Chronology of Personal Computers

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Last updated: 2022 April 29.


  • Digital Equipment announces the DEC Datasystem 408 computer, with built-in monitor and keyboard, separate dual double density disk drive unit, and printer, for US$8995. [959.A19]
January 4
  • Hewlett-Packard introduces the HP-85 microcomputer. It features 16 kB RAM, 32-character wide 5-inch diameter CRT display, small built-in printer, cassette tape recorder, and keyboard. Price is US$3250. Code-name during development was Project Capricorn. [266.265] [960.28]
  • Mike Harvey begins the Nibble magazine for Apple Computer products. [218]
  • Universal Data Systems announces the 103LP 300 bps modem, connecting directly into the telephone line, requiring no additional power. Price: US$195. [252.44]
  • The first issue of S-Eighty is published, for TRS-80 enthusiasts. [269.216]
  • The first issue of Computer Shopper is published. [269.216]
  • Bob Frankston creates the data interchange format (DIF) for VisiCalc. [1056.328]
  • In Japan, IBM Japan announces the IBM 5120 desktop system, like the IBM 5110 but with a 9-inch screen. [902.146] [1310]
  • Xerox's Systems Development Division chief David Liddle is instructed to introduce the Star computer system by the spring of 1981. [716.229]
  • Microsoft acquires a license for UNIX source code from AT&T. [1149.155]
  • Microsoft begins development on an 8086 version of AT&T's UNIX operating system. It will emerge as XENIX. [346.74]
  • Sinclair Research announces the Sinclair ZX80 computer in the UK. It uses a 3.25 MHz NEC Technologies 780-1 8-bit microprocessor, and comes with 1 kB RAM and 4 kB ROM. Display on TV set is 32x24 characters, or 64x48 in quarter-character block graphics. The keyboard is a touch-sensitive smooth membrane type. Price is 79.95 pounds as a kit, or 99.95 pounds pre-built. (About 50,000 are sold over its lifetime.) [9] [185.117] [198.vii] [] [255.94] [624.170] [2584.10,15]
(month unknown)
  • Atari advertisement in Byte magazine: "Atari promises to be the most popular Personal Computer System of the 1980's!". [249.124]
  • Apple Computer releases Apple FORTRAN software for the Apple II. [1886.65]
  • Acorn Computers releases the Acorn Atom personal computer in the UK. It features 2kB RAM, expandable to 12kB, 1kHz 6502A processor, 8kB ROM with integer BASIC, 4-color 256x192 color graphics, multiple-channel sound system, and supports the Econet LAN, allowing 250 computers to be connected in a network. Price for a kit is 120 pounds, or 170 pounds fully assembled. [2287.90] [2583.127] [2651.16]
  • Hewlett-Packard announces that it will switch to Japanese makers of 16 kilobit RAM chips. Hewlett-Packard had examined chips from Japan and the US, and found that chips from the best American firm had six times the failure rate of the worst Japanese producer. [732.70]
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  • The West Coast Computer Faire is held in San Francisco. [1299.137]
  • At the West Coast Computer Faire, Microsoft announces its first hardware product, the Z-80 SoftCard for the Apple II. This card, incorporating a Zilog Z-80 processor, gives the Apple II CP/M capability, contributing greatly to Apple Computer's success. The card includes CP/M and Microsoft's Disk BASIC, all for US$349. Tim Patterson of Seattle Computer Products had built several prototypes before Microsoft's Don Burdis took over the project. The "Z-80" part of the name is later dropped at Zilog's request. [9] [252.47] [266.269] [346.65] [1299.137] (April [123])
  • At the West Coast Computer Faire, Adam Osborne approaches Lee Felsenstein with the idea of starting a computer company. [266.261]
(month unknown)
  • Microsoft negotiates a license for CP/M from Digital Research for US$50,000 cash, for distribution with the SoftCard. [1299.138]
  • Japanese companies announce memory chips with a capacity of 288,000 bits. [1159.D3]
  • Chuck Peddle presents a proposal for an 80-column color-screen ColorPET at a Commodore International strategy meeting. [713.40]
  • Jack Tramiel, of Commodore International, announces at a strategy meeting in London, England, his intention to build and market a US$300 home computer in the USA. [713.44]
  • Data General announces the Eclipse MV/8000 computer. Code-name during development was Gallifrey Eagle. [352.289]
  • Seattle Computer Products decides to make their own disk operating system (DOS), due to delays by Digital Research in releasing a CP/M-86 operating system. Tim Patterson begins work on the project. (The resulting 86-DOS will be bought by Microsoft for use on the IBM PC.) [2] [346.75] [979] [1149.183] [1299.157]
May 13
  • Xerox, Digital Equipment, and Intel jointly announce the Ethernet network specification. [1335.D1]
  • Commodore International introduces the CBM 8032 microcomputer, with 32 kB RAM and an 80-column monochrome display. [713.92]
  • Commodore International introduces the CBM 8050 dual 5.25-inch floppy disk drive unit. [713.92]
  • Universal Data Systems announces the 202LP 1200 bps modem, connecting directly into the telephone line, requiring no additional power. [252.44]
May 19
  • The National Computer Conference is held in Anaheim, California, over four days. [713.92] [1334.D1]
  • Apple Computer introduces the Apple III at the National Computer Conference, in Anaheim, California. The Apple III features 2-MHz Synertek 6502A microprocessor, maximum 128 kB RAM, Shugart 143 kB 5.25-inch floppy drive, keyboard and numeric keypad, 4 internal expansion slots, 2 serial ports, Apple II emulation mode, Sophisticated Operating System, 80x24 text and 560x192 pixel monochrome graphics. Price ranges from US$4500 to US$8000. Code name during development was Sara. [9] [176.145] [252.50] [258.208] [266.234] [1056.324] [1151.S3.15] [1334.D1] [1886.65] [2605.41] (September [120] [203.58] [593.350])
  • Seagate Technology announces the first Winchester 5.25-inch hard disk drive. It uses four platters, holds 5 MB, and costs US$600. [346.260] [838.S3]
  • Steve Ballmer joins Microsoft, for US$50,000 per year, as assistant to the president. [346.65] [1149.163] [1299.143]
  • Shugart Associates begins selling Winchester hard-disk drives. [9]
(month unknown)
  • Wayne Ratliff contracts with George Tate to market his Vulcan database program. [618.262]
  • The first issue of Popular Computing is published. [629.6]
  • Logo Computer Systems is formed in Montreal, Canada, to market the public domain language LOGO. [615.119]
  • Exidy Systems introduces the Computer System 80 computer. [280.53]
  • Philips and Sony create the CD-Audio standard for optical disk storage of digital audio. (Three years later they will extend the standard to computer data storage.) [610.166]
  • Texas Instruments introduces a 5.25-inch mini-floppy disk drive for the TI 99/4. It can store up to 90 kB per disk. Price for controller is US$300; price for disk drive is US$500. [714.139]
  • Texas Instruments introduces a 300 baud modem for the TI 99/4. Price is US$225. Price for the command module cartridge is US$45. [714.139]
  • Texas Instruments introduces a thermal printer for the TI 99/4. It produces 5x7 dot matrix characters, at 30 CPS, on 3 1/2-inch thermal paper. Price is US$400. [714.139]
  • Texas Instruments introduces an RS-232 interface for the TI 99/4. Price is US$225. [714.139]
  • Microsoft begins work on its first microcomputer application, a spreadsheet program initially called Electronic Paper. (It will be released as Multiplan.) [346.104] [1299.185]
  • Apple Computer begins project "Diana", which will become the Apple IIe. [218]
  • Ken and Roberta Williams start On-Line Systems, developing software for the Apple II. First game released is Mystery House. [353.282] [1532.10]
  • Sony Electronics introduces the 3.5-inch floppy disk and drive, double-sided, double-density, holding up to 875 kB unformatted. [257.8] [420.126c] (1981 [1280.43])
  • Onyx introduces the Onyx C8002 microcomputer. It features a Zilog Z8000 microprocessor, 256 kB RAM, tape backup, hard disk, serial ports for eight users, and running UNIX, for US$20,000. It is the first microcomputer featuring an implementation of UNIX. [461.140]
  • Fortune Systems introduces the Fortune Systems 32:16 microcomputer, the first with a Motorola 68000 processor. [1146.51]
  • Commodore Japan introduces the VIC-1001 at the Seibu Department Store in Tokyo. It has 5 kB RAM, and a 22-column color video output capability. Code-name during development was Vixen. (This product will soon be introduced in North America as the VIC-20.) [713.172,177]
  • Intel introduces the 8087 math coprocessor. [511.309]
  • Fred Gibbons founds Software Publishing company. [1443.47]
  • Sinclair Radionics releases the Grundy NewBrain personal computer in the UK. [2584.14]
  • Bill Lowe, director of IBM's Boca Raton Labs, receives a proposal from Atari for IBM to market an Atari computer. [1299.150]
  • Radio Shack introduces the Daisy Wheel Printer II for US$1960. [256.30]
  • The last issue of S-Eighty magazine is published. [269.216]
  • Microsoft releases the SoftCard for the Apple II. (5,000 are sold in a couple months; 25,000 sell by the end of the year; 100,000 sell over the product's lifetime.) [1149.158,173] [1299.138] (August [346.260])
  • William Lowe suggests to an IBM Corporate Management Committee that IBM buy a computer from Atari to sell under the IBM name. He is told this is "the dumbest thing we've ever heard of", and is told to begin development of IBM's own personal computer. He is to assemble a team and bring back a prototype machine in 30 days. [606.23] [620.110] [716.237] [1149.167] [1299.150]
  • William Lowe assembles the members of "Project Chess", known as the "Dirty Dozen", the twelve engineers chosen to design and build a prototype personal computer, in Boca Raton, Florida. Don Estridge is project manager, Jack Sams heads the software effort. [618.126] [41] [902.254] [1299.150] (September [346.69])
  • Atari releases a Pascal compiler for the Atari 400 and 800. Price is US$50. The compiler supports both P-Code and native code. [1167]
July 21
  • Jack Sams of IBM's personal computer team first contacts Microsoft asking to talk about personal computers. [1149.168] [1299.151]
July 22
  • IBM representatives meet with Microsoft's Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer to talk about Microsoft products, and home computers. [266.271] [346.70] [1298.163] [1299.151]
July 31
  • Radio Shack introduces the TRS-80 Model III. It features a Zilog Z80 processor, and 4 kB RAM. Base price is US$699. [9] [253.172] [266.199] [1332.D3] (August [256.30])
  • Radio Shack introduces the TRS-80 Color Computer. It uses the Motorola 6809E CPU, comes with 4 kB RAM, and sells for US$399. [9] [253.172] [266.199] [1332.D3] (August [256.30])
  • Radio Shack introduces the TRS-80 Pocket Computer. It features a 24 character display, QWERTY keyboard, and 1.9 kB of programmable memory. Price is US$230. [253.172] [266.198] [1112.144] [1332.D3] (August [256.30])
  • Hal Lashlee and George Tate form Software Plus. (The company name is later changed to Ashton-Tate.) [346.260]
  • Microsoft announces the Microsoft XENIX OS, a portable and commercial version of the UNIX operating system for the Intel 8086, Zilog Z8000, Motorola M68000, and Digital Equipment PDP-11. [123] [258.252] [259.6] [369.24] [1186.25] (February [1149.155])
  • Apple Computer releases DOS 3.3. [218]
August 8
  • The Project Chess task force at IBM shows a prototype microcomputer to the Corporate Management Committee. Specifications for the proposed computer are: 32 kB ROM, 16 kB RAM (up to 256 kB), six slots, color/mono display, 8-inch floppy disk drives, optional floating-point processor, joystick port, and printer port. Approval is given to build an operational microcomputer, code-named Acorn. They are given a deadline of one year to bring the new computer to market. [606.24] [620.110] [1149.170] [1256.139] [1299.152]
August 21
  • IBM meets with Microsoft again, to talk in general terms about their planned personal computers. IBM asks if Microsoft will develop some programming language interpreters/compilers for it. Bill Gates agrees to supply BASIC and other software development tools. IBM also asks for CP/M, but Gates says Digital Research would have to supply that. [266.271] [346.71] [906.469] [1149.171] [1299.153] [2324.106]
  • Bill Gates calls Gary Kildall, to arrange a meeting between IBM and Digital Research regarding CP/M. [1299.153] (September [1149.179])
August 22
  • IBM's Project Chess task force meets with Digital Research about using CP/M-86 for IBM's upcoming microcomputer. (Gary Kildall claims he agreed to provide CP/M-86 for IBM. IBM sources state that Gary Kildall was not interested.) [346.74] [620.110] [1299.155] [2324.106] (September [1149.179])
August 28
  • IBM representatives meet at Microsoft again. Bill Gates signs a consulting agreement for US$15,000 to develop the software specifications for IBM's personal computer. Jack Sams asks about alternatives to CP/M-86. Gates says he might find one. [266.272] [1299.156] [2324.107] (July [185.125]) (September [346.75]) (Microsoft proposes it to IBM [346.75])
  • Seattle Computer Products completes and begins shipping 86-QDOS 0.10 (Quick and Dirty Operating System). Even though it had been created in only two man-months, the DOS worked surprisingly well. (A week later, the EDLIN line editor is created. EDLIN was supposed to last only six months, before being replaced.) [2] [1149.183] (SCP-DOS [266.272])
  • The first issue of Softalk magazine for Apple Computer products appears. [218] [353.310]
  • Tim Patterson, of Seattle Computer Products, shows Microsoft his operating system written for the 8086 processor. [346.260]
  • A fire breaks out in Commodore's PET jet in mid-air, lasting 45 minutes until the plane can land. The jet's passengers include Jack Tramiel, Dick Sanford, Dick Powers, and Ken Hollandsworth. [713.185]
  • Software Publishing ships the pfs:File database program. [346.261]
September 22
  • Paul Allen of Microsoft contacts Rod Brock of Seattle Computer Products, asking to sub-license 86-DOS to a potential customer. [1149.185] [1299.160]
September 23
  • Rod Brock confirms a non-exclusive licensing arrangement with Microsoft for 86-DOS. Microsoft will pay a US$10,000 upfront fee for the right to distribute 86-DOS to an unlimited number of end users, and to sublicense 86-DOS to equipment manufacturers for US$10,000 (US$15,000 with source code). [1299.160]
September 28
  • At Microsoft, Bill Gates, Paul Allen and Kay Nishi make the final decision to accept the IBM contract to produce languages and an operating system for the new microcomputer. [1149.186]
September 30
  • Commodore International announces the CBM 8032 computer with 96 kB RAM. [1333.D6]
  • Digital Equipment, Intel, and Xerox announce the Ethernet network specifications for the data link layer and the physical layer. [999.ss33]
  • Bill Gates, Bob O'Rear, and Steve Ballmer meet with IBM in Boca Raton, Florida, to deliver a report to IBM. They propose that Microsoft be put in charge of the entire software development process for IBM's new microcomputer, including providing the main operating system to run on the computer. Bill Gates insists on maintaining rights to the DOS, receiving royalty payments rather than a lump sum. [266.272] [346.73,76] [1299.161] (October [1149.188])
  • Chuck Peddle and several of his best engineers leave Commodore International. [713.29,134]
  • Microsoft's Paul Allen contacts Seattle Computer Products' Tim Patterson, asking for the rights to sell SCP's DOS to an unnamed client (IBM). Microsoft pays less than US$100,000 for the right. [346.76]
  • Sol Libes quote in BYTE magazine's ByteLines: "The 32-bit machine would be 'overkill' for a personal computer.". [253.188]
November 6
  • Microsoft and IBM sign a formal contract for Microsoft to develop certain software products for IBM's new microcomputer. Microsoft will receive US$200,000 to adapt the operating system to the IBM PC, and US$500,000 for DOS, BASIC, and compilers. Microsoft is to have an initial version of the operating system and BASIC working by mid-January. [41] [266.273] [346.77] [1149.190] [1299.163] [1701.158]
  • COMDEX is held in Las Vegas, Nevada. [713.184]
  • IBM delivers the two PC prototypes to Microsoft, so they can begin developing BASIC and the machine's operating system. [346.78] [1149.190] (December [41])
  • The Congress of the US passes the Computer Software Copyright Act of 1980. [1337.D1]
November (month)
  • Top selling Tandy TRS-80 computer game for the month: Hellfire Warrior. [2649.17]
(month unknown)
  • Digital Research releases CP/M-86 for Intel 8086- and 8088-based systems. [255.200]
  • Panasonic and Quasar unveil handheld computers, made by Matsushita. The units use a 1 MHz 6502 CPU, and weigh 14 ounces (397 grams). [255.34]
  • Sinclair Research ships the ZX80 microcomputer in North America, for US$200. [255.94]
  • IBM promotes William Lowe from the Entry Systems Division to Vice President of IBM's laboratory in Rochester, Minnesota. [618.135]
  • Don Estridge replaces William Lowe in IBM's Entry Systems Division. [606.23] [618.135]
  • Apple Computer ships the first Apple III units in limited quantity. [266.234] (January 1981 [258.208]) (March 1981 [1151.S3.15])
  • Richard Garriott releases the Ultima I fantasy role-playing game for the Apple II computer in the US. [1175.55] [1688.116]
  • Intel announces the iAPX432 32-bit microprocessor. Intel later builds the 80286 as a step between the 8086 and the 432. [32] [256.212]
December 12
  • Apple Computer becomes a publicly held company, selling 4.6 million shares at US$22 per share. More than 40 Apple employees and investors become instant millionaires. With the stock value closing at $29, the market capotalization puts the company's worth at $1.778 billion. Stock held by Steve Jobs is worth $217 million, Steve Wozniak $116 million, and Mike Markkula $203 million. This is the largest initial public offering in the US since Ford Motor Company in 1956. [46] [185.116] [202.191] [256.212] [266.240] [745.59] [1048.D8] [1154.D6] [1559] [1886.65] [2605.15]
  • InfoCom releases the Zork adventure game for the TRS-80 and Apple II. (In the first nine months, 7,500 copies are sold.) [548.436] [809]
  • Seattle Computer Products renames QDOS to 86-DOS, releasing it as version 0.3. [2] [1299.158]
  • Production of integrated circuits: USA 71.6%, Japan 16.1%, Europe 5.9%, Soviet and rest of world 6.3%. [949.351]
  • Shipments of Hewlett-Packard desktop computers for the year: 11,000. Revenue is US$140 million. [1154.D6]
  • Shipments of Intel 8086 processors during the year: 200,000. [256.214]
  • Shipments of personal computers worldwide during the year: 724,000, worth US$1.8 billion. [1559]
  • Total sales of personal computers for the year in the US: US$900 million. [203.10] (US$1 billion [261.304)
  • Sales of computers under US$1000: US$56 million. [1040.D6]
  • World sales of computers costing under US$5,000: about 500,000 units, with total value US$730 million. [1151.S3.1]
  • Shipments of Tandy/Radio Shack computers for the year: 200,000, valued at US$180 million. [258.208] [1154.D6]
  • Shipments of Tandy desktop computers in the US during the year: 99,300. [1150.D1]
  • Shipments of Apple desktop computers in the US during the year: 79,500. [1150.D1]
  • Shipments of Commodore desktop computers in the US during the year: 41,400. [1150.D1]
  • Shipments of Atari desktop computers in the US during the year: 17,000. [1150.D1]
  • Shipments of Hewlett-Packard desktop computers in the US during the year: 11,300. [1150.D1]
  • Shipments of Northstar desktop computers in the US during the year: 8,200. [1150.D1]
  • Shipments of Texas Instruments desktop computers in the US during the year: 8,100. [1150.D1]
  • Shipments of IBM desktop computers in the US during the year: 6,000. [1150.D1]
  • Shipments of Intertec Data desktop computers in the US during the year: 5,800. [1150.D1]
  • Shipments of Exidy Systems desktop computers in the US during the year: 3,000. [1150.D1]

End of 1980. Next: 1981.

1947-1968 1969-1971 1972-1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981
1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991
1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001
2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008-end

A list of references to all source material is available.

Other web pages of interest:

  • Chronology of Microprocessors
  • Personal Computer References in Pop Culture
  • This Day in Personal Computer and Video Game History

  • Last updated: 2022 April 29.
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    Link to Ken P's home page.