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IBM PC Announcement 1981
Transcript of Software Arts staff meeting on August 12, 1981, reading and reacting to the material from IBM announcing their new Personal Computer.
On August 12, 1981, the day the IBM PC was announced, VisiCalc's developers, Software Arts, held a staff meeting to go over what was happening. Like most of our full staff meetings, it was videotaped with home video equipment so employees that missed it could watch it later. Little did we realize that a segment of this tape would appear as part of PBS's Triumph of the Nerds TV documentary 15 years later. PBS people told me that at the time they put the show together it was the only appropriate video they could find from that day. Here's a picture from the tape:
The meeting was in our air conditioned computer room and I do most of the talking for this part of the meeting. What follows is a transcript I made to commemorate the 20th anniversary. I've put some annotations that should help you understand the transcript better in "Notes About the IBM PC Announcement 1981".
Dan: We called this staff meeting for several reasons. One, so I can get laryngitis, yes... If we turn it [the air conditioner making so much noise] down... the temperature of the Prime [(the minicomputer used to run the company and do development)] has been rising over the last half hour. You have to watch it carefully. If you want to turn it off for a few minutes, you can, but if we can't do the whole meeting... [Comments] I'll move up.
Julian: The Prime is getting excited over the announcement.
Dan: Yeah... Here we go. Is that better? [adjusts lapel microphone] This is so that if you miss it, you can hear it again later. [Laughter]
We're calling this staff meeting for a couple of reasons. But the reason we're calling it right now is that it was the first time we felt that we could all get together after we got a package in the mail from the people down in Florida, which [noise of taking things out of an envelope]...has a picture like this on it [Excitement]. Supposedly, maybe at this very moment, IBM is announcing the Personal Computer. We don't know that yet. Until we know that we can't tell anybody, but everybody here is supposed to know about it so we're allowed to tell you. They were nice enough to send us all their brochures, their press release, so we know everything that occurred, everything that they said. We're only allowed to tell people outside what they have publicly announced. They are not going to announce all the technical specs, which most people here don't know, so it doesn't affect you, and they are not going to announce some other things like that. Not all the prices have been announced. They announced quite a bit. Barbara right now is finishing collating a copy for everybody of the press release, the letter that came with it from them, and a few highlights of some of these brochures. Just to show you one of them, here's one that says VisiCalc on the front, and on the back it says VisiCalc is copyrighted by Software Arts [positive reaction from audience], and there is some more on the hardware.
There is only one place that I found where they mentioned what processor chip is being used, if people ask you that, but they did mention it on this and you are getting a copy of it so you'll know. OK?
The letter comes addressed to Bob. It says, "Dear Mr. Frankston: I am very pleased to share the IBM Personal Computer announcement information with you. I think you will agree our cooperative efforts have resulted in an outstanding product of which we all can be proud. Please note that the attached information is not to be disclosed prior to any public announcement."
[Voice from the back of the room] It's on the ticker.
Dan: It's on the ticker? OK. So now you can tell people. [Laughter and excited sounds from the audience] "If this information should become available to the public prior to a coordinated public announcement, it could seriously detract from the overall success of our joint efforts. This information is furnished under the provisions of the existing confidential disclosure and other agreements between IBM and your company related to restrictions on disclosure," (which most of you have read). "Following the product announcement, you may wish to refer to the press release, fact sheet, and promotional brochures in answering any questions from the public concerning the product. Anyone with questions requiring more detailed technical information than provided by the announcement material should be referred to IBM. It is our intent not to provide a more detailed technical description until the product is made available to the public." (In other words, any more than is in here you are not supposed to tell people, you are not allowed to tell anybody.) "On behalf of all of us who have worked with you and your people, we would like to thank you for your efforts in making the announcement possible. Please pass on our sincere appreciation to your staff. If there are any questions that you may have about this information please feel free to contact me..." dah, dih, dah.
Bob: [something about an IBM employee in Yorktown calling to find out more about the machine] Audience: [laughter] They called us?
Dan: I'll read just a little bit of the press release. You can read it in detail when we get them. It's datelined New York, August 12th. "IBM Corporation today announced its smallest lowest priced computer system, the IBM Personal Computer. Designed for business, school, and home, the easy to use system sells for as little as $1,565."
Audience: Whoa! [some clapping]
Dan: Dah, dah, dah, dih, dahtah, dah. "Sold through participating Computerland dealers and Sears Roebuck and Company's new Business Machines stores, beginning this fall." It's also going to be sold through IBM Product Centers and a special sales unit of their own division. It says here software for it, it has BASIC from Microsoft, it'll cover popular business and home applications, for example Easywriter will store letters, manuscripts, and other text for editing or rapid reproduction on the printer. Businesses can use an accounting system, it's Peachtree, it generates balance sheets, tracks accounts, and automatically prints checks. VisiCalc (trademark) is available for applications ranging from financial analysis to budget planning. Microsoft Adventure brings players into a fantasy world of caves and treasures. [Lots of laughter.] OK. They've also contracted with Digital Research and Softech Microsystems to put CP/M-86 and UCSD Pascal on the machine.
Here's the interesting part to a lot of people. "The IBM Personal Computer can be tailored to fit the user's needs. A basic system for home use attached to an audio tape cassette player and a television set, would sell for approximately $1,565 in IBM Product Centers", meaning it may be discounted elsewhere, "while a more typical system for home or school with a memory of 64K bytes, a single diskette drive and its own display would be priced around $3,005." [Audience: Whoa! Some talk. "$3,005?" "Around..."] "$3,005. An expanded system for business with color graphics, two diskette drives, and a printer," it appears to be the Epson printer, "would cost about $4,500." [Audience: Surprise.] Pretty competitive! "The IBM Personal Computer was developed at the Information Systems Division in Boca Raton, Florida," that's why nobody else knows about it, "facility, and first deliveries will be scheduled for October." OK, so that's, and it weighs this much, and it's this big, and whatever. [Bob: I need to see what is says about it...] Everybody is going to get a copy of this to see all this stuff.
"Applications Software: VisiCalc is a problem solving package for financial mathematical forecasting, computation, all data is arranged in a grid of 63," dah, dih, dah, "what-if, VisiCalc has vertical or horizontal scrolling, easy cursor and ability to vary formats." [Question: How much is VisiCalc going to cost?] It doesn't say. The other thing is that they released another press release that "IBM to publish user generated programs for personal computers". "Computer program authors who write applications for the IBM Personal Computer may have them considered for publication by the company's new Personal Computer Software Publishing Department. IBM employees, external authors, professional programmers to hobbyists, can submit programs for consideration." [Audience: DEC's had that for 15 years] Rumors that we hear, not from IBM, that are not confirmed, are that they have reserved a goodly number of machines for internal use, so there will be machines around that people can play with. "Packets to tell you all about that will be available for outside authors about September 30th" and they give an address to write to. It says elsewhere in here that their people will write it on their free time. [Laughter]
So here's the VisiCalc brochure, which Jeff has already pointed out that the screen is a little strange. Some of the things have moved around from where they really are in VisiCalc, but it's good enough.
Hardware, shows the hardware, picture of VisiCalc, same one I think. [Audience: It was the only one they had running?] Well no, they have another one, but it's the best one they had though. [Looking through brochures] General Ledger by Peachtree, you know, Accounts Payable by Peachtree. [Audience: They mention Peachtree?] Yes. All of them say copyright on the back by whoever copyrighted it, like Easywriter by Information Unlimited. Peachtree got them to put "by Peachtree Software Incorporated" in the front, it appears to be because everybody else has a name on the front that is their own trademark, but Peachtree Accounts Payable is not their paid trademark. They have Accounts Payable, General Ledger, Accounts Receivable. Communications, which is a way of using it as a terminal. [Question.] We don't know, it appears to be theirs, it doesn't have... "The modem shown is for illustration purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement by IBM," dah dih dah, get your own. [Audience comments.] On the back of the home one it says "the television set shown is for illustration purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement by IBM." Easywriter, Adventure, Software. When they show software, of course inside: VisiCalc picture, VisiCalc picture. On the front they have Easywriter, they have Easywriter the front. [Audience: Dan, who did they credit Adventure with?] Adventure is credited to, Adventure is copyrighted by Microsoft. [Audience: Microsoft?] It's Microsoft Adventure, it says on the front. "At Work" [Going through the brochure.] VisiCalc on the front, VisiCalc in the middle, VisiCalc in the very middle. This picture you're going to get a copy of. And VisiCalc on the back.
"For Learning", this is for home use. No, this is for learning use, you see people here, it has a person sitting here answering questions. "Question: Question mark. Picasso was: (A) an engineer, (B) a musician, (C) a painter, (D) a computer programmer. Answer: (C). Excellent." [Laughter] Was "excellent" spelled right? [Julian: Looks like excellent is spelled "A N T"]. So, here we go. You have to have this picture. The wife adoringly holding onto the husband who is challenged by it as the kid gets it to play music or something. Ah, VisiCalc, VisiCalc, VisiCalc, VisiCalc, um, Picasso, Picasso again over here, and a picture of the keyboard playing music again over here.
Don't take these, they are our only copies. The one of VisiCalc you'll get both sides of this, the one of the hardware where it lists all the details over here that includes the fact that it's an 8088, you'll get a copy of that. If you want copies of any others we can make them in the front.
That's it about the IBM announcement.
We have some other announcements. [Julian: Does everybody know that HP...?]
Oh, HP announced the Apogee, called the HP-125 yesterday officially. It was in the Globe. The Globe...it was also in InfoWorld who did notice that it was the first time we had a VisiCalc on CP/M. The Globe, good old Ron Rosenberg, he says that, you know, you can buy it for this much, and then if you do this it raises the price to $10,000, ah, $10,600, and if you buy it with VisiCalc that "jumps" the price to $10,800 or something, so it's $200 on the Apogee. That machine is now out, and has been shown around. If you would like to see the brochure on it, there is a one-paged blurb on it that mentions VisiCalc. We have a copy of that. [Question: Where will this stuff be kept?] This? Julian will be keeper of it for now. Julian is the keeper of all this stuff. [Julian: There's going to be a locker that someone has made...its going to carry it around with me...in a suitcase.] We will try to get more. They were nice enough to send us this. We got it, was it, Monday? It came Monday, afternoon.
[Julian: Anyone who wants copies of anything, just...] The full press release you are going to get and that letter telling you. Remember you are not allowed to say any more than what it says in the thing, but since it appears it has been, it has been announced, you can say whatever it says on the press release and stuff, [Julian: That's a good reason to read the press release fairly carefully at least once through so you know what you can say.]
The machine is still secret. It has to be, we are not to say we have a machine, we can't show anybody the machine until it's generally available, and we can't use it for anything except for VisiCalc, that's still is the way that it is. [Audience] Yeah. [Audience] Can we run Adventure on it? [Laughter] I think that after Lisa did so well at getting PSI to get our name on the front maybe can see if she can get us a copy of Easywriter and Adventure. It would be a good thing to try.
[End of that part of our meeting -- the rest was about moving to a different building. In the middle of that part someone mentions that Dick Shaffer of the Wall Street Journal had called to ask questions.
To better understand this transcript, read the commentary in "Notes About the IBM PC Announcement 1981". Also, see my "Thoughts on the 20th Anniversary of the IBM PC".]
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