In 1981, computers were nothing like they are today. For one thing, there were two types: big room-sized machines that ran businesses and fun hobbyist ones that you couldn’t use to get anything done. That changed with the introduction of the “IBM Personal Computer,” the computer that started the revolution that we’re still part of today. Every PC running Windows today owes something to the IBM PC.
Of course the specs were ridiculous by today’s standards — no hard drive, a minuscule amount of memory, no graphics and no color on the screen (other than green.) And oh, the price — about $5,000 which back then would get you a very basic new car. It wasn’t an immediate success, but it wasn’t because of price or features. It was actually because back then, most business executives couldn’t type! Typing was something secretaries did back then, so a computer would be useless on the desk of an average CEO, who would likely be the only one who would be able to afford such an extravagance.
It took about three more years for the IBM PC to get to any level of popularity, and three years after that for it to get cheap enough to find its way into the hands of regular folks. Back then, we called all PCs (except IBM’s own) “clones” and they weren’t quite as good as the genuine deal, even if they were a lot cheaper.
And of course there was the question of how to advertise. IBM wasn’t known for customer outreach in those days, and for their first commercial they picked “the little tramp,” a film character from the 1910s and 1920s. I’m still not sure why, and it’s really hard to know whether this commercial got anyone to buy even a single PC. Take a look for yourself:
Yeah, I’ve gotta tell you, I wouldn’t have guessed that little commercial would be the start of the information revolution. Would you?