‘The PC Pioneers’ looks at how the personal computer and Internet were developed. It celebrates the people rather than the products – the creative clusters, dynamic duos and inspiring individuals who created and evolved the personal computer – and just what an interesting group they were!
And most of the press and literature would suggest that this was largely an American evolution. The PC Pioneers looks at how in fact progress was made right around the world.
It was just under forty-five years ago that the term ‘personal computer’ first appeared as a concept in print. Today over a billion personal computers are in use around the world. It is also forty-five years since the beginnings of the Internet emerged as the ARPANET and developed in to the Internet and finally the World Wide Web. Today it has approaching two billion users – that’s close to 30% of the world’s population all interconnected.
PCs have very effectively changed every part of all of our lives. They have changed the way that we communicate in business and how we keep in touch with family, friends, old colleagues and school friends. PCs have changed the way that we acquire, buy and play music. They have fundamentally changed the ways in which we capture, manipulate, and distribute our photographs, videos and even catch up with the television shows that we have missed.
Along the way they have altered how we buy books and software, how we swap and sell unwanted and used products, how we review, research and book our travel, accommodation and holidays. They provide the means for us to access news, sports results, weather reports…
PCs also provide us with an instant dictionary, an encyclopaedia, a wealth of trivia facts, a thesaurus, a huge library of eBooks, a translator, a calculator, an address book, an appointments calendar and they can arbitrate by providing answers to our many queries, idle thoughts and family ‘disputes’. As a tool for researching books such as this the PC connected to the World Wide Web proves indispensible.
The automotive industry took three times as long, one hundred and twenty years to achieve 806m vehicles in use around the world versus 1bn PCs in just forty years.
‘I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.’
The catalyst was Ukrainian, convict number N1442. He was beaten in KGB interrogations and sent to the Kolyma gulag work camp. But he made a remarkable comeback that generated such fear that the USA was moved unwittingly to fund the development of the Internet and the PC.
Vannevar Bush, Doug Engelbart and Ted Nelson were all very different characters but they laid the ground work for the personal computer business. Vannevar Bush conceived of a huge database giving ready access to the world’s cultural resources. Doug Engelbart invented the mouse, and much of what became Windows and networking. Ted Nelson concentrated on further improving human-computer interactions.
At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology its wealth of early computers were met by some remarkable individuals. Slug Russell developed ‘Spacewar!’ one of the first computer games in broad use; Ricky Greenblatt developed one of the first competitive computer chess games; Ivan Sutherland developed ‘Sketchpad’ for technical drawing and artistic sketching. Sutherland would later inspire students to develop a whole raft of graphics capabilities like 3-D.
The microprocessor as we know it came about as a work-around when a Japanese calculator company ordered up some chips from a start-up company in Texas to try to save on costs. Ted Hoff at TI, saw that designing the twelve chips would take too long, so he turned it into just one – and the micro was born!
Ed Roberts had an ailing business in making rocket kits, then moved in to calculators just as low-cost alternatives emerged. He went further in to debt to create a computer kit. Calculating he needed to make 200 to break even, but telling his bank he would sell 800 – he sold 1,000 in the first month!
A group of enthusiasts gathered in a garage in Silicon Valley to look at Roberts’ Altair kit and from this a whole industry grew. Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs, would create Apple; Adam Osborne and Lee Felsenstein would develop the first successful portable computer, Osborne 1; Bob Marsh and Gary Ingram founded Processor Technology and its SOL-20; Harry Garland and Roger Melen launched Cromemco…
But it is also about the software pioneers too. Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston met at Harvard Business School and developed the first Apple ‘killer-app’, the VisiCalc spreadsheet. Mitch Kapor and Jonathan Sachs, leap-frogged VisiCalc to provide their Lotus 1-2-3 for the IBM PC. Michael Shrayer produced the first PC word processor, Electric Pencil, but Xerox PARC added features to make the process take off. Charles Simonyi developed the Bravo and Tim Mott the Gypsy word processor programmes. C Wayne Ratliff plagiarised a mainframe computer database and developed dBase II…
When Steve Jobs head-hunted John Sculley to become the Apple President in 1977, Sculley was at the time the president of Pepsi-Cola USA, he challenged him by asking,
‘Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want a chance to change the world?’ Well did he?
‘I’m going to make my first million by the time I’m 25.’
Well we know he did just that, but how?
Nolan Bushnell was a pioneer in coin-op games like ‘Pong’ and brought us the Atari games console. But he also launched a personal robot. He pointed out that fewer than 10% of Americans ever sent a letter and therefore had little need for a word processor, a tiny percentage of people could understand or would ever need a spreadsheet, but he believed that everyone would like someone else who would be readily prepared to go and get us a beer from the fridge, or someone else to do the ironing. He saw robots as slaves without the guilt!
Chad Hurley, Roelof Botha, Steve Shih Chen and Jawed Karim gained a bonus when eBay bought out their employer PayPal and used it to launch YouTube. In just one year from its launch they sold it to Google for $1.65bn
These are just some of the cast of over 1,000 PC innovators that are featured in ‘The PC Pioneers’. It’s packed cover to cover with stories of enthusiasms pursued, moments of serendipity, fortunes made and lost.
It is a must-read for those who use PC products and programs and for those considering launching their own bids to become PC billionaires!
wikiPCpedia.com is a wiki site so that any contributor can add, comment and review the material so that it stays fresh and current.
‘The PC Pioneers’ as a book will be regularly updated by this material to remain your essential reference source.
ISBN: 978-0-9569643-2-8 ASIN: B0054D2L4Q
available as an eBook through