Big time computing
As some readers will know, I’m a big gadget fan, and whatever is new and at least somewhat affordable (or even not wholly affordable) has to be on my desk or in my pocket. So I usually have the very latest technology about me. But nevertheless, if someone says ‘computer’ my first thought will be of a lot of whirring disks and flashing lights on equipment that is big enough to take up much of the space in a large warehouse. And maybe punchcards (remember those?). Yes, I’m of the IBM generation. For me, computing still conjures up the old mainframe, and IBM is the corporate brand.
But then IBM was never just that. In fact the first IBM equipment I ever used was a ‘golfball’ typewriter. Many of you will have no idea what that was, but it looked like this, and here’s the golfball. For a brief while IBM was the gold standard in the typing pool, before the company’s main public image came to be associated with the personal computer, the ‘PC’. In the mid to late-1980s, the PC was referred to mostly as the ‘IBM-compatible’ computer. But then much cheaper imitations began to dominate the market, and it was the operating software that came to symbolise the PC: from ‘IBM’compatible’ to MS-DOS and then Windows-based. Eventually IBM disappeared completely from the technology it had opened up initially.
The company retreated back to its mainframe roots, but also advanced to services and software and data-related consulting. It has thrived in these areas, and has taken the lead in innovative R&D and some work on urban planning.
In the 1980s everyone, absolutely everyone, knew who IBM were. Today’s younger generation, I suspect, may often be quite unaware of the company. But its transformation is still an interesting success story in the technology sector.
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