’95 was the first Windows that combined DOS with the GUI, so it was a full fledged GUI OS.