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So, what is it that differentiates one PC system from another? It is difficult to say, but basically itís all about how well systems are bolted together, how compatible the parts are with the loaded software, how they organize the peripherals, and so on. The big problem, though, is compatibility , which is all about peripherals looking the same, that is having the same IRQ, the same I/O address, and so on.

The PC is an amazing device that has allowed computers to move from technical specialists to, well, anyone. However, they are also one of the most annoying of pieces of technology of all time, in terms of their software, their operating systems, and their hardware. If we bought a car and it failed at least a few times every day, we would take it back and demand another one. When that failed, we would demand our money back. Or, sorry I could go on forever here, imagine a toaster that failed half way through making a piece of toast, and we had to turn the power off, and restart it. We just wouldnít allow it.

So why does the PC  lead such a privileged life? Well itís because itís so useful and multitalented, although it doesnít really excel at much. Contrast a simple games computer against the PC and you find many lessons in how to make a computer easy to use, and configure. One of the main reasons for many of its problems is the compatibility  with previous systems both in terms of hardware compatibility and software compatibility (and dodgy software, of course). The big change on the PC was the introduction of proper 32-bit software, Windows 95/NT .

      In the future, systems will be configured by the operating system , not by the user. How many people understand what an IRQ  is, or what I/O addresses are? Maybe if the PC  faced some proper competition it would become easy to use and totally reliable. Then when they were switched on they would configure themselves automatically, and you could connect any device you wanted and it would understand how to configure (weíre nearly there, but itís still not perfect). Then we would have a tool which could be used to improve creativity and you didnít need a degree in computer engineering to use one (in your dreams!). But, anyway, itís keeping a lot of technical people in a job, so, donít tell anyone our little secret. The Apple  Macintosh was a classic example of a well-designed computer that was designed as a single unit. When initially released it started up with messages like Iím glad to be out of that bag and Hello, I am Macintosh. Never trust a computer you cannot lift. 

© W. Buchanan, 2000



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Quick guide

While Intel  was developing the 8086, they were also developing the 8800 processor, which was not to be compatible with the 8080, and would be a great technological breakthough (as it would not have to be compatible with the older 8080 device). When the 8800 was finally released in 1981 as the iAPX432 (Intel Advanced Processor Architecture), it reached the market just as the IBM  PC took off, and died a quick death, as everyone wanted the lower-powered 8086 device. The iAPX lives on as the x86 architecture.
Isn't that interesting?

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