By Vangie Beal
There are two generally, similar and accepted meanings of the phrase personal computer (PC):
1) PC is short for personal computer or IBM PC. The first personal computer produced by IBM was called the PC, and increasingly the term PC came to mean IBM or IBM-compatible personal computers, to the exclusion of other types of personal computers, such as Macintoshes.
2) A personal computer (PC) may also refer to any small, relatively inexpensive computer designed for an individual user. In price, personal computers range anywhere from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars. All are based on the microprocessor technology that enables manufacturers to put an entire CPU on one chip.
In recent years, the term PC has become more and more difficult to pin down. In general, though, it applies to any personal computer based on an Intel microprocessor, or on an Intel-compatible microprocessor. For nearly every other component, including the operating system, there are several options, all of which fall under the rubric of PC.
PCs at Home
At home, the most popular use for personal computers is for playing games. Businesses use personal computers for word processing, accounting, desktop publishing, and for running spreadsheet and database management applications.
Image: Example of typical devices connected to a PC.
Personal Computers in the Late 1970s
Personal computers first appeared in the late 1970s. One of the first and most popular personal computers was the Apple II, introduced in 1977 by Apple Computer. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, new models and competing operating systems seemed to appear daily. Then, in 1981, IBM entered the fray with its first personal computer, known as the IBM PC. The IBM PC quickly became the personal computer of choice, and most other personal computer manufacturers fell by the wayside.
Since the first personal computer produced by IBM was called the PC, increasingly the term PC came to mean IBM or IBM-compatible personal computers, to the exclusion of other types of personal computers, such as Macintoshes, despite one of the few companies to survive IBM’s onslaught was Apple Computer, which remains a major player in the personal computer marketplace today.
Other companies adjusted to IBM’s dominance by building IBM clones, computers that were internally almost the same as the IBM PC, but that cost less. Because IBM clones used the same microprocessors as IBM PCs, they were capable of running the same software. Over the years, IBM has lost much of its influence in directing the evolution of PCs. Many of its innovations, such as the MCA expansion bus and the OS/2 operating system, have not been accepted by the industry or the marketplace.
Popular PCs of Today
Today, the world of personal computers is basically divided between Apple Macintoshes and PCs. The principal characteristics of personal computers are that they are single-user systems and are based on microprocessors. However, although personal computers are designed as single-user systems, it is common to link them together to form a network. In terms of power, there is great variety. At the high end, the distinction between personal computers and workstations has faded. High-end models of the Macintosh and PC offer the same computing power and graphics capability as low-end workstations.
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