[vcf-midatlantic] VCF East 2021: The World of IBM

Herb Johnson hjohnson at retrotechnology.info
Tue Aug 31 18:38:52 UTC 2021

> 1. IBM branded products
> 2. x86 clones
> 3. Products that run x86 code, but aren't natively x86 

I worked in computing, in the era before and during the IBM PC of 1981. 
Your history is missing a segment that some called "PC near compatibles" 
after the fact.  Calling less-compatibles "Weird" or "Never Heard Of", 
is just another way of calling them as forgettable, as "losers". 
Frankly, that's a misread of history.

I guess I have to explain this, because most people can't imagine that a 
"clone" may not be an exact copy after all. I can recite all this, from 
my old memory.

The "clones" were otherwise known as "100% IBM PC compatibles", designs 
almost literally copied from the IBM PC. They were produced 
inexpensively from the Far East in the 1990's, so they were called 
"Tiawan clones". Why that word clones? The Star Wars films in 1977 and 
later referenced "the Clone Wars", so it was a popular term of use. (shrug)

Remembering only the "clones" makes it hard to imagine something that's 
not a total copy.

But before those clones, or before and during the 1981 IBM PC (!) there 
were two other kinds of 8086/8088 based computers. Computers which 
weren't intended to be IBM PC compatible; and computers sold as "PC 
compatible" but had different physical hardware, particularly different 

Compupro made an 8085 8088 dual processor S-100 CPU board and offered 
"8/16" systems. Heath/Zenith offered the Z-100, a 8085 8088 dual CPU 
motherboard with S-100 bus.  They were before or at the time of the IBM 
PC - so nothing IBM to "copy". They were early 8088 systems because it's 
easy to replace a CPU board in an entirely bussed system. It's also easy 
to redesign an 8085 computer to include an 8088. But there were 
non-bussed 8088 8086 only computers too, before and after the 1981 IBM PC.

Other non-8088 computer makers before the IBM PC, were waiting for 
Digital Research to offer a "CP/M-86". If they could not wait, they 
provided their own 8088 operating systems. "Seattle Computer Products" 
ring a bell? After the IBM PC was produced, with MS-DOS,  DRI produced a 
CP/M 86. So there were two OS's for the 8088/8086. So more 8088/86 
desktop (and industrial) computers were produced: encouraged by the IBM PC.

As IBM and history reminds us, it was the IBM PC that opened big 
businesses to buying desktop computers. That opened the door for new 
computer companies, to make some cheaper or better version of an 
*business* MS-DOS computer than the expensive IBM PC with expensive IBM 
services. Computer stores became viable and successful in the 1980's. 
(IMSAI became ComputerLand for instance.)

But: people who wrote new MS-DOS programs (or reassembled old CP/M 
programs) for the new IBM PC, wrote "past" the MS-DOS and programmed for 
actual PC hardware. Why? Performance. To operate the screen at the 
fastest possibly speed, and to operate other hardware to gain any 
advantage. The 4.77MHz 8088 was just. too. slow, even in the era of 4Mhz 
Z80's. Performance became a driver for hardware and software.

Result? An MS-DOS computer that didn't have enough "PC compatible" 
hardware, could not run all IBM-PC software. Software makers came up 
with versions for these other MS-DOS computers. But of course, there 
were too many non-IBM-PC 8088 computers to keep up with. Producers had 
to pay licenses or development costs for those variant versions. And: 
some of these ran software slower (a few faster) than on the IBM PC.

That started the "compatibility wars", where various personal computer 
brands were evaluated as "60% 80% 90% PC compatible" or as to what 
software packages they could support. Models were graded on how they 
performed various software packages. Some companies offered additional 
"PC compatible" hardware upgrades or new models. This is simply a matter 
of history, read the "PC" magazines of the era for details.

(This also explains the "products that ran X86 code without 8086 
hardware". Some companies added a 8086 or 8088 co-processor or subsystem 
to their products - Apple for their Macs for instance - to compete with 
IBM in the business and education markets. That Zenith Z-100 I 
mentioned, sold tens of thousands to universities and military schools 
in the USA.)

Eventually there was a rush of programmers, designers, and companies to 
the emerging dominance of "the IBM PC standard", down to 
totally-compatible hardware with IBM's. Many of the near-PC-compatible 
computer brands, didn't survive. What emerged were pure-PC plays like 
Compaq and  others which were very compatible, sometimes ahead in 
performance and often on price.

So with that competition, IBM's share of the market they rose to 
dominate, started to shrink in the late 1980's. (It's ironic, because of 
course, IBM "took the market" from CP/M and Z80's in the first place.)

Then, in the 1990's, the Far East and particularly Tiawan, emerged as 
producers of cheap computer boards. Companies emerged to copy various 
IBM PC compatible designs, eventually put them into cheaper larger-scale 
IC's, and produce them cheaply. No fees to IBM; oddly they paid 
Microsoft *per board* for MS-DOS and Windows licenses. IBM in the 90's 
was a company "on the ropes" for some years as a result. Microsoft did 
just fine, by the way.

So I'm explaining all this out, because history matters. There was an 
evolution of 8088/8086 computers. IBM provided one of them that became 
dominant, but other 8088/86 products existed for some time. Eventually 
the PC market became dominated by the explosion of cheap PC pure copies: 
clones. IBM became another PC "player", barely surviving the transition. 
But ignoring the PC near-compatibles before "the clones", ignores part 
of that evolution.

Regards, Herb Johnson
old person

Herbert R. Johnson, New Jersey in the USA
http://www.retrotechnology.com OR .net
preserve, recover, restore 1970's computing
email: hjohnson AT retrotechnology DOT com
or try later herbjohnson AT comcast DOT net

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