It is strange to think today, when we are so reliant on devices like personal computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones, that there was a time when these technological innovations did not exist. Yet, as is the case with every innovation in human history (and in the world, for that matter), there was indeed a time where these innovations were not around. It all started with the introduction of the PC (i.e. personal computer), and the advancements have practically never stopped since. Today, the magic of PCs extends to everything that they embrace and make so wonderfully possible. From products like the accompanying mouse and keyboard, to desktop and portable hard drives and the now-globally popular gaming computers (where gamers customize their rigs with lights and even custom gaming PC cases), PCs have enjoyed a steady and thrilling expansion over the years. Since the 1950s (and even before then) great minds and scientists alike have been tirelessly working to create computer systems that can think like humans. It is an ongoing expansion that continues even now, but how exactly did we get here?
It has been an ongoing endeavour, and one that continues to this day. Today, desktop computers are just one of many technological devices that allow us to work, learn, and experience the great, wide world, but they will always remain the very first of such devices to break ground, the innovations that spurred a global adventure to continue creating such devices. And it all started, on the mainstream level, with the 1973 worldwide introduction of the Xerox Alto, the first computer built around a graphical user interface (GUI). Before this the norm was a command line up. Filling a small cabinet, the Xerox Alto included a three-button mouse, a portrait monitor, 2.5MB of storage, and literally cost thousands of dollars – a massive sum for the time (and even now). Further, just two-thousand of the machines were ever produced, making them not just revolutionary, but exclusive. This was the PC that kick-started the global obsession.
A few years later in 1981, the IBM personal computer and the BBC Micro were both brought to the market. The IBM was (and is still) largely considered to be the very first official PC. This was largely because it was mass-produced, making it a more widely available computer that many people, all over the world, could purchase and enjoy. The BBC Micro, on the other hand, was released as a part of the BBC’s Computer Literacy Project, and it proved to be an expandable design that was beloved in Britain. And then in 1984, the world was introduced to the Apple Macintosh. The forbearer to Apple’s now-global dominance in computer technology and ongoing advancements, the Macintosh was an all-in-one system that was built around the screen. Conceived in 1979 by Jef Raskin, and named for his favourite apple, the McIntosh, it was taken over by Apple founder Steve Jobs in 1981, and launched in 1984 during a Super Bowl advertisement.
In the 80s and 90s, the computer industry went through significant advancements in innovation, some of which include the CD ROM, the zip drive, the 3.5-inch floppy, and even the Pentium. All hidden within the big beige box, they proved to be an innovative, if not slightly boxy, advancement. And then in 1998, Apple released yet another incredible wonder in computer technology. The iMac was brought to the table as a reinvention of Apple’s Mac line. This PC was as innovative as it was useful. Switching floppy disks over for USB ports, this was Steve Jobs’ first overseen project since he returned to the company he founded, and it proved to be a turning point for PC tech, effectively driving the reign of the big beige box to an end. This was the time when PCs really came into their own as a unique sector of the consumer electronics industry. Ten years later, Apple would introduce the MacBook Air, a laptop that was infamously first introduced to the world by being pulled out of a manila envelope. From that point onward, the evolution of the PC has continued to become more portable, more impressive, and more efficient…and it continues to, to this day and onward.
Personal computers play a very key role in not only our history in terms of technological advancement, but innovation in about a million and one other areas. The evolution of the PC has been nothing short of awe-inspiring. We have seen a tremendous growth since the Xerox Alto – the first computer built around a graphical user interface – was introduced to the world in 1973, and it is a growth that even now, as laptops and tablets rise, continues to persevere and prove its overarching value. Personal computers have literally given us the world on a screen, and they have fundamentally changed the way we work, learn, and experience the world around us and all its innovations. From here on out, advancements and further ongoing developments in PCs will continue to break ground, far advancing past what many people believed to be possible for personal computers – and for the world, in the beginning. The awe-inspiring evolution of the PC is far from over, and the best is almost certainly yet to come.