Several Reboots Later, The IBM PC Turns 30

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Thirty years ago this week, IBM released the first personal computer. It was a computer designed for the average American, and the average American couldn't get enough of it. Guest host Jacki Lyden talks to Dr. Dave Bradley, one of the 12 engineers who designed the original IBM personal computer and who also invented the control-alt-delete function.

JACKI LYDEN, host: Thirty years ago this week, IBM released the first personal computer. Unlike the number-crunching behemoths of the 1970s, the new machine was sleek and affordable. It used the newest technology of the day, called floppy discs, and the operating system was made by a little company in Seattle named Microsoft.

It was a computer designed for the average American, and the average American couldn't get enough of it. IBM would sell more than 3 million personal computers over the next five years, and the world never looked back.

Dave Bradley was one of the engineers who worked on the original IBM personal computer. And he joins us from member station WUNC in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Dr. Bradley, welcome to the program.

DR. DAVE BRADLEY: Thank you for inviting me.

LYDEN: So I'd love for you to take us back to the atmosphere at IBM. You helped design the personal computer. That was the very beginning of the beginning, in 1980. What was that like?

BRADLEY: For an engineer, it was a really great project to be part of because we got to do our own thing. We were separated from the rest of the IBM bureaucracy. We started with a clean sheet of paper, so we could design anything we thought was the right thing. We just had to make it high enough quality that the IBM Corporation would accept it and put their brand on it. And do it in one year - that was the real challenge.

LYDEN: Now, Dave Bradley, you're also known as the father of the control-alt-delete, one of my favorite keyboard functions. It seems so fundamental now. What purpose did you imagine control-alt-delete would serve when you invented it?

BRADLEY: When we first did it, it was because things would break and you wanted to reset the computer quickly. It wasn't intended to be a cultural icon, just a quick fix - one of the hundreds of things we had to do while we were developing the PC.

LYDEN: Do you still see the same basic ideas that you guys - and I think it was mostly guys - at IBM were coming up with 30 years ago, in the newer computers on the market now?�

BRADLEY: Well, first of all, the out of the original 12 engineers that started in September of 1980, Patty McHugh was a girl engineer and she was, at times, called the mother of the motherboard. And as I tell people, if you stand about 50 yards away and look at the PC and look at today's desktop PCs, it looks the same. But once you open up the covers, they're completely different.

LYDEN: I just have to ask you, having done something like this, do you think this is the greatest thing you've ever done?

BRADLEY: One of the niftiest things that happened was that I was the answer on Final Jeopardy once. And if we can just get Will Shortz to put me in the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle, all my life's ambitions will be met.

LYDEN: I think I know a few people who might be able to talk to him.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LYDEN: Thank you so much.

BRADLEY: Thank you.

LYDEN: Dave Bradley - he's one of the engineers who worked on the original IBM personal computer.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LYDEN: This is NPR News.

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