William C. Lowe, the man behind IBM’s first PCs, has died of a heart attack, aged 72. Lowe led a team which created the IBM Personal Computer model 5150, introduced on 12th August 1981. The system used an Intel 8088 processor, an operating system called MS-DOS 1.0 and cost $1,565 without a monitor.
Lowe began his career at IBM in 1962 as a test engineer. In 1980 he put an idea to the IBM management to create an IBM personal computer within a year. He headed up a team of 12 hardware, software, manufacturing and sales specialists to tackle this task. This wasn’t the first ever ‘PC’ as the term, simply an abbreviation of ‘Personal Computer’, had been in use for years before. However the IBM PC became an instant success due to its capabilities, expandability and its keen pricing. In the first year after its launch over 250,000 IBM PCs were sold.
IBM PC 5150 specifications:
- Intel 8088 microprocessor @ 4.77 MHz
- 40K of read-only memory
- 16K of user memory (expandable to 256K)
- 83 key keyboard including number pad and 6ft coiled cable
- Cassette player jack
- Built-in speaker
- MS DOS and BASIC, VisiCalc and EasyWriter
- Five expansion slots for memory, display, game paddles, printing connections
- Options: printer, 16 colour monitor, 32K and 64K memory expansion cards, diskette drive, RS-232C communications adaptor
IBM PC component and software suppliers Intel and Microsoft benefitted greatly from the take off of the IBM 5150, the subsequent models and growth of the IBM PC clone industry. In 1985 an open architecture concept was agreed between IBM and Microsoft for the benefit of customers. This decision allowed rival manufacturers, like Dell and HP, to build IBM compatibles, which would cannibalise IBM’s own PC sales but boost the industry as a whole.
After some criticism for the open architecture decision and his attempts to beat IBM PC clone competition using new hardware and software enhancements didn’t really come off Lowe left IBM in 1988 to work at Xerox. A few years later he became president of corporate jet manufacturer GulfStream Aerospace Corporation.
Mr Lowe is survived by his wife, Cristina, five children and ten grandchildren.