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Top 15 Successes of the Computer Industry

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IBM PC (for most), which was a triumph of design and creativity. One of the few computer systems to ever to be released on time, within budget, and within specification. Bill Gates must take some credit in getting IBM to adopt the 8088 processor, rather than the relatively slow 8080. After its success, every man and his dog at IBM had a say in what went into it. The rise of the bland IBM PC is an excellent example of an open-system triumphing over a closed-system. Companies that have quasi-monopolies are keen on keeping their systems closed, while companies that openly compete against other compeditors prefer open systems. The market, and thus, the user, prefer open-systems.


TCP /IP, which is the standard protocol used by computers communicating over the Internet . It has been designed to be computer-independent and operating system independent, thus any type of computer can talk to any other type (as long as they both use TCP/IP communications). It has withstood the growth of the Internet with great success. Its only problem is that we are now running out of IP address es to grant to all the computers that connect to the Internet. It is thus a victim of its own success. TCP/IP has proved the foundation for all the Internet applications, such as the World Wide Web , video conferencing , file transfer, remote login and electronic mail . It has also been followed by domain names (such as, which map symbolic names to IP addresses.


Electronic mail, which has taken the paperless office one step nearer. Many mourned the death of letter writing, as TV and the telephone had suppressed its form. With e-mail it is back again, stronger than ever. It is not without its faults, though. Many people have sent e-mails in anger, or ignorance, and then regretted them later. It is just too quick, and does not allow for a cooling off period. My motto is: 'If you're annoyed about something, sleep on it, and send the e-mail in the morning'. Also, because e-mail is not a face-to-face communication, or a voice-to-voice communication, it is easy to take something out of context. So another motto is: 'Carefully read everything that you have written, and make sure there is nothing that is offensive or can be misinterpreted'. Only on the Internet could e-mail addressing (such as, be accepted, worldwide, in such a short time.


Microsoft, which made sure that it could not lose in the growth of the PC , by teaming up with the main computer manufacturers, such as IBM (for DOS and OS/2), Apple (for Macintosh application software) and for its own operating system: Windows. Luckily, for Microsoft, it was its own operating system which became the industry standard. With the might of having the industry-standard operating system (DOS, and then Microsoft Windows ), Microsoft captured a large market for industry-standard application programs, such as Word and Excel. For a company that never specialized in application software, it has done well to capture a larger market share than all of its competitors put together (many of whom specialize in application software).


Intel, which was gifted an enormous market with the development of the IBM PC, but has since invested money in enhancing its processors, but still keeping compatibility with its earlier ones. This compatibility caused a great deal of hassle for software developers, but had great advantages for users. With processors, the larger the market you have, the more money you can invest in new ones, which leads to a larger market, and so on. Unfortunately, the problem with this is that other processor companies can simply copy your designs, and change them a little so that they are still compatible. This is something that Intel have fought against, and, in most cases, have succeeded in regaining their market share, either with improved technology or with legal action. The Pentium processor was a great success, as it was technologically superior to many other processors on the market, even the enhanced RISC devices. It has since become faster and faster.


6502 and Z80 (joint award), the classic 16-bit processors which became a standard part of most of the PCs available before the IBM PC. The 6502 competed against the mighty Motorola 6800 , while the Z80 competed directly with the innovative Intel 8080.


Apple II, which took computing out of the millionaires' club, and into the classroom, the laboratory, and, even, the home.


Ethernet, which has become the standard networking technology. It is not without its faults, but has survived because of its upgradability, its ease-of-use, and its cheapness. Ethernet does not cope well with high capacity network traffic , because it is based on contention , where nodes must contend with each other to get access to a network segment . If two nodes try to get access at the same time, a collision results, and no data is transmitted. Thus the more traffic there is on a network, the more collisions there are. This reduces the overall network capacity. However, Ethernet had two more trump cards up its sleeve. When faced with network capacity problems, it increased its bit rate from the standard 10Mbps (10BASE) to 100Mbps (100BASE ), which gave ten times the capacity and reduced contention problems. For networks backbones it also suffered because it could not transmit data fast enough. So, it played its next card: 1000BASE , which increased the data rate to 1Gbps (1000MBps). Against this type of card player, no other networking technology had a chance.


WWW, which is often confused with the Internet , and is becoming the largest database ever created (okay, 99% of it is rubbish, but even if 1% is good then it is all worthwhile). The WWW is one of the uses of the Internet; others include file transfer, remote login and electronic mail.


Apple Macintosh, which was one of few PC systems which properly competed with the IBM PC . It succeeded mainly because of its excellent operating system (MAC OS), which was approximately 10 years ahead of its time. Possibly, if Apple had spent as much of its time in developing application software rather than for their operating system it would have considerably helped the adoption of the Mac . Apple also refused, until it was too late, to license its technology to other manufacturers. For a long time it thus stayed a closed-system.


Compaq DeskPro 386. Against all the odds, Compaq stole the IBM PC standard from the creators, who had tried to lead the rest of the industry up a dark alley, with MCA.


Sun SPARC , which succeeded against the growth of the IBM PC , because of its excellent technology, its reliable Unix operating system , and its graphical user interface (X-Windows ). Sun Microsystems did not make the mistakes that Apple had made, and allowed other companies to license its technology. They also supported open systems in terms of both the hardware and software. Sun is probably the main reason that Unix is still alive, and thriving.


Commodore, which bravely fought on against the IBM PC . It released many great computers, including the Vic range and the Commodore Amiga, and was responsible for forcing down the price of computers.


Sinclair Research, which, more than any other company, made computing affordable to the masses. Okay, most of its computers had terrible membrane keyboards, memory adaptors that wobbled, took three fingers to get the required command (Shift-2nd Function-Alt-etc), required a cassette recorder to upload a program, would typically crash after you had entered one thousand lines of code, and so on. However, all of this aside, in the Sinclair Spectrum they found the right computer, for the right time, at the right price. Sometimes success can breed complacency, and so it turned out with the Sinclair QL and the Sinclair C -5 (the electric slipper).


Compaq, for startling growth, that is unlikely to ever be repeated. From zero to one billion dollars in five years, which it achieved, not by luck, but by shear superior technology, time-after-time, and by sharing its technology with others (which, at the time, was the only way to compete against the might of IBM ).

And a few others:

Unix , mainly for providing the communications protocol for the Internet : TCP /IP , and for being so reliable, and long-lasting in a short-term industry. Also for being one of the strongest rivals to Microsoft Windows . For the technically minded, Unix allows the user to view the complete system, which is often hidden in Microsoft Windows.

X-Windows , for lots of things, including its openness, and ability to share with others (good old human attributes ).

Hewlett-Packard , for its range of printers and their brand strength.

CISCO, for its networking products and providing the backbone of the Internet (with CISCO routers ). Oh, and for making lots of people a lot of money on their shares.

Java , for ignoring computer architecture , the type of network connection, and, well, everything.

Power PC , for trying to head off the PC, at the pass, but no quite succeeding.

Dell, for, like Compaq, achieving unbelievable growth, and creating a new market niche in selling computers directly from the factory.

W. Buchanan, 2000