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PC installed base in U.S. businesses and government
(millions of units). SOURCE: Data from Intel
on the other hand, has had almost no regulation and little to no
involvement with government. Those of us in the computer industry
need to do our part in demonstrating to our policymakers that the
information superhighway is already under construction. It is being
built primarily on PC technology by private industry, driven by
competitive market forces and with little, if any, need for
There is a role for government, however; that is to recognize
and embrace the personal computer. This can provide America with a
foundation for the next century that will improve not only the
quality of our lives but also the productivity of our society and
the competitiveness of our industries. The government can do many
things to move this along. It can facilitate access to computing in
schools, libraries, and community centers. It can become one of the
largest (maybe the largest) content provider of online
information. It can encourage business to promote telecommuting.
The most important thing the government can do is to recognize what
is happening. However, we caution against interference with market
forces. The market moved the personal computer industry forward at
a phenomenal pace, and we encourage following this model rather
than the heavily regulated telecommunications model, which has
proven slow to evolve and respond.
The Personal Computer Industry
While today the primary use of personal computers is in
business, it is interesting to note that they were originally
conceived of as a consumer product. The first personal computers
were designed either for hobbyiststhe Altairor for
consumersthe Apple II. Even IBM broke with its tradition of
providing business products (the B in IBM) when it introduced the
PC in 1981. This machine, which is the ancestor of over 85 percent
of the computers sold today, actually had a game port for joysticks
and an audiocassette for storage. Industry leaders at the time,
such as Ken Olsen, then CEO of Digital Equipment Corporation,
openly referred to personal computers as "toys." Few realized that
this toy would completely restructure the entire computer industry
within 10 years.
The personal computer overtook the mainframe with its terminals
as the information tool of business some time during the 1980s. It
is interesting to note that although there are clear reasons for
this success, the mainframe was not without its merits. As a
centralized facility, a mainframe is easy to control. Each user has
access to the same software, and support is easy. Another clear
advantage of mainframes is that since they are a shared commodity,
it is easy to manage capacity to match the average expected load.
On the other hand, under peak usage, all users typically experience
slower performance. Probably the main reason for the rapid decline
of the mainframe, however, is the slow pace of progress in both
hardware and software performance.
While there are many reasons for the success of the PC in
business, the most important is its evolutionary nature. The
"openness" of the PC allowed for rapid innovation. The open bus
inspired hardware companies to add value to the basic PC. They
experimented in the marketplace. Successful additions were then
integrated into the main computer. It is hard to imagine that the
first PC had a game port built in, while the printer port was
optional. Application software could be created by small companies.
Companies like Lotus and WordPerfect grew from one product, while
Microsoft took an early lead in the operating system and Novell
provided the next work environment. While this environment was, and
still is, chaotic, it provided for rapid evolution. No industry