Accordion Al - image by Ivy, age 10

Business in Vancouver

Canadian Freelance Union- CEP

A host of August technology milestones worth celebrating

by  Alan Zisman (c) 2011 First published in Business in Vancouver September 6-13, 2011 issue #1141 High Tech Office column

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 corporate IT.

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 going away.

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 undertake.

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 scalable.”

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 August anniversaries.

(And August is also the month of my own wedding anniversary. I remembered!)

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