5150: Things an IBM PC 5150 Can Be Used For (in the 21st century)


The B in IBM means Business. That means numbers, calculations, sorting, databases. All things the IBM brand had been known for since the 1950s: accounting, inventory/logistics, route optimization, volume/material computations, amortization modeling…

VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet program, was first made available on the Apple 2 in 1979. Then it was subsequently available on the Commodore PET in 1980. The success of VisiCalc likely contributed to IBM taking notice of the potential of home/office computing, a market it had previously ignored throughout the 1970s.

And so, the IBM PC 5150 was quickly developed and launched in 1981. The very name “PC” (Personal Computer) sent a dominating signal throughout the industry. The IBM brand was trusted and everyone knew it meant Business.

While 1981 was a bit of a rough first year for the IBM PC, the system did quickly mature after attracting a following of developers. By 1983, after some BIOS revisions, the system was rapidly gaining market appeal.

Here are a few things you can use this old system for…

  • Run Lotus 1-2-3 (spreadsheets) [or VisiCalc, SuperCalc, TinyCalc] for no nonsense calculating (no lag, no forced updates, no ads, just a super-duper personal calculator)
  • Play MOD music (yes, even at 4.77MHz) (will need 512KB and a SoundBlaster)
  • A few games (even at 64KB or 256KB) [BEAST is one of my favorites, once you understand how to play]
  • Network with BBSs, IRC, telnet, FTP (need 512KB RAM)
  • Use your system as an alarm clock
  • Write notes or logs that nobody is going to be able to access (no cookies, no spyware, no remote access), could also be a safe place to archive crypto private keys and account passwords

These are samples of the more interesting (and actually useful) things that an IBM PC 5150 can be tasked to do. Other less interesting features include:

  • Exercise bootup ROM BASIC and demonstrate use of Tape Cassette data storage
  • Exercise the serial port to control external devices
  • Demonstrate direct hardware access and having full control of the system, similar to an embedded processor (experience “real mode” as opposed to more modern “protected mode”)
  • Borland Turbo Pascal and C compiler: a very popular development environment used throughout the 1980s
  • DESQView multi-tasking: you actually can multi-task under MS-DOS (generally limited to text-based applications, like file management, text-editing, and a terminal connection)

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