This Month in Tech History: August

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The month of August sees the birth of classic computers, unlikely tech alliances, and the latest chapter in the saga of one of Silicon Valley’s greatest leaders. Read on for details.

August 3, 1977: Radio Shack releases TRS-80

A TRS-80 computer in a museum
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1977 saw the release of three nascent pioneers of the home computer industry: the Apple II, the Commodore PET, and the TRS-80. The latter was the brainchild of Radio Shack employee Don French when he was inspired to design his own personal computer after purchasing a kit for MITS Altair.

French introduced the concept of selling home computers to Radio Shack vice president John Roach. The pair then traveled to California to visit National Semiconductor and ended up recruiting one of their disgruntled workers, Steve Leininger, for the project. In February 1977, his prototype received the blessing of the CEO of Tandy Corporation (the parent company of Radio Shack), Charles Tandy, and the computer was named “Tandy Radio Shack, Z-80”, abbreviated as TRS-80.

The TRS-80 exceeded Radio Shack’s highest expectations. The company only expected to sell the computers by the hundreds. Instead, the TRS-80 sold more than 10,000 units in its first month. It went on to sell over 100,000 before the end of 1977. It outsold both the Apple II and the Commodore PET by a huge margin.

The success of the TRS-80 prompted Radio Shack to release a full line of home computers. The company released the TRS-80 Model II in 1979 and the Model III in 1980. By the time Radio Shack retired the line in the early 1990s, the company had sold almost two and a half million units.

August 6, 1997: Microsoft invests $150 million in Apple

Apple’s resurrection as a profitable company in the late 1990s would not have been possible without the help of its longtime rival, Microsoft. After Apple’s board of directors named the recently rehired Steve Jobs as interim CEO, it instituted sweeping changes across the company to address deep-seated issues that were demolishing Apple’s bottom line. But he needed cash to keep the company afloat. So he did the previously unthinkable and approached Microsoft CEO Bill Gates for a significant investment.

The deal made sense to Gates, who saw Apple as a more valuable partner than a nemesis. As Steve Job said during the investment announcement at Macworld Expo in 1997, “If we want to move forward and see Apple healthy and thriving again, we have to let go of the notion that for Apple to win, Microsoft has to lose.”

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In exchange for the $150 million, Microsoft received 150,000 non-voting shares of Apple stock. Gate’s company has also agreed to support Microsoft Office for Mac for at least five years. The tactic worked, and Apple was once again a thriving company. Microsoft sold all of its Apple stock in 2005, netting the company $550 million.

August 12, 1981: IBM Personal Computer goes on sale

An IBM 5160 personal computer on a white background
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As its name suggests, International Business Machines sells business-grade computers to corporations. However, in the late 1970s, IBM saw its profits decline in its core business and turned to the nascent personal computer market. In 1980, company executives assigned lab director Bill Lowe to create a task force to design a home computer that would rival Apple, Commodore, and Radio Shack products.

Within a year, the team of 12 delivered the IBM personal computer. The machine featured an open architecture, unlike competing proprietary operating systems, allowing companies and individuals to design compatible software and peripherals. When the machine went on sale, it was an instant success, selling over four billion dollars worth of computers by 1984.

The sheer number of units sold outpaced dominant competitors Apple, Commodore, and Radio Shack. It wasn’t long before the terms “personal computer” and “PC” became shorthand for IBM machines. For the rest of the 1980s, the personal computer was the de facto industry standard for home computing machines. Many companies began to base their designs on the IBM PC, giving rise to the terms “IBM compatible” and “IBM clone”.

Unfortunately, IBM’s dominance did not last long. As early as 1986, its reign began to decline in the face of the fiercely competitive atmosphere of Silicon Valley in the 1980s. The decline continued through the 1990s, and the company officially left the personal computer industry in 2005 when Lenovo acquired the group. of IBM PCs.

August 16, 1995: Internet Explorer released

Microsoft realized the potential of the World Wide Web early on and commissioned Thomas Reardon to lead a team of six Microsoft software engineers to develop Internet Explorer in 1994. The first version of the software debuted in Microsoft Plus! add-on package for Windows 95 a year later. The company released later versions for Windows 3.1 and Windows NT in late 1995.

Although adoption caught on quickly, it wasn’t until Microsoft included Internet Explorer 3.0 in new copies of Windows in 1996 that Microsoft began to dominate the browser market. The inclusion of Explorer with Windows for free dealt a heavy blow to early browsers like Netscape Navigator and led to the browser wars of the late 1990s. Leaving its competitors behind, Explorer reached a peak market share of 95 percent. % in 2003.

The success of Internet Explorer led competitors to claim that Microsoft violated US antitrust laws. A subsequent investigation by the United States Department of Justice resulted in the government attempting to break up the company. After a trial and subsequent appeals, the District Court for the District of Columbia held that Microsoft had, in fact, used its monopoly powers illegally. Microsoft agreed to a deal in which it would allow users to uninstall Explorer and allow other PC manufacturers to install competing browsers.

The deal had no immediate impact on Internet Explorer’s dominance. However, competition from new browsers, including Firefox and Google Chrome, eroded Microsoft’s market share. As the use of Internet Explorer declined during the 2000s and 2010s, the company developed a new browser, Microsoft Edge, to replace Explorer. Microsoft officially ended support for the final version of the software on June 15, 2022.

August 18, 1947: Hewlett-Packard Incorporated

A wooden garage that served as HP's original headquarters

One of the oldest and most respected IT companies in the world saw its beginnings when Stafford University students Bill Hewlett and David Packard became close friends during a two-week camping trip in 1934. The duo studied the professor engineering Frederick Terman, often cited as one of the founders of Silicon Valley. After graduation, Terman mentored Hewlett and Packard during the initial phase of their new company in the late 1930s.

After deciding on their company name by flipping a coin, the partners worked to build Hewlett-Packard in a rented garage near Stanford University. Not only was this the first technology company to start in a garage, but the building is recognized by the National Register of Historic Places as the birthplace of Silicon Valley.

One of the company’s early customers was the Walt Disney Company, which purchased 12 of HP’s major products, an audio oscillator used to test theater sound systems for the release of the movie Fantasia. The company went on to develop products for use in the American war effort during the 1940s.

Hewlett-Packard was formally incorporated in 1947, nine years after its founding, and became a publicly traded company in 1957. However, it wasn’t until the 1960s that the company began manufacturing what would become better known. , computer technology. And the company would prove to be a powerhouse, developing many of the products we take for granted today. The company grew so large in 2015 that it was forced to split into two corporations: HP Inc. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

August 24, 2011: Steve Jobs resigns

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple as an adviser in 1997, it was unclear whether he intended to orchestrate a boardroom coup to oust then-CEO Gil Amelio and seize control of the company he founded. However, once that was accomplished, Jobs set out on a journey to transform Apple from a company on the brink of bankruptcy into one of the largest corporations the world has ever known.

Under Job’s leadership, the company not only shut down failing product lines, but also pioneered multiple new creations that shaped technology in the 21st century. The introduction of the iMac and Mac OS X brought Apple’s computer business back to profitability. iTunes and the iPod revolutionized the way the world buys and listens to music. The iPhone redefined what a smartphone was and set the standard that all other manufacturers would soon follow. And the iPad was a crucial development in tablets, again setting a model for other tech companies to emulate.

When Jobs was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2003, he vowed to stay with the company as long as his health allowed. He initially sought homeopathic treatment for the disease. When that failed to stop the spread of the cancer, he underwent surgery in mid-2005. And after years of widespread speculation about the state of his health, he took a six-month leave of absence from Apple to receive a liver transplant in 2009. Then, after a year-long period of apparently good health, Jobs was granted another furlough. of absence at the beginning of 2011. He resigned from his position as CEO in August of that year, remaining as chairman of the board, a position he held until the day before his death six weeks later. He was 56 years old.

His successor as CEO, Tim Cook, led Apple on Job’s trajectory, and in 2018, Apple became the most valuable company in the world.