The first personal computer, the Altair, was announced in Popular Electronics in its January 1975 issue. The Altair was also the first example of new computer hardware. It caused a sensation in the computer industry: those who wanted could have their own computers to play with at home, and a mighty computer industry soon began to grow.
A young computer hacker from Seattle by the name of William Gates, then a freshman at Harvard, sold the Altair developers a computer language that would run on their machine and that made it possible to program many advanced functions. Emboldened by their success with Altair, Gates and his friend founded Microsoft Corporation, which has become the world's largest personal computer software company.
In 1976 Steve Jobs and Stephen Wozniak began assembling their own microcomputer - the Apple. The second iteration of their design, the Apple II, included such amenities as a keyboard*, a built-in power supply**, and a color monitor (all lacking in the first version) and was an immediate success following its introduction in 1977.
With the inclusion of a floppy disk drive that stored computer-readable data on a flexible plastic disc, the Apple II added a convenient way to read computer programs. This development truly gave birth to the phenomenon of personal computing.
In 1979 a remarkable program called VisiCalc appeared and made it possible for the personal computer to manipulate complex arrays of data. VisiCalc not only racked up impressive sales as a computer software package but also spurred adoption of the Apple II itself.
IBM made its entry in l981 with its Personal Computer (PC) which was tremendously successful, soon outstripping sales of Apple and other early personal computers. However, revenues from IBM's traditional computer business soon began a long-term decline. IBM was unable to dominate personal computers as it had the mainframe market, since IBM had exclusive rights neither to the central processing chip that was the "brains" of the personal computer nor to the disk operating system (DOS) software that made the hardware perform its basic functions.
The Intel Corporation, which made the chips, and Microsoft, which made the software, were free to sell their products to all comers. Microsoft developed a full line of software, such as word-processing and spreadsheet packages***, that rivalled IBM's own. Thus, it took only a matter of months to create "clones" of the IBM PC with technical specifications that matched the IBM machines and that would run all of the same software, at a much lower cost.
Meanwhile, Apple Computer began the transition to a multibillion-dollar corporation by maintaining control of its own destiny with a proprietary operating system and with a wealth of attractive and "user friendly" software applications, allowing it to charge premium places for its computers. Continuing the apple motif, it called its next successful computer the Mackintosh.
Apple also specialized in the development of multimedia computers with advanced sound and moving image display capabilities. Because Apple produced only personal computers, it could focus its attention on that market, while IBM had to worry about protecting its mainframe business.
Microsoft emerged as a major force in the personal computer industry as the profits shifted from the hardware to the software end of the industry. Under the continuing guidance of William Gates, Microsoft had become a multibillion-dollar corporation by the early 1990s. Its Windows operating system outclassed IBM's own efforts to update DOS and had an easy-to-use interface not unlike Apple's own. Microsoft produced a full range of software packages that were among the leaders in virtually all of the most popular produced categories.
*a row of keys on a computer that you press to make it work
**a system that is used to supply computer with electricity
***a kind of computer programs that can calculate data on sale, taxes, profit, etc.