Attack of the Clones

Compaq Portable PCNovember 4, 1982

Compaq announces their Compaq Portable PC, one of the early portable computer designs and, more significantly, the first successful IBM-compatible PC clone. Compaq eventually succeeded where other similar companies failed because they took considerable care in creating their product on two fronts. First, they created the first 100% IBM-compatible BIOS, the only proprietary component of the IBM PC. Spending $1 million to reverse engineer the IBM BIOS using clean-room techniques, this also allowed them to avoid copyright infringement charges. Finally, they were legally and financially prepared for the inevitable lawsuit IBM would bring against then, which was dismissed as expected.

By proving that a clean room, reverse-engineered BIOS could create 100% IBM-compatible computers and withstand legal challenges from IBM, Compaq paved the way for the flood of IBM-compatible clones that would begin in the mid-1980’s. This was the opening of the Pandora’s Box that led to IBM losing control of the platform, and the emergence of Microsoft and Intel as the dominant technology companies of the PC era. Even though IBM lost control of the platform they created, the weight of the IBM name combined with the eventual low cost of the IBM-compatible platform crushed nearly all other competing personal computing platforms of the era.