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  • From Mainframes to Smartphones: A History of the International Computer Industry by Martin Campbell-Kelly and Daniel D. Garcia-Swartz
  • Devin Kennedy
Martin Campbell-Kelly and Daniel D. Garcia-Swartz. From Mainframes to Smartphones: A History of the International Computer Industry. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015. 240 pp. ISBN-13 978-0-674-72906-3, $45.00 (cloth).

Martin Campbell-Kelly and Daniel D. Garcia-Swartz provide a comprehensive overview of the historical organization and principal businesses in the computer industry over a sixty-year period. The authors describe an industry that has always been international and subject to regular reorganizations brought on by new technologies and contests over compatibility standards, as well as changing trade policies and government supports.

The book is organized into four parts, each covering a fifteen-year period. These periods correspond to eras in computer technology, beginning with early computers, followed by mainframes, personal computers (PCs), and finally the commercial Internet. These periods are chosen to emphasize changes in the history of compatibility standards and business responses to them: from an era of "no standards," to two periods dominated by standards established by IBM, and finally to the Internet era with its multiple competing hardware and software standards.

Part I covers early commercial computers from 1950 to 1965. The authors describe the range of participants in the early market in the United States, but also in France, Britain, West Germany, and Japan. It was an era of no standards: computer companies came from diverse industries—electrical manufacturers, office-equipment companies, and computer-specific start-ups—and offered highly differentiated products and services. The authors argue that the U.S. computer industry in general, but IBM in particular, had early advantages. IBM was "always one step ahead relative to its European peers, both in incorporating electronics into traditional data-processing equipment and in exploring the possibilities of digital computers" (p. 53). There was strong domestic demand from the U.S. government, and IBM had a number of crucial "organizational capabilities," including its sales force, service operations, and experience in electromechanical manufacturing, system integration, and installation (p. 39).

Part II centers on the mainframe era from 1965 to 1980, and the international response to the IBM System/360 mainframe product line. The System/360 was "a family of compatible computers across the performance range." The authors show how the standard inspired three responses among U.S., European, and Japanese firms: (1) they created their own, internally compatible but IBM-incompatible families of machines; (2) they produced computers that could use [End Page 519] IBM software; or (3) they focused on niches not occupied by IBM, including, for instance, scientific computing.

Part III examines the period from 1980 to 1995 and describes industry responses to the personal computer and the IBM-compatible PC standard, which consisted of the Microsoft operating software MS-DOS and Intel microprocessors. IBM facilitated the establishment of the standard, but did not own the technologies itself, and as a result, Microsoft and Intel sold their products to a number of companies, including Dell and Compaq. These "clone-makers" created compatible machines that undercut IBM on price performance. Meanwhile, others, like Apple, chose to produce their own family of incompatible devices. Several important software companies and products accelerated PC demand in general, and often the dominance of the IBM standard as well, including Microsoft Office, early "consumer online services," and productivity software for small-scale database management, spreadsheet work, and word processing.

It was during this period that a new cohort of countries, including South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan (PRC) entered the industry, which had been intensely focused in western Europe and Japan up to this point. They were bolstered by national industrial policies, wage differentials, and the modular nature of the PC. Other international developments during this period were government support for "national champion" computer companies, including the rise of "open standards" in Britain (ICL) and France (Groupe Bull); continued competition between IBM and Japanese companies; and the beginning of IBM's decline as a result of the "commoditization of mainframes" (p. 150).

The final part of the book centers on the era of the Internet from 1995 to 2010 and...


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pp. 519-521
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