A host of August technology milestones worth celebrating
by Alan Zisman (c) 2011
published in Business in
Vancouver September 6-13, 2011 issue #1141 High Tech
Hopefully you already know that it’s important to remember
anniversaries. If not, don’t worry, your spouse will make sure you
realize how important.
The High-Tech Office had several important anniversaries in August.
Among them: the 30th anniversary of the release of the IBM PC,
officially launched on August 12, 1981.
The computer otherwise known as the IBM Personal Computer model 5150
wasn’t the first personal computer – microcomputers from companies like
Apple, Commodore and Atari had been on the market for several years. It
wasn’t even the first PC aimed at business users – personal computers
running spreadsheets like VisiCalc and word processors like WordStar
had been increasingly finding their way into offices – though typically
without support from IT departments.
A microcomputer from IBM meant respectability and the blessing of
In order to get to market quickly, the 5150’s team broke with IBM
tradition and built it, to a large extent, using off-the-shelf
components and standards: a processor from Intel, for instance. And
they licensed an operating system from a small company, Microsoft. One
result of these decisions: soon, other companies were able to build
IBM-clones – computers that ran the same software as IBM’s.
By 2008 the number of personal computers descended from that 1981 IBM
model passed one billion. And these have become increasingly affordable
and generic. As prices dropped, so did profitability. In 2005, IBM got
out of the personal computer business, selling its PC Company Division
to China’s Lenovo. And just this August, HP – the top seller of
personal computers worldwide and creator of a personal computer prior
to IBM’s model - announced that it was similarly planning to spin off
its Personal Systems Group.
The growing use of devices like smartphones and tablets has resulted in
suggestions that we’re moving into a Post-PC era; nevertheless, the
billion-plus descendants of 1981’s IBM Personal Computer 5150 aren’t
You probably have one of those personal computers on your desk or in
your laptop bag right now. You might think that you’re less connected
to open source operating system Linux, which celebrated its 20th
anniversary with LinuxCon, held August 17-19 in Vancouver. Only an
estimated 1% of personal computer users are using one of the many
varieties of Linux as their desktop operating system.
At his keynote address, Jim Zemlin, Linux Foundation executive
director, admitted to having predicted that 2007 would be “the year of
the Linux desktop.” And 2008. And 2009. Would you believe 2012? Despite
that, he said we all owe more to Linux than many of us may realize. For
instance, behind the scenes, it’s used to power the majority of web
servers and super-computers. It also powers projects ranging from
anti-missile missiles to the New York Stock Exchange. Got an Android
smartphone in your purse or pocket? Then you’re running Linux.
Jim Whitehurst, CEO of Linux distributor Red Hat, noted that like other
open source software, Linux is free – both in price and in the freedom
to copy and modify the underlying code. And that, he proclaimed, means
that companies – both existing enterprises and startups – can use it
for innovative projects that might otherwise be too expensive to
The result: a Stanford University experiment, Backrub.Stanford.edu,
could grow to become Google. Facebook, Amazon and more all have
initially been built at lower cost, using Linux servers and other
open-source tools – and have been able to continue to use it as their
infrastructure expands. He noted “if you can’t innovate cheaply, the
amount of innovation stalls”; Linux and open-source software in general
allow a “business model of throwing it out and making it free and
So when you search on Google, buy something on Amazon or eBay, all from
your desktop or laptop computer, you’re using the result of these
(And August is also the month of my own wedding anniversary. I