Lade Inhalt...

Applying Rogers' diffusion framework to explain the successful diffusion of the IBM PC in the 1980s

Essay 2019 6 Seiten

Informatik - Technische Informatik


Table of contents


OPEN ARCHITECTURE (Relative Advantage)
Modular design (Trialability)
Open system (Complexity)
Forward & Backward compatibility (Compatibility)
Standardization (Complexity & Compatibility)
Domination of the Clones (Observability)



For my essay, I will be addressing topic 1; Applying Rogers’ diffusion framework: “Use Rogers’ 5 characteristics of innovations to explain the successful diffusion of the IBM PC in the 1980s.”

I will define the 5 characteristics or perceived attributes of innovations as defined by Everett M. Rogers in his book, ‘Diffusion of Innovations’; and discuss the successful diffusion of the IBM PC in the 1980’s using these perceived attributes:

1. Relative Advantage
2. Compatibility
3. Complexity
4. Trialability
5. Observability

I will conclude by discussing the influences of the IBM PC on the personal computer industry.


Relative advantage (sometimes called competitive advantage) – is the perception of the innovation. Is it better or worse than what we were doing before? The degree to which an innovation is perceived as better than the idea it supersedes. The degree of relative advantage may be measured in economic terms, social prestige factors, convenience and satisfaction. The greater the perceived relative advantage of an innovation, the more rapid the rate of adoption will be. (1)

In 1980, almost all personal computers used one of two CPUs available on the market: the MOS 6502 and the Zilog Z80 which were 8-bit chips capable of addressing only 64K of memory. However the IBM PC 5150 used an Intel 8088 CPU, which was a hybrid 8-bit/16-bit chip capable of addressing 1MB of memory; increasing its relative advantage over competing PC’s like the Apple II which had a MOS 6502 and the TRS-80 which had a Zilog Z80.(2)(3)(4)

The fact that it was IBM that built the system again increased its relative advantage as IBM’s brand value and reputation in business computing had been extremely positive ever since their founding in 1911. A phrase said in the technology sector is “Nobody gets fired for buying IBM”, so you can see that IBM had marketed on this notion and by doing so; inadvertently initiated a level of standardization to the personal computer industry that has carried on to today.


Compatibility- compatibility with previous understandings and past ideas. The degree to which an innovation is perceived as being consistent with existing values, past experiences, and the needs of potential adopters. An idea that is incompatible with the norms and values of a social system will not be adopted as rapidly as an innovation that is compatible. The adoption of an incompatible innovation often requires the prior adoption of a new value system, which is a relatively slow process. (5)

The IBM PC 5150 used a choice of operating systems: MS-DOS developed by Microsoft, CP/M-86 developed by Digital Research and UCSD pascal-System developed by the University of California, San Diego. Because the IBM PC 5150 used an Intel 8088 (8/16-bit) CPU instead of an Intel 8086 (16-bit) CPU, IBM were able to reduce production cost, increase compatibility for certain hardware that required the 8-bit external data bus found on the 8088; but still take advantage of the upcoming 16-bit architecture era. (6)(7)

By 1983, IBM PC’s open system was so successful, many smaller companies begin creating IBM PC compatible computers without IBM’s approval. Compaq Computer Corporation released the Compaq Portable, a 100% IBM PC compatible system and in doing so, reinforced the idea of the IBM PC being the model for PC architecture and backward compatibility. (8)


Complexity- is how difficult it is to comprehend the innovation. The degree to which an innovation is perceived as difficult to understand and use. Some innovations are readily comprehended by most members of a social system; others are more complicated and are adopted more slowly. New ideas that are simpler to understand are adopted more rapidly than innovations that require the adopter to develop new skills and understandings. (9)

IBM published the PC's technical specifications, allowing third parties to create products for it, the $36 IBM PC Technical Reference Manual included complete circuit schematics, commented ROM BIOS source code, and other engineering and programming information for all of IBM's PC-related hardware, plus instructions on designing third-party peripherals. (10)

IBM also published a ‘Guide to Operations’ to help user’s setup and program the PC. This helped to reduce the complexity of the IBM PC and increase its compatibility with the needs of potential users and adopters. IBM marketed on this notion, and through their standardization and production methods reduced the complexity of not just their PC but for all PC’s to come. (11)(12)


Trialability- is how accessible is it for experimentation? The degree to which an innovation may be experimented with on a limited basis. New ideas that can be tried on the instalment plan will generally be adopted more quickly than innovations that are not divisible. An innovation that is trialable represents less uncertainty to the individual who is considering it for adoption, as it is possible to learn by doing. (13)

Some common types of trialability are:

- Samples - Trial products or services that are given out for free to a target market
- In-Store Display - Displays and demonstrations of products and services
- Showrooms - A physical place where consumers can explore your products and services

IBM created modular hardware design for the IBM PC, a set of interchangeable components that the user could put together in whatever combination suited their needs. Because IBM had no retail experience, they required a method of distribution to make the IBM PC available to a wide-ranging set of customers, so they turned to retail stores like ComputerLand; Sears and Roebuck & Co. And because retail stores receive revenue from repairing PC’s and providing warranty services, IBM broke a 70-year tradition by permitting and training non-IBM service personnel to fix the PC’s. This increased the trialability of the IBM PC and reduced its complexity. (14)


Observability- can you be seen doing or not doing it? Using or not using it? The degree to which the results of an innovation are visible to others. The easier it is for individuals to see the results of an innovation, the more likely they are to adopt it. (15)

In 1981, Apple ran a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal with a headline that read “Welcome IBM. Seriously.” This acknowledgment from one of IBM’s main rivals in the industry illustrated that the observability of the IBM PC 5150 was very high. By 1984 IBM had released the IBM XT (successor to IBM PC) and their market share of PC’s in the US was 63%. The term ‘IBM PC COMPATIBLE’ was coined giving way to a wave of IBM PC clones being produced by other smaller companies like Compaq Computer Corporation and Columbia Data Products; because IBM owned no special patents for the IBM PC. This again demonstrated that the observability of the IBM PC was very high. (16)



OPEN ARCHITECTURE (Relative Advantage)

By design, the IBM PC employed an open architecture intended to make adding, upgrading and swapping components easy. Although IBM may have chosen this type of computer architecture to speed up the development of the PC (it was said that if IBM had produced all the hardware/software in-house like they usually did, it would have taken up to 4 years to complete), in doing so they pioneered this type of development and computer architecture which has continued to this present day.

Modular design (Trialability)

Because the IBM PC was developed using a modular design approach, IBM were able to offer their prospective customers a wide variety of configurations for the PC; and were easily able to develop the next generation for the product line. This type of product lifecycle management is now essentially the standard in the industry.

Open system (Complexity)

The PC was an open system, it provided a combination of interoperability, portability and open software standards to encourage third party development of hardware and software for the PC. This choice would not just influence the personal computer industry, but also the young and up-coming computer software industry.

Forward & Backward compatibility (Compatibility)

By partnering up with Intel and using their 8088 CPU, IBM ensured that one of their systems properties would be full forward and backward compatibility. The x86 family of microprocessors would go on to become one of the most successful platforms in the personal computing industry, barring ARM architecture.

Standardization (Complexity & Compatibility)

By the 1990s, IBM PC architecture was being used to guide Japan’s personal computer industry into using an IBM PC-COMPATIBLE and open architecture. IBM sponsored the PC Open Architecture Developers' Group (OADG), a consortium of the major Japanese personal computer manufacturers: (17)

- Sharp Corporation
- Sony Corporation
- Toshiba Corporation
- IBM Japan
- Hitachi
- Fujitsu
- Panasonic Corporation

Domination of the Clones (Observability)

You don't ask whether a new machine is fast or slow, new technology or old. The first question is, "Is it PC compatible?"

—Creative Computing, November 1984 (18)

The IBM PC had been so successful, there was shortages of supply for them. This encouraged other companies to fill the gap in the market that was being established by IBM. By 1985, almost all rival business personal computer systems, and alternate x86 using architectures, had disappeared from the market. A flourishing PC clone industry emerged. The only other non-IBM PC-compatible systems that remained were those systems that were classified as home computers, such as the Apple II, or business systems that offered features not available on the IBM PC, such as a high level of integration or fault-tolerance and multi-user features. (19)

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten


1. (ROGERS, E. M. (1983, pp.15). Diffusion of innovations. New York, Free Press. [pdf] Available at: <> [Accessed 20th May 2019].)
2. (MOS TECHNOLOGY, INC., 1976. MCS6500 MICROCOMPUTER FAMILY HARDWARE MANUAL. [pdf] Available at: < > [Accessed 20th May 2019].)
3. (Zilog, 1976. Z80-CPU Technical Manual. [pdf] Available at: <> [Accessed 20th May 2019].)
4. (Intel, AUGUST 1981. iAPX 86, 88 USER'S MANUAL. [pdf] Available at: <> [Accessed 20th May 2019].)
5. (ROGERS, E. M. (1983, pp.15). Diffusion of innovations. New York, Free Press. [pdf] Available at: <> [Accessed 20th May 2019].)
6. (J.B. Williams, 2017. The Electronics Revolution: Inventing the Future, pp.156-158.)
7. (Michael Miller, AUG 11th, 2011. Why the IBM PC Used an Intel 8088, PCMag [e-column] Available at: <> [Accessed 20th May 2019].)
8. (Mark Dahmke, JAN, 1983. The Compaq Computer, Byte Magazine, 08(01), pp.30 [e-column] Available at: <> [Accessed 20th May 2019].)
9. (ROGERS, E. M. (1983, pp.15). Diffusion of innovations. New York, Free Press. [pdf] Available at: <> [Accessed 20th May 2019].)
10. (IBM, AUGUST 1981. IBM 5150 Technical Reference. [pdf] Available at: <> [Accessed 20th May 2019].)
11. (IBM, AUGUST 1981. IBM 5150 Guide to Operations. [pdf] Available at: <> [Accessed 20th May 2019].)
12. (IBM, FEB-MAR 1982. Presenting the IBM of Personal Computers, PC Magazine, pp. inside front cover [Advertisement] Available at: < > [Accessed 20th May 2019].)
13. (ROGERS, E. M. (1983, pp.15). Diffusion of innovations. New York, Free Press. [pdf] Available at: <> [Accessed 20th May 2019].)
14. (IBM, IBM Archives: The birth of the IBM PC. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 20th May 2019].)
15. (ROGERS, E. M. (1983, pp.16). Diffusion of innovations. New York, Free Press. [pdf] Available at: <> [Accessed 20th May 2019].)
16. (Bill Murphy Jr., AUG 23rd 2018. 37 Years Ago, Steve Jobs Ran Apple's Most Amazing Ad. Here's the Story (It's Almost Been Forgotten), INC. [e-column] Available at: <> [Accessed 20th May 2019].)
17. (John Boyd, APR 1997. From Chaos to Competition: Japan's PC industry in transformation, COMPUTING JAPAN ONLINE. [e-journal] Available at: <> [Accessed 20th May 2019].)
18. (Corey Sandler, NOV, 1984. IBM: colossus of Armonk, CREATIVE COMPUTING [e-journal], pp.298, Available at: <> [Accessed 20th May 2019].)
19. (Jeremy Reimer, DEC 15th, 2005. Total share: 30 years of personal computer market share figures, ArsTechnica [e-journal] Available at: <> [Accessed 20th May 2019].) – (The IBM PC 5150 and XT - How IBM "Won" the Computer Wars of the 1980's - Kim Justice) – (The Original IBM PC 5150 - the story of the world's most influential computer)



Institution / Hochschule
University of Brighton – School of Computing, Engineering and Mathematics
IBM diffusion of innovation ROGERS’ DIFFUSION FRAMEWORK Everett M. Rogers



Titel: Applying Rogers' diffusion framework to explain the successful diffusion of the IBM PC in the 1980s