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The Father of the IBM PC Passes Away

On October 28, one of the giants of the evolution of the modern personal computer has passed away, no other than William C. Lowe. The IBM executive that pretty much fathered the IBM personal computer has passed away. Mr. Lowe’s contribution to the development of the personal computer and to modern computing cannot be underestimated. It all makes for a very interesting story. In the late 1970s, IBM was the top dog in mainframe computing. You remember mainframes right? These are huge computers that took up the size of several refrigerators stacked end to end— we’re talking huge boxes and for the longest time, IBM dominated the corporate computing industry.

Large corporations that needed a lot of numbers crunched and a lot of data management would do business with IBM or buy one of these machines. The problem was that IBM knew that the computer industry was changing. In the late 1970s, companies like Apple, Commodore and others started popping up that brought the massive computing power of mainframes and stripped it down to slower levels and allowed consumers to get access to them. While you probably would laugh and be shocked at the huge price tags of personal computers back in the early 1980s, it just goes to show you how fast this industry evolves. A very slow machine back in the 1980s that computes at a fraction of the speed of even the lowest end computer now was sold for several thousand dollars. You would be shocked because you could pick up a laptop for five hundred dollars or a desktop for as little as two hundred bucks or less. All these product revolution is a debt of gratitude to Mr. William C. Lowe. He was the IBM executive that was tasked to put together IBM’s entry into the personal computer space.

As mentioned earlier, before IBM entered this space there were a lot of home computer companies, Apple being the most visible and recognized. It was really an unconsolidated market. It had a lot of growth potential because lots of people were very curious as to what home computers can do and little did anybody know that this was the beginning of a massive revolution that would usher in the commercial information age. When IBM entered the space with the IBM PC model, it really blew away the competition. Why? IBM was a solid trustworthy name. It was a corporate giant and everybody knew that this company was stable because it had the technology and manpower to put together a high quality product.

William Lowe was only given one year to come up with an IBM PC machine. What he did was he supervised a team that used an open architecture where most of the parts that went into this IBM box are off the shelf meaning you could buy it from third party manufacturers. Floppy drives, hard drives, screens— all that, as long as they fit certain specifications anybody could make them. That was the beauty of the IBM PC. It opened the market because the hardware was basically an open architecture hardware and this had the effect of effectively destroying the competition since the only genuine and distinctly IBM part in the whole IBM PC set up was the BIOS (Basic Input Output System). The price of the unit can keep going down because third party manufacturers would compete against each other. This was something that Apple didn’t have because when you got an Apple product, it’s very expensive since it’s a closed system while the IBM model was an open system where you could buy some parts here and there. It’s amazing and we all owe it to William C. Lowe.

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