Chronology of Personal Computers (1981)



January 6

  • Jack Tramiel resigns as president of Commodore International, but remains as chief executive officer. James Finke becomes new president and chief operating officer. [966.D2] [1151.S3.15]
  • Microsoft and Seattle Computer Products sign a licensing agreement giving Microsoft a non-exclusive right to market 86-DOS. SCP receives US$10,000 for signing, US$10,000 per sublicense through Microsoft, and US$5,000 if source code is part of the sublicense. [2] [1149.194] [1299.169]

  • Radio Shack ceases production of the TRS-80 Model I, and recalls units from the US market, due to failure to meet new FCC radio-frequency interference regulations. [255.202] [258.208] (1980 November [268.188])
  • Osborne Computer is incorporated. [266.263] [1149.223]
  • The International Winter Consumer Electronics Show is held in Las Vegas, Nevada. [267.52] [713.188]
  • APF introduces the Imagination Machine II at the 1981 Winter Consumer Electronics Show. It features a 6800 CPU, 27 kB RAM, two 5.25-inch disk drives, built-in cassette drive, 53-key keyboard, and 32×16 character display capability for US$1600. [275.38]
  • IBM shows Project Acorn to several members of ComputerLand, to get their suggestions. IBM informs them the computer name is IBM Personal Computer. [1702.125]
  • In Canada, Murray Bell and Paul Barsley present their microcomputer proposal to Dynalogic’s owner, Bytec. Bytec executives give approval for the project. [615.173]
  • Casio demonstrates the FX-9000P, with a 5-inch CRT, keyboard, keypad, removable memory modules, and 256×128 graphics. [267.53]
  • MT MicroSYSTEMS wins a contract (over Microsoft) from Intel to develop a custom 8086 implementation of Pascal/MT+. [1167]
  • Commodore announces the VIC-20 personal computer, with full-size 61-key plus four function key keyboard, 5 kB RAM expandable to 32 kB, 6502A CPU, 22 character by 23 line text display, and color graphics, for US$299. Nicknames for the computer at the show are MicroPet and No Name Computer. An early name for the computer at Commodore was The Other Intellect. (During its life, production peaks at 9,000 units per day.) [254.214] [190.81] [267.54] [268] [275.43] [713.188] [804.17] [1299.149] (1980 June [9])
  • A group at Apple Computer contemplates building an inexpensive computer based on technology of the Lisa computer. (This is the start of the Macintosh project.) [901.58]
(month unknown)

  • Larry Boucher founds Adaptec. [862.270]
  • Chuck Peddle founds Victor Technologies in Scotts Valley. [930.124] [1286.D11]

  • Microsoft operates 86-DOS for the first time on IBM’s prototype microcomputer. [346.81] [1149.196] (January [1299.169])
February 7

  • Steve Wozniak’s private plane crashes during take-off, near the Santa Cruz Mountains in California. The accident leaves him with a loss of short-term memory, lasting for over a month. [218] [266.236] [618.187] [930.52] [2605.28]
February 10

  • Apple Computer announces the Apple III would no longer contain the built-in clock and calendar feature because National Semiconductor’s clock chip didn’t meet Apple’s specifications. A $50 rebate is offered Apple III purchasers. [2605.42]
February 19

  • At the International Solid State Circuits Conference Intel introduces the iAPX432 processor, and begins shipping evaluation sets. The processor comes in three chips, incorporating over 200,000 transistors. Performance is claimed as 2 MIPS. [258.210] [270.164] [1064.246] [1328.D4]

  • Rockwell International ceases production of bubble-memory products for the microcomputer market. [261.306] [1152.D1] [1157.S3.4]

  • IBM proposes to Matsushita Electric Industrial that they make small computers for IBM to sell. [1329.D6]
  • Apple Computer begins volume shipments of Apple III computers. [2605.42]
  • The director of Canada’ Radiation Protection Bureau declares that video display terminals carry no radiation hazard. [558.138]
  • Sinclair Research unveils the ZX81 in England, featuring 3.25-MHz NEC 780C-1 microprocessor, with 8 kB ROM, 1 kB RAM, for 69.95 pounds. An optional 16 kB RAM pack is 29.95 pounds. The computer incorporates four chips, compared to 21 in the ZX80. (About 1 million are sold worldwide over its lifetime.) [198.vii] [624.170] [1302.D1] [2583.27] [2584.11,15]
  • Mike Markkula replaces Michael Scott as president of Apple Computer. Steve Jobs becomes chairman of the board. [202.211] [203.63] [1559] [1886.65] [2605.15] (April [618.187])

  • Tim Patterson quits Seattle Computer Products, and joins Microsoft. [346.83] [979]
  • At the West Coast Computer Faire, MT MicroSYSTEMS releases the Pascal/MT+ SpeedProgramming Package for CP/M-80, price US$500, including compiler. This is a specialized Pascal source code editor with syntax sensitive editing. [1167]
  • The sixth West Coast Computer Faire is held, in San Francisco, California. [267.6] [273.104]
  • Adam Osborne, of Osborne Computer, introduces the Osborne 1 Personal Business Computer at the West Coast Computer Faire. It features a Z80A processor, 5-inch display, 64 kB RAM, keyboard, keypad, modem, and two 5.25-inch 100 kB disk drives for US$1795. Weight: 24 pounds. It also includes US$1500 worth of software, including CP/M, BASIC, WordStar, and SuperCalc. (Osborne anticipated selling 10,000 in total, but sales quickly reach 10,000 in a single month.) [9] [257.8] [203.22] [273.104] [548.412] [862.38] [1298.188] (July [41] [346.99]) (nearly US$2000 worth of software [266.263])
April 27

  • Xerox introduces the Xerox 8010 Star Information System. It includes a bitmapped screen, WYSIWYG word processor, mouse, laser printer, Smalltalk language, Ethernet, and software for combining text and graphics in the same document. Many features that were developed for the Alto are incorporated. (At a starting price of US$16-17,000, the computer is not a commercial success. During its lifetime, 100,000 units are produced.) [185.121] [203.60] [263.6] [274.28] [275.11,56] [346.261] [394.242] [444.492] [477.158] [606.134,141] [716.233] [930.57] [1149.219] [1280.43] [1330.D1] [1661.D3] (cost US$50,000 [9]) (June [266.268]) (Star 820 [716.238])
(month unknown)

  • Vector Graphic unveils the first personal computer with a built-in hard disk drive, for US$7950. [258.208]
  • Tandy sues Personal Microcomputers for copyright infringement on the design of the TRS-80 computer. [258.208]

  • The National Computer Conference is held in Chicago, with attendance of 73,000. [263.36] [1151.S3.1]
  • Atari announces that it is discontinuing the Atari 400. Current price is dropped to US$399. [273.206] [1250.82]
  • Texas Instruments announces that it is getting out of the magnetic bubble memory market. [263.358] [1152.D1] [1153.D2] (June [1157.S3.4])
May 27

  • Apple Computer sells 2.6 million shares to the public, at US$31.25 per share. [1154.D6] [2605.43]
June 8

  • Info World magazine runs an article with details of IBM’s personal computer project. [1149.201]
June 9

  • Xerox announces the Xerox 820 Information Processor computer. It uses the Z80 CPU, CP/M, and BASIC. The price with a dual disk drive and display is US$2995. During its development, it was code-named The Worm. [266.268] [274.6] [275.11,54] [1251.6] [1331.D4] (July 21 [1702.155])

  • George Brennan and Burton Sisco found Evotek, to make high-performance 5.25-inch hard disks. [862.270]
  • Xerox introduces the SAM personal computer. It comes with 64 kB RAM, and costs about US$3000. [1151.S3.1]
  • Microsoft persuades IBM to introduce its microcomputer with a minimum of 64 kB RAM. IBM had planned to only include 16 kB. [346.84]
June 25

  • Paul Allen of Microsoft proposes to Rod Brock of Seattle Computer Products that Microsoft buy all rights to 86-DOS for US$30,000 plus a free license to Microsoft’s 8086 macro assembler and linker. [1299.174]

  • Microsoft completes most work on 86-DOS for IBM’s PC. [1149.199]
(month unknown)

  • Micro/Vest files a lawsuit against Bill Millard, claiming 20 percent of ComputerLand stock. [647.95]
  • Toshiba demonstrates its T200 and T250 systems. [274.30]
  • W.H. Sim founds Creative Technology in Singapore. [221]
  • Hayes Microcomputer Products advertises the Hayes Smartmodem 300. (This quickly becomes the industry standard modem, with its “AT” command set.) [9] [176.75] [1298.188]
  • Seagate Technology begins shipping its 5 MB 5.25-inch hard drives, for US$1700. [587.25]
  • Hayes Microcomputer Products’ employee, Dale Heatherington, develops the +++ escape sequence for modems. [164.14]
  • Apple Computer prohibits mail-order sales of Apple computers, claiming there is no provision for customer education or services. [340.9]
  • NCR and Shugart Associates develop the Shugart Associates system interface (SASI). (SASI will evolve into the SCSI standard.) [542.114] (developed by Shugart, 1979-81 [543])
  • The ANSI X3T9 standards committee adopts SASI as a working document for an ANSI interface standard. It is finalized in 1986, and named SCSI. [542.114] (NCR and Shugart request committee be formed; committee X3T9.2 formed in 1982 [543])
  • Apple Canada is established. [880.94]
  • Eddie Curry of LifeBoat Associates offers Rod Brock of Seattle Computer Products US$250,000 for the rights to 86-DOS. Brock can not accept the offer, as Microsoft has an excusive license to sell 86-DOS. [1149.201]
  • Radio Shack discontinues the TRS-80 Model III computer. Total unit sales over its lifetime were over 250,000. [2557.92]
July 1

  • Microsoft reorganizes into Microsoft Incorporated, with Bill Gates as President and Chairman, and Paul Allen as Executive Vice President. Initial shareholders are Bill Gates (53%), Paul Allen (31%), Steve Ballmer (8%), Vern Raburn (4%), Charles Simonyi (1.5%), Gordon Letwin (1.5%). [346.261] [1299.175] [1526.83] (June [123]) (Gates as executive vice president [346.262])
July 10

  • Rod Brock of Seattle Computer Products offers a counterproposal to Microsoft for rights to 86-DOS: US$150,000 fee and right to license Microsoft languages at a discount with SCP hardware. [1299.174]

  • The first IBM PC computers roll off the assembly lines. [203.16]
  • A group of Atari programmers leave the company to form Imagic. [1239.112]
July 21

  • Digital Research’s Gary Kildall tells IBM that its PC-DOS software infringes his CP/M copyright. He says he will not sue if IBM sells CP/M on the IBM PC in addition to PC-DOS. [2324.107]
July 27

  • Microsoft buys all rights to 86-DOS from Seattle Computer Products for US$50,000, and the name MS-DOS is adopted. Microsoft agrees to give SCP generous terms for licensing its languages. [2] [31] [146] [1149.201] [1299.175]
July 28

  • IBM’s General Systems Division introduces its first desktop computer, the System 23 Datamaster. It uses a 16-bit 8086, and is a dedicated data processing machine. Price is US$9830. [41] [1149.201] [1237.34]
(month unknown)

  • At Apple Computer, Steve Jobs and Andy Hertzfeld show Bill Gates a prototype of what will be the Macintosh computer. [1149.251,268]
August 12

  • At the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, and in Boca Raton, Florida, IBM announces the IBM Personal Computer, model 5150. The PC features a 4.77 MHz Intel 8088 CPU, 16 kB RAM (expandable to 256 kB), 40 kB ROM, one 5.25-inch floppy drive (160 kB capacity), for US$1565. A fully loaded version with color graphics costs US$6000. Also offered as options are PC-DOS 1.0 (Microsoft’s MS-DOS) for US$40, Microsoft BASIC, VisiCalc, UCSD Pascal, CP/M-86 for US$240, and Easywriter 1.0. IBM will sell the new computer to consumers through Sears, Roebuck & Co. and ComputerLand. [9] [35] [41] [108] [120] [123] [146] [202.205] [205.28] [266.276] [277.14] [288.192] [346.86] [389.28] [415.48] [443.50] [606.27] [620.108,110] [716.237] [1128.25] [1150.D1] [1151.S3.1] [1149.204] [1239.38] [1256.139] [1298.188] [1644.149] [1702.155] [2324.107] [2605.94] (August 13 [862.170] [2442.86])
  • IBM introduces the Microsoft Adventure game for the IBM PC, Microsoft’s first non-language non-OS software product. [1149.205]

  • IBM announces the CGA graphics card for the PC, giving 640×200 resolution with 16 colors. [117] [120]
  • Quote from Tandy president John Roach, regarding IBM’s entry into the microcomputer field: “I don’t think it’s that significant”. Quote from the financial vice-president of Tandy’s Radio Shack division: “There definately is a new kid on the block, but there is nothing that IBM has presented that would blow the industry away”. [346.87] [1239.38]
August 24

  • Apple Computer runs a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal with a headline that reads “Welcome IBM. Seriously.”. [46] [346.87] [606.26] [2605.68]

  • Vector Graphic makes its first public stock offering of US$13 million. [202.212]
August 24

  • National Semiconductor announces it is withdrawing from the magnetic bubble memory business. [1152.D1] [1157.S3.4]

  • Apple Computer ships the 250,000th Apple computer. [1154.D6]
September 9

  • Tandy and Datapoint announce an agreement to allow Tandy TRS-80 computers to use network technology from Datapoint, to connect up to 255 Tandy computers to central storage or printers, or to Datapoint computers. [1155.D4]
September 13

  • Control Data introduces the Control Data 110 microcomputer. Price is US$4995. [1156.D10]

  • Novell Data Systems hires SuperSet to create software to link computers together to share a hard drive. [548.432]
  • Microsoft begins work on a graphical user interface for MS-DOS, initially called Interface Manager, because it would effectively hide the interface between programs and devices like printers and video cards. (This is the beginning of Windows.) [346.175] [1648.51]
  • Seagate Technology first sells shares to the public, raising US$25 million. [999.ss62]
  • Osborne Computer has its first US$1 million sales month. [266.263]
  • Apple Computer introduces its first hard drive, the Apple 5 Megabyte ProFile, for US$3499. [46] [1644.149] [1886.65] (November [1447.D4]) (1983 [205.36]) (Profile [854.38])
  • The Fourth Personal Computer World Show is held, in London, England. [278.118]
  • Sinclair Research and W H Smith sign an agreement for W H Smith to sell the ZX81 in its retail stores in England, for a trial 1-year period. [285.93]
September 24

  • In Boston, Massachussettes, IBM announces it has produced a memory chip that can store 288,000 bits. [1159.D3]
October 12

  • Advanced Micro Devices and Intel sign a 10-year technology exchange agreement centering on Intel’s x86 microprocessor architecture. [732.73] [1160.D4] (1982 [141] [659.7])

  • IBM begins shipping the IBM PC, ahead of schedule. [264.296] [606.26] [620.110] [1164.52] [1256.139] [1639.105]
  • Texas Instruments launches the TexNet network service for TI-99/4a users. At up to 300 bps, users can download articles and games. Cost is US$100 for setup, and US$5.75-7.75 per hour access time. [1644.150]
  • Logo Computer Systems of Canada completes a contract with Apple Computer, for Apple to distribute their version of the LOGO language. This is the first time Apple agrees to co-label a product with an outside supplier, and the first time Apple signs a contract with a supplier outside of the US. [615.120]
  • Digital Research acquires MT MicroSYSTEMS. [1167]
  • A senior scientist at Bell Telephone Laboratories declares that video monitors pose no health hazard due to radiation exposure. [558.138]
  • The 200,000th copy of VisiCalc is sold. [1299.184]
October 19

  • Digital Equipment announces its entry into the personal computer field, with attachments for their VT-100 terminals: a card with 8-bit microprocessor, two floppy disk drives, and 64 kB RAM. The system will run CP/M operating system, and cost about US$2400. [1161.D4]
October 22

  • Texas Instruments announces it will sell a new line of four small business desktop computers, with 64 kB RAM, costing US$6200-9900. [1163.D4]
(month unknown)

  • David Bunnell starts PC Magazine, in San Francisco, California. [620.109]
November 9

  • Apple Computer officially re-introduces the Apple III, with base price $3495, improved sockets for chips, updated software, memory expansion up to 256 kB, and optional $3495 ProFile 5MB Seagate ST506 hard disk. [266.239] [2605.43]
November 10

  • Panasonic introduces The Link handheld computer, the size of a small book, with a keyboard but no display. It can be hooked up to a television or to a host computer via a telephone dial-up connection. Price is US$500-600. [1807.D5]

  • Novell Data Systems ships the Novell Data Management Computer, with the ability to share its hard drive space with other computers through software control and network cards. [548.432]
  • Apple Computer signs a secret agreement with Apple Records (the record company started by the Beatles), allowing Apple Computer to use the “Apple” name for its business. Apple Computer agrees not to market audio/video products with recording or playback capabilities. [548.377] [597.102] [612.47] [1578.42] [2605.6]
  • Hitachi licenses GW-BASIC from Microsoft. “GW” stands for Gee Whiz. This is Microsoft’s first US$1 million single product licence. [1299.193]
  • Ashton-Tate ships the dBase II database program. [41] (January [346.261])
  • The COMDEX trade show is held. 23,000 attend the event, with 648 company booths. [203.19] [1303.37]
  • At COMDEX, Tecmar introduces 20 add-on peripherals for the IBM PC. Tecmar is the first such third-party developer for the IBM PC. [203.19] (26 products [606.28])
  • In England, Acorn Computer introduces the BBC Microcomputer System. It features a 2-MHz 6502A processor, 73-key keyboard, 16-color graphics, BBC BASIC in 32kB ROM, cassette tape interface, 4 sound channels, The Tube interface allowing a second processor. Model A comes with 16kB RAM and 320×256 screen resolution, for price of 235 pounds. Model B comes with 32kB RAM and 640×240 screen resolution, Centronics parallel port, disk drive port, Econet network port, for 335 pounds. Working name of the computer during development was Proton. [2287.90] [2583.127] (September [278.120])
  • Microsoft, Incorporated becomes Microsoft Corporation. [346.262]
(month unknown)

  • Bally licenses Commodore International to manufacture its arcade games into cartridges for the VIC-20 computer. [279.6]
  • Sinclair Research releases the Sinclair ZX Printer for the ZX81, costing 49.95 pounds. The printer uses aluminum-coated black paper, 4 inches wide. [2584.10]

  • In Canada, Murray Bell and Paul Barsley of Dynalogic create specifications for a microcomputer, which will become the Hyperion. [615.173]
  • Apple Computer begins shipping the updated Apple III computer. [2605.43]
  • Intel ships the 8087 math coprocessor. [446.504]
(month unknown)

  • Microsoft begins upgrade work on DOS 1.1. [1149.215]
  • The word “backslash” first appears in print, in the January 1982 issue of Byte magazine. [1056.372]
  • Microsoft releases Microsoft BASIC v5, known as GW-BASIC. [949.300] (1982 spring [346.262])
December 31

  • Shipments of floppy disks to date: over 250 million. [971.F9]

  • Shipments of floppy disks during the year: about 130 million. [971.F9]
  • Shipments of personal computers worldwide during the year: 1.4 million, worth US$3 billion. [1559] (900,000 computers [1])
  • Shipments of Sinclair Research ZX81 computers during the year: 250,000. [281.6] [394.418]
  • Shipments of personal computers in the US during the year: 671,537. [1298.7] (800,000 [1644.149])
  • Market share of personal computers: Radio Shack 20%, Apple Computer 17%, IBM 1.9%. [1316.S3.1]
  • Sales of home computers in US: about 600,000. [977.29]
  • Unit sales of home computers during the year: 1.8 million. [1189.D1]
  • US households with computers: 0.5 percent. [1040.D6]
  • Sales of computers under US$1000: US$168 million. [1040.D6]
  • Sales of computers priced at US$1000-$5000: US$1.4 billion. [1040.D6]
  • Shipments of IBM PC computers to date: 13,533, valued at US$40-50 million. [606.28] [1060.S3.4] [1149.215] (20,000 [203.18]) (6500 [1702.157])


End of 1981. Next: 1982.

1947-1968 1969-1971 1972-1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981
1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991
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2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008-end


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