The IBM PC is 30 Years Old – And We’re (All) Just Getting Started

In 1999, I was gobsmacked by reading the NY Times Magazine about top inventions – each article made me pause and say “of course,” none more so than the history of the wood screw. Without it, what would civilization be like? Less sturdy, for sure. And at the time, it was no doubt greeted with the equivalent of a big “meh.” History is made in the moment but defined over time, and through that lens, it’s clear that 30 years ago, at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City on Aug. 12, 1981, was a seminal moment. Why? It was the unveiling of the IBM 5150 personal computer.

Other PCs preceded it.

· The Apple II

· The Commodore PET

· The Osborne 1

· The Tandy TRS-80

But the introduction of the IBM PC was a defining moment for our industry. Once IBM entered the market with a system running the Microsoft Disk Operating System, MS-DOS, our industry really began to realize the dream of a PC on every desk and in every home. (Aside: my first computer, which I still own and which boots on MS-DOS 5.1, was the IBM Personal Portable).

Thirty years ago, Microsoft believed that making technology less expensive and more widely available would open up amazing opportunities for people and organizations to achieve their dreams. Our fundamental belief that democratizing technology can change the world continues to drive everything we do, and as technology and society have changed over the last 30 years, our vision for how technology can change the world has evolved as well.

Some time ago, we extended our ambitions beyond the PC… to the Web and to screens that fit in your pocket, your backpack and your living room.

People sometimes ask me about what Microsoft thinks about the post-PC era (I prefer to think of it as the PC-plus era, since there will be 400 million PCs sold worldwide this coming year, but that’s semantics ).

It’s fairly straightforward.

We continue to build great software, and our software’s value is expressed in the consumer and enterprise devices and services we deliver to our customers.

On the device side, our software lights up Windows PCs, Windows Phones and Xbox-connected entertainment systems, and a whole raft of other devices with embedded processors from gasoline pumps to ATMs to the latest soda vending machines, to name just a few… In some cases we build our own hardware (Xbox, Kinect), while in most other cases we work with hardware partners on PCs, phones and other devices to ensure a great end-to-end experience that optimizes the combination of hardware and software.

Our software powers these devices. And, increasingly, hardware and software are being combined with services like Bing, Windows Live and Xbox Live to deliver “gotta have it” experiences for our customers. And, pending regulatory approval, we hope to add some killer Skype services in the not-too-distant future as well.

On the business side, devices and systems come alive with Office 365, Dynamics CRM Online, SQL Azure and other cloud services. As Satya Nadella, president of our Server & Tools Business, recently stated, it’s our intent to cloud-optimize every business as we transition to this world of always-on connected devices and continuous cloud services. Some people have suggested that the transition to the cloud is going to hurt Microsoft’s future prospects, but we see the cloud opening up a whole new set of growth and revenue opportunities, and we are investing heavily in the cloud future.

Of course, the past doesn’t always predict the future, but let’s just say it offers some strong clues. As we look ahead to the next 30 years, we’ll continue to lead the industry forward in bringing technology to the next billion (or 2 billion or 6 billion) people on our planet. We’ll do that as we always have, by working with our partners to deliver amazing experiences to individuals and businesses.

Experiences that’ll combine increasingly powerful and specialized devices with cloud services that’ll make it breathtakingly simple to create, organize, share, find, analyze and archive information, from documents and presentations, to photos, videos, podcasts and so much more.

We have a unique point of view when it comes to this future of devices and services. I’m looking forward to our upcoming BUILD conference in Anaheim, Calif., Sept. 12-15, where developers will hear more about how we’ve re-imagined Windows, from the chip set to the user experience, for this new world.

Developers are the modern avatar of the carpenters from the days when the wood screw was the latest thing, so I’m also looking forward to the conversations and community building that’ll take place at BUILD. See you in Anaheim…

Posted by Frank X. Shaw
Corporate Vice President, Corporate Communications, Microsoft