Friday, 1 November 2013

William Lowe

William Lowe has died aged 72. You may not have heard of him, but you will have heard of the product he developed.

In 1980 Lowe was working for IBM in Florida. Seeing a gap in the market, he persuaded IBM management to let a small team of a dozen people create a personal computer. He thought it was vital for the team to be free of the rigorous controls and corporate culture the company mandated for projects.

IBM reluctantly agreed. The company had tried twice before to make a personal computer, and each project had ended in failure. Lowe's small tiger team succeeded in creating what is now known as the IBM PC.

For speed, they decide to buy an operating system, eventually settling on one from a small company run by a certain Bill Gates. For speed, they decided to use components from companies outside of IBM, such as Intel's 8088 processor. Lowe also decided that the new computer would have an open architecture, allowing the user to expand it. Again, this was contrary to IBM practice.

These decisions made it feasible for other companies to make computers that ran the same software, enabling the entire IBM PC-compatible industry. In my mind Lowe's decision to break away from IBM corporate culture was one of the defining moments in the computer industry. In this, he was far more influential than even Steve Jobs.