Technologizer posts about IBM

A World Without the IBM PC

Nine questions about an alternate reality in which Big Blue steered clear of little computers.

By  |  Posted at 1:20 am on Friday, August 12, 2011


Apple's famous ad.

On August 12th, 1981, IBM announced its first PC. That makes today the thirtieth anniversary of the platform that’s sometimes been called the PC clone, IBM PC compatible, or Wintel…but is most often simply called the PC. We started our celebration on Thursday with Benj Edwards’ look at PC oddities such as Bill Gates’s donkey-avoidance game. But thinking about some of the weirdness that the PC inspired got me to thinking: what if IBM, which took a long time to decide to do a PC at all, had decided not to do one? What if it had decided that microcomputers were a blip and it should stick to mainframes?

The announcement of the PC was one of the most important moments in tech history, since computers based on the PC’s design quickly flooded the market and established a standard which lives on to this day in every Windows PC. As I played around with the idea of the IBM PC suddenly vanishing from the history books, I started asking myself questions, and trying to come up with answers. (Hey, the whole subject is so unknowable that there’s no such thing as a wrong answer…)

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The PC Turns 30

By  |  Posted at 5:04 am on Thursday, August 11, 2011

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On August 12th, 1981, IBM announced its first PC. I was a high school student at the time, and was totally unimpressed. The machine was boxy and boring, with graphics that couldn’t compare to something like the Atari 800. And it was way too pricey. Who’d go for that?

Lots of people, it turned out–and even today, the vast majority of us use PCs directly descended from IBM’s first one. To mark one of the most important anniversaries in computing history, Benj Edwards, as is his wont, has focused in on some its sidelights and curiosities. Read about them in IBM PC Oddities.

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Happy Fiftieth Birthday, IBM Selectric

By  |  Posted at 5:28 am on Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Last month, I had fun paying tribute to Polaroid’s SX-70, an old-technology gadget that’s all the more extraordinary because there was nothing digital about it. The SX-70 came to mind again when I learned that IBM’s Selectric typewriter is marking its fiftieth anniversary. It was a great leap forward beyond every typewriter of the time, both technologically sophisticated and beautifully designed. And it remains pretty darn cool even if most of us will never use one again.

To celebrate the Selectric’s fiftieth, I put together a slideshow of evocative images and interesting factoids, including stuff about later models–such as the $21,000 (!!!) Selectric Magnetic Tape Composer. Here it is.

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IBM Storage Tech: DVRs in the Cloud, SSD Replacements

By  |  Posted at 7:56 am on Wednesday, October 13, 2010





An IBM data center in North Carolina

How is IBM funneling its vast resources into research around future products and services? At a press and analyst day last week in New York City, the company talked up projects around replacing today’s flash-based SSDs (solid state drives) with new PCM (phase change memory) technology and dropping DVRs (digital video recorders) in favor of video storage clouds.

IBM is about to start field tests with cable TV companies around new cloud-based video storage services for consumers, said Steve Canepa, general manager for IBM’s Global Media & Entertainment Industry Division.

Meanwhile, for businesses, Big Blue is eyeing the release in another four years of new storage servers based on PCM, according to other speakers at the press event on Thursday in midtown Manhattan.

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How IBM Sold Tech in the Eisenhower Era

By  |  Posted at 2:42 am on Monday, August 30, 2010


Back in May, we told you about some industrial films that IBM commissioned from the Muppets in the 1960s. The decade before that, the office-equipment giant was a major advertiser in glossy mass-circulation magazines such as LIFE. Today, those ads are a fascinating, evocative trip back to a world in which technology, work, and workplaces were radically different. Yes, there was a time when the typical piece of business correspondence was a snail-mail letter typed by a secretary on a typewriter which might or might not have been electric–and which had no provision for correcting errors.

View The Golden Age of IBM Advertising slideshow.


Computers beating humans at chess? Easy. Computers beating humans at Jeopardy? Unimaginably challenging–but an IBM supercomputer is now a really good (but not yet brilliant) Jeopardy player, and is gearing up to compete with human champions on TV. This New York Times piece by Clive Thompson on all this is among the best articles on technology you’ll read this year.

Posted by Harry at 9:31 am


The IBM Muppet Show

Before Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, Jim Henson made short films for Big Blue. The tech may be archaic, but the entertainment is timeless.

By  |  Posted at 10:11 pm on Monday, May 31, 2010


IBM. The Muppets. Two venerable institutions-but not ones we tend to associate with each other. Yet in the late 1960s, before most people had ever seen a computer in person or could identify a Muppet on sight, the two teamed up when IBM contracted with Jim Henson for a series of short films designed to help its sales staff. Little known today, these remain fresh, funny, and surprisingly irreverent. Henson would return to their gags and situations in his famous later works–and he plucked the Cookie Monster from one of them when assembling the Muppet cast for Sesame Street in 1969.

Whose idea was this unique collaboration? Well, Henson had already established himself in the advertising field. He was best known at the time for the Muppets’ guest skits on variety shows and Rowlf the Dog’s appearances on The Jimmy Dean Show. But he was busier making a wide array of commercials and longer sales films for regional and national products from Esskay Meats to Marathon Gasoline.

For its own part, IBM was keenly aware that its products–including computers, electric typewriters, and very early word processors–had to be explained to both the public and IBM’s own employees. So it formed its own advertising group, including a film and television division. An executive named David Lazer headed this division, overseeing the production of training and sales films.

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Computers on Game Shows: What a Concept!

By  |  Posted at 10:22 am on Monday, April 27, 2009


JeopardyWhen IBM’s Deep Blue computer beat chess world champion Garry Kasparov back in 1997, my reaction was pretty dispassionate: As someone who’s played only a few games of chess in my life, I simply didn’t have a deep understanding of the game or an emotional attachment to it. But when the news came out over the weekend that IBM is programming a supercomputer to play Jeopardy–well, that’s a breakthrough I can relate to. I haven’t watched the venerable game show much in years, but back in the 1980s, I planned my college courses around it to make sure I was home in time to watch (this was before I had a VCR). I get the game’s subtleties–it’s not just about having an encyclopedic knowledge of both serious stuff and pop culture, but also about being able to unpack the meaning of those questions-phrased-as-answers in a split second. And given that countless very smart people have gone on the show and fallen flat on their faces, I’ll be impressed if IBM’s computer manages an unembarrassing third-place finish. But I don’t have any difficulty dealing with the idea that a computer might someday beat any flesh-and-blood Jeopardy player on the planet.

Thinking about the prospect of a computer taking on Alex Trebek, metaphorical buzzer in hand, led me to the conclusion that game shows in general aren’t a bad Turing Test-like gauge of artificial intelligence. They require knowledge–okay, only a little of it in many cases, but some. They’ve got a social component, by definition. They involve thinking on one’s feet, or the simulation thereof.

So how might a really well-programmed supercomputer fare at other famous game shows of the present and (mostly) past?

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IBM Delivers High Speed Internet Over Power Lines

By  |  Posted at 6:47 pm on Thursday, February 19, 2009


IBM LogoJust days after the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was signed into law, today IBM announced that it successfully delivered broadband Internet service to rural areas over power lines. With $7 billion allocated to high speed Internet service, the Recovery Act is a boon for companies like IBM.

Big Blue’s timing might be serendipitous, but it is certainly on message. IBM is touting its relationships with rural electric cooperatives in Alabama, Indiana, Michigan and Virginia, as well as the cost-effectiveness of its solution. The deployments were subsidized by the Rural Development Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Electric power lines may also be a better alternative than wireless services for areas that have hilly terrain, and are more cost effective per mile than DSL telephone service, IBM’s Raymond Blair, director of advanced networks, told the New York Times.

I can’t help but think back to the push for electrification in rural areas after the Great Depression, and the role that played in modernizing undeveloped areas of the United States. Decades later, with the electric grid laid, IBM is saying that government subsidies will permit utilities to cover sparsely populated areas that may otherwise remain unserviced.

Indeed, there may be pent up demand for high speed services. IBM’s Blair noted that a rural utility cooperative in Michigan signed up 5,000 customers within two weeks. My brother lives in an area that is not serviced by cable, and I’m certain that he would jump at the opportunity to sign up for broadband.

My take is that electric power line data transmission will likely be part of a mix of broadband solutions. Different technologies will be better suited for specific regions, and government officials, working in partnership with companies including IBM will work it out over time. It goes without saying that there will be glitches and cost overruns along the way, but when all is said and done, broadband Internet will be significantly more accessible than it is today.


IBM to Watch Papermaster’s Moves at Apple

By  |  Posted at 9:33 am on Wednesday, January 28, 2009

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It appears as if for now, IBM will let Mark Papermaster work at Apple starting in April, but with a catch. Everytime there may be a question of whether or not Papermaster might disclose confidential information, he must check in with IBM, court documents indicate.

IBM’s assistant general counsel Ron Laureldale would then make a determination “in good faith” whether or not the information may include trade secrets of the company.

Additionally, in July and October he would be required to sign declarations that he has not shared any IBM trade secrets with Apple under penalty of purjury. The agreement expires on October 24, one year after he left IBM.

What does this mean? Big Blue could get unprecedented access by a third-party into Apple’s plans for future products. No doubt, this must not have Jobs and Co. very happy considering the level of secrecy they like to maintain over products, however Papermaster must be such a catch that Apple is willing to sacrifice a little security.

Agreements like this are not unheard of, but are rather rare to be disclosed publicly. No doubt, the media attention this case has made this a little higher profile than most non-compete litigation.

When he joins Apple, Papermaster will take the position of iPod/iPhone developement chief, replacing Tony Fadell who stepped down late last year.

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“Father of the iPod” Departs Apple

By  |  Posted at 7:47 am on Tuesday, November 4, 2008

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We usually don’t cover executive comings and goings here at Technologizer, but this onee merits a mention: Apple Senior Vice President Tony Fadell has left full-time work at Apple and will be an advisor to the company. Fadell was not only the head of the company’s iPod division, but the guy who came up with the idea of the iPod in the first place. In fact, the former Philips employee–anyone remember Philips PDAs such as the Velo?–came up with the idea of the iPod on his own, and approached Apple with it. I’m pretty sure that Steve Jobs is awfully glad that Fadell came to Apple, and that Apple was smart enough to see the idea’s potential.

(It makes for an unanswerable but fun what-if question to muse on what might have been if Fadell had sold the iPod idea to a different company: There’s probably an alternate universe in which it ended up being a product from Philips, Creative, Rio, or some other company. It might have been very successful, but it also wouldn’t have been the iPod that Apple made. And speaking of what-ifs, where would Apple be today if Fadell hadn’t approached it with the iPod idea? Would it have ended up making an iPod anyhow? We’ll never know…)

Fadell is being replaced by Mark Papermaster, a former IBM executive. IBM is suing him, saying that his contract with Big Blue had a non-compete clause which prohibits him from working for Apple.

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