What is a personal computer?


A person from the 1950s might mention the IBM 610 (1957) as a personal computer, or the LGP-30 (1956). Both being examples of “Desk Computers.”

Another similar desktop-sized computer is the UNIVAC 422 (1963). This system was demonstrated in a TV episode:

All these systems are personal in the sense that a single person can sit down and operate the system. But not very practical (for an individual) in terms of acquisition cost, physical installation, and maintenance.

Others define a personal computer as a smaller, more self-contained (the input, processor, and output being one standard unit rather than a hodge-podge of items), such that it can function “in your personal space” (such as a small room at home or office). A personal computer does not necessarily need to be portable, but it should be reasonably easy to relocate the system (such as to another room) within a few minutes. Such a computer would likely fit in the backseat or trunk of a car.

It wasn’t until the 1980s that artist, musicians, writers and “non-technical persons” made much use of computers. The work of operating systems (managing processes and files) was largely completed, and much more sophisticated application-software emerged: paint programs, astronomy models, simulations and games, genealogy programs, music synthesizers, CAD design, animation software, and online systems like CompuServe to e-mail others and check weather — all far beyond what anyone had imagined microcomputers could be used for.

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