The history of the IBM Personal Computer (PC) - the type of computer which has become the world ‘standard’1 and is the computer to be found most frequently in the lawyer’s practice — is relatively short. Introduced by IBM in 1981, it revolutionised the marketplace. It became the de facto standard machine for business use and promoted a whole new breed of ‘clone’ machines.2 The PC’s influence grew because it gave a solid platform to program writers: programs could be written and, rather than having a potential market in the mainframe world of hundreds, could be sold in millions. This led to a demand for more advanced PCs to make the software run faster or better, or do things which could not be done before. A whole new marketplace developed, with PCs becoming almost as common in the home as in the office and what had hitherto been highly technical and esoteric information becoming available on the shelves of every magazine store. The old type of system — with large, expensive mainframes locked behind doors and cared for by data processing experts — dropped in importance, and users took to the new world of ’personal’ computing. Such a scenario was never imagined when IBM suggested that only 12 computers would be required in the USA. It is ironic that IBM’s development of the PC substantially affected the company’s own mainframe business3 as large central mainframes were replaced with individual PCs on user’s desks (or in their briefcases). Why has this happened? The advantages of the PC are considerable over that of the mainframe:
it can be portable and users can carry it wherever they go
PC software has been designed for users with minimal computing expertise
software for PCs is much cheaper than that for mainframes (because the marketplace is much larger)
capital investment patterns change with PCs — these can be incrementally replaced and upgraded unlike mainframes which are usually replaced in one significant upheaval
it allows a decentralisation of function in a business, which some consider to increase flexibility and reduce bureaucracy. Departments can now control much of their own IT strategy.
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