Author Topic: Jax Native, Don Estridge: Father of the PC, originator of Open Source Code.  (Read 5040 times)


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Philip Donald Estridge (June 23, 1937 - August 2, 1985), known as Don Estridge, led development of the original IBM Personal Computer (PC), and thus is known as "father of the IBM PC". His decisions dramatically changed the computer industry, resulting in a vast increase in the number of personal computers sold and bought, thus creating an entire industry of hardware manufacturers of IBM PCs.

Estridge was born in Jacksonville, Florida. His father was a professional photographer. He graduated from Bishop Kenny High School in 1955, and from the University of Florida in 1959. He married Mary Ann Hellier in September, 1958. Three children would eventually be born from his marriage: Patricia Ann, Mary Evelyn and Sandra Marie.

He completed a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering at the University of Florida, and worked at the Army, designing a radar system using computers, IBM and finally NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center until he moved to Boca Raton, Florida in 1969.

His efforts to develop the IBM PC began when he took control of the small Entry Level Systems division in 1980, with the goal of developing a low-cost personal computer to compete against increasingly popular offerings from the likes of Apple Computer, Commodore International, and other perceived IBM competitors. To create a cost-effective alternative to those companies products, Estridge realized that it would be necessary to rely on third-party hardware and software. This was a marked departure from previous IBM strategy, which centered around in-house vertical development of complicated mainframe systems and their requisite access terminals. Estridge also published the specifications of the IBM PC, allowing a booming third-party aftermarket hardware business to take advantage of the machine's expansion card slots.

The competitive cost and expandability options of the first model, IBM PC model 5150, as well as the cachet of being an IBM product, led to strong sales to both enterprise and home customers. Over the next several years, Estridge received a string of promotions, and by 1984 was IBM Vice President, Manufacturing.[1] Steve Jobs even offered Estridge a multi-million dollar job as president of Apple Computers, which he turned down.[2]

Estridge and wife Mary Ann were killed when the plane they were traveling on, Delta Air Lines Flight 191, crashed at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport on August 2, 1985.[3] He was 48 years old. The Estridges were survived by their three daughters. At the time of his death, the IBM PC division had nearly 10,000 employees and had sold over a million PCs.

Estridge has been honored many times. In 1999 he was identified in CIO magazine as one of the people who "invented the enterprise". The Don Estridge High-Tech Middle School—formerly IBM Facility Building 051—in Boca Raton, Florida, is named after him, and on the occasion of its dedication was given by Don Estridge's family his own personal IBM 5150 computer.


The personal computer enjoys the ubiquity it does because of one man: Philip "Don" Estridge. An IBM employee since 1959, Estridge headed up the skunk works in Boca Raton, Fla., that in 1981 launched the IBM PC. Estridge made the decision—revolutionary for that time and place—that the machine would be made from off-the-shelf, easily obtainable parts and that the design specification would be made public. Estridge and his wife Mary Ann died in the Aug. 2, 1985, crash of a Delta Airlines L-1011, which was hit by wind shear while landing at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. Estridge's longtime friend, neighbor and coworker Jan Winston, now retired but still consulting with IBM, talked to CIO about the colleague he still misses.
DON AND I LIVED NEXT DOOR to each other in Boca Raton. It was a sleepy town in those days, not sophisticated like it is today. Then, it was only old people and IBM employees. You could stand outside watching the kids play and have a departmental meeting. Our families were very close well before the PC project started; he and I had worked together on the Series 1 project, IBM's first minicomputer. Because we had different responsibilities, we were often in contention on that project, but there was no stress in our friendship.

Don was very human, with a wonderful sense of humor and a charming personality. He combined a manic drive with tremendous respect for his people, recognizing all that they were sacrificing during the PC project. When the PC took off, it was like a rocket ride, and he did a wonderful job of exerting executive leadership. And he was a technically competent visionary. Don had a very broad view of where computer business was going technically as well as the importance of computers to the economy and to society as a whole.

Would the world today surprise him? Its magnitude would. Our first sales projections estimated selling 250,000 units over three years. The executives wondered what we were smoking because the best-selling IBM computer had sold only 25,000 over three to five years. We always said to ourselves that the technol-ogy would grow by leaps and bounds because of applications like VisiCalc. We knew there was going to be e-mail too. But the broad acceptance of the computer, the way it embedded itself in our everyday lives and the explosion of the Internet, is an order of magnitude beyond what we were thinking about in the early '80s.

With IBM's recent announcement that it was saying sayonara (or the Chinese equivalent) to its PC business, it seems the right time, finally, to finish writing a column that has been brewing for a while - about the man who brought us the IBM PC to begin with - Philip "Don" Estridge.

While many of us remember the "Steves" - Jobs and Wozniak - with their original Apples as the pioneers of personal computing, most of us owe our careers to the ascent of that device known as the "IBM-compatible Personal Computer." And the IBM PC owes its existence to one Don Estridge.

What brought this to mind? Recently, we at The Tolly Group completed our relocation to Boca Raton, Fla. Our facility is not much more than a stone's throw from what used to be IBM's Boca Raton facility - where the PC was born in the early 1980s.

And, across the street from that site, now called T-Rex (IBM is long since gone), is Don Estridge High-Tech Middle School . I pass this site every day as I take my kids to school, and being a high-tech old-timer, I remembered the name.

Although I never met him, I remembered vaguely that he was an IBM vice president and that he was "associated" with the early days of the PC and, sadly, that he was killed in a plane crash in Dallas in 1985. A little informal research, though, left me in awe of what that man did.

He led the "skunk works" that gave us the IBM PC - a team of 14 people. No, that is not a typo. Fourteen. And, of course, because they were building from scratch, they started out with a revenue base of zero.

By the time he gave up the reins of the PC Division, known then as the Entry Level Systems division shortly before he died in 1985, the division had 10,000 employees and revenue of $4.5 billion.

Before the PC, the best-selling (albeit more expensive) IBM computer is said to have sold 25,000 units. Estridge's team estimated 250,000 units over three years. They were wrong. By 1985 almost 1 million units were sold.

And he and his team did all this inside IBM. I have the greatest respect for IBM, but anyone who worked for or with IBM in that era (I was a customer at that time) will appreciate how difficult his task was.

Where, heretofore, every IBM computer was built with IBM parts, Estridge chose off-the-shelf components to keep down costs. We couldn't imagine PCs today that had nothing but proprietary hardware components.

Most importantly, he made the decision to make the PC "open" - to provide sufficient information about its specifications to let other manufacturers build on what IBM had done - which, of course, resulted in the ubiquity that Apple, for all of its quality and innovation, has never had.

And, while IBM was the largest software company in the world, he opted there, too, for open, "third-party" software.

In a 1982 interview with PC Magazine, he is quoted as saying:

"We didn't think we could introduce a product that could out-BASIC Microsoft's BASIC. We could have to out-BASIC Microsoft and out-VisiCalc VisiCorp and out-Peachtree Peachtree - and you just can't do that."

And, according to one biography, in 1983 he turned down a multimilliondollar offer from Apple to become its president.

So as IBM goes full circle and exits the PC business, let's not forget the man that got the company there in the first place
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Philip Donald Estridge

born June 23, 1937 Jacksonville, Florida USA
died August 2, 1985 Dallas, Texas USA

PC; computer; IBM


Developed the IBM PC with a team of 12 other engineers (a/o.: Dr. Glenn S. Dardick)


The personal computer enjoys the ubiquity it does because of one man: Philip "Don" Estridge. An IBM employee since 1959, Estridge headed up the skunk works in Boca Raton, Fl., that in 1981 launched the IBM PC. Estridge made the decision—revolutionary for that time and place—that the machine would be made from off-the-shelf, easily obtainable parts and that the design specification would be made public. Estridge and his wife Mary Ann died in the Aug. 2, 1985, in the crash of a Delta Airlines L-1011, which was hit by wind shear while landing at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport.


June 23, Born in Jacksonville, Florida USA. His father was a professional photographer.

Attended St. Paul's School from Kindergarten through eight grade; Jacksonville, Florida, USA(12)

Graduated from Kenny High school Jacksonville, Florida, USA(12)

Married to Mary Ann Hellier on September 13th, from this marriage three children were born: Patricia Ann, Mary Evelyn and Sandra Marie.(12)

Completed a BS in electrical engineering at the University of Florida
Estridge joined IBM as a junior engineer in Kingston New York and held positions in the Federal Systems Division, participating in the construction of SAGE(11)

Moved to Washington.
Working on the manned and unmanned programming support for NASA /Goddard Space Flight Center

Estridge moved to Boca Raton, Florida, USA. Joined the General Systems Division and from 1975 - 1979 he was series/1- a mini computer - programming manager

Had responsibility for the development of a Series/1 integrated product until 1980


Becomes manager of Entry Level Systems - Small system in Boca Raton, Florida USA. Responsible for the development of small microprocessor-based systems for 'tiny' business and personal use.

At the end of 1980, IBM decided to truly compete in the rapidly growing low-cost personal computer market. The company established what was then called the Entry Systems Division, located in Boca Raton, Florida, to develop the new system. This small group consisted of 12 engineers and designers under the direction of Don Estridge; the team's chief designer was Lewis Eggebrecht. The division developed IBM's first real PC. (IBM considered the 5100 system, developed in 1975, to be an intelligent programmable terminal rather than a genuine computer, even though it truly was a computer.). Nearly all these engineers had been moved to the new division from the System/23 DataMaster project, which in 1980 introduced a small office computer system that was the closest predecessor to the IBM PC. (3)


January - Estridge's organization has grown from 12 to 135 people

July - Appointed director Entry Systems Business in July and responsible for the IBM Personal Computer

It struck me that what the company really needs today is a good skunk works. IBM's Don Estridge started one in 1981 in Boca Raton, Fl., in an old, leaky-roofed warehouse with malfunctioning air-conditioning. Eighteen months later, the PC was ready for the market. (4)

To invent the IBM PC, IBM created three secret research teams who competed against each other. The winner was the research team headed by Philip "Don" Estridge in Boca Raton, Florida. His team examined everything created by the other microcomputer companies (Apple, Radio Shack, Commodore, etc.) and combined their best ideas, to produce a relatively low-cost computer.

Don's team developed the IBM PC secretly. IBM didn't announce it to the public until August 12, 1981.(2)

"What we discovered was that the way people responded emotionally to PC's was more important than what the computer actually did." -Don Estridge.

Because IBM introduced the PC it gave this machine respectability ("stamp of approval"). Thus making it possible to market the machine also to small businesses.


January - Appointed division director Entry Systems Business Unit

March - System Products Division vice president and general manager Entry Systems.


August - President of the newly formed Entry Systems Division

Apple Computer's Steve Jobs offers IBM's Don Estridge the position of president of Apple Computer, for US$1 million per year, US$1 million signing bonus, and US$2 million to buy a house. Don Estridge turns it down. (13)


January - IBM vice president

August - Estridge's organization has now 9.500 people on its pay roll

Nearly a million PC 's have been sold


March - IBM vice president, manufacturing

August 2, died in a plane crash near Dallas, Texas USA together with his wife Mary Ann.(13)

Don Estridge died in a plane crash on August 2, 1985 The Delta Airlines L-1011 (Lockheed 1101 "Tristar") in which he traveled crashed because of a "wind shear", according to official reports.(14,15) Others say because of a crashed computer system at flight control.

By all rights, the first IBM personal computer fair, held in San Francisco over the weekend of Aug. 26-28, ought to have been a wildly joyful celebration honoring Philip D. Estridge, president of IBM's Entry Systems Division. Estridge, after all, is the man who brought to market the IBM PC, a product that has shattered all sales records(10)and won over the marketplace as no other computer ever has. Yet, listen to Don Estridge, as he addressed a session of software designers and hardware vendors about the PC:

"There's a question that keeps coming up, like waves on the beach: 'What do I use one for?'"(6)

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Estridge trusted Bill Gates, apparently.

The more I read about this man for the upcoming article, the more I realize how revolutionary and amazing this man really was.

Truly the world would be different if he had lived.

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David Smith, technology correspondent
Sunday August 6, 2006
The Observer

'IBM Corporation today announced its smallest, lowest-priced computer system - the IBM Personal Computer,' ran the press release 25 years ago this week. 'Designed for business, school and home, the easy-to-use system sells for as little as $1,565. It offers many advanced features and, with optional software, may use hundreds of popular application programs.'
On 12 August 1981 no one could guess quite how profound an impact the announcement from International Business Machines would have on hundreds of millions of lives. Nor how wildly divergent would be the fortunes of three men who were there at the genesis of the IBM PC 5150 - a invention to rank in importance with the motor car, telephone and television.

One of those men was David Bradley, 57, a member of the original 12 engineers who worked on the secret project and who is still amazed by its profound consequences, from email and iPods to Google and MySpace. Speaking from his home in North Carolina last week, he said: 'Computers have improved the productivity of office workers and become a toy for the home. I don't want to assert that the PC invented the internet, but it was one of the preconditions.'

The man with perhaps most cause to toast the industry standard PC's 25th birthday on Saturday, even more than the engineers who built it, is Bill Gates. His software for the IBM PC, and nearly all the computers that followed it, made him the world's richest man. But for IBM, the story was arguably one of defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.

Bradley was also working on a similar machine when, in September 1980, he was recruited to the IBM team and sent to Boca Raton in Florida to come up with a PC that would rival the pioneering Apple II. A few months later the team had grown and got its leader - Don Estridge, a photographer's son from Florida who had worked for the army and NASA. Racing against a 12-month deadline, the engineers scoured the country for components, and asked Intel, then a manufacturer of memory chips, to deliver the central processing unit, or 'brain'.

IBM also needed operating system software. The man in the right place at the right time was a young geek who had dropped out of Harvard. Bill Gates of Microsoft specialised in more modest computer languages but assured the IBM team that he could come up with an operating system for their new machines in just a few days. After Estridge's task force had left for their hotel, Gates went around the corner to a tiny company which had written a system for the Intel processor and bought it out for £26,000. He then customised the system for IBM and sold it to them for £42,000. Critically, Gates retained the right to license the system to other manufacturers who could, and would, clone the IBM design. A quarter of a century later, he has an estimated wealth of £26bn.

IBM's failure to secure exclusive rights to Gates's software is often regarded as a blunder comparable to that of the music executives who spurned The Beatles. But Bradley disagrees, saying that there was a higher purpose - he and his colleagues used 'open architecture', off-the-shelf parts which others could acquire, and so defined a standard that allowed others to build compatible machines capable of running the same software.

Experts generally regard this as the result of haste rather than altruism on IBM's part, but Bradley points out that in the spirit of openness it published technical manuals to explain how the PC worked. Unlike Apple, who stuck by its proprietary system and lost the lion's share of the market, the IBM PC was an invitation to rivals eager to imitate and improve upon it.

Bradley said: 'I believe the primary reason it was so successful is that it was an open system. There was a microprocessor from Intel and an operating system from Microsoft. We published everything we knew so that if you wanted to work on an application program you had all the information to do it and you could be reasonably confident IBM wouldn't change things later.

'The participation of the rest of the industry was important because IBM alone could not possibly have invented all the applications that people would want.'

The IBM PC 5150 weighed 25lbs, stood just under six inches high and had 64 kilobytes of memory and a five-and-a-quarter inch floppy disk drive. Initial sales forecasts expected 242,000 to be sold over five years, but the figure was exceeded in single month. It was a personal triumph for Estridge, the 'father of the PC', but he would not live to see its full legacy in the democratization of computing.

On 2 August 1985 Estridge was on Delta Air Lines Flight 191 from Fort Lauderdale, Florida approaching Dallas-Fort Worth airport. It was caught in a freak wind and plummeted to the ground, bursting into flames. Of 152 passengers on board, 128 died, including 48-year-old Estridge, his wife and several IBM executives.

IBM was overtaken in the PC market by Compaq in 1994. IBM sold its PC division to Chinese giant Lenovo for £628m last year. 'I'm sad and disillusioned that IBM got out of the computer business since I was there at the very beginning,' added Bradley. 'But as an IBM stockholder I think it was an extremely sensible business decision.'

Bradley quit IBM in 2004 after 28 years and lives in comfortable retirement. He mused: 'I have no regrets about what happened. I was there when it was just a glimmer in everybody's eye and it's a privilege to still be here to talk about it. And no, I don't envy Bill Gates.'
« Last Edit: January 31, 2013, 04:21:30 PM by stephendare »
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I agree. Don Estridge did incredible things.

I have worked with many people at IBM and in the early days of the ESD (Entry Systems Division).

Today's personal computer industry exists based on some extraordinary decisions he made. He was also one of the primary champions within IBM to maintain the platform's openness. The fact he based ESD in Boca Raton instead of the IBM global HQ in Armonk, NY was a sign he was developing a new product and didn't want a lot of interference. IBM was distracted by mainframe/midrange platforms at the time anyway.

However, IMHO, Bill Gates was a deceptive little bird and while the world glories in him and what he did at Microsoft, I was in Seattle when the evidence on his little dupe with SCP went down. (Microsoft settled) What Microsoft became is a true American story, however, at times it has more similarities with Glenn Curtiss than Orville & Wilbur Wright.  His foundation is honorable and does great things, but its not hard to forget his billions came about through a lie.

What is left of IBM ESD is now contained in what is now called Lenovo Group. When IBM sold the PSD (Personal Systems Division) to Lenovo of China. Today they are marketed as ThinkPad's, ThinkCentre, ThinkServer.