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Personal Computers: first the desktop, then the world


Typewriters to eDevelopment Personal Computers

First individual computers, June 1978
"Two Bank staff members [have] built their own mini-computers, three others have bought them assembled, off-the-shelf; and dozens of others are on the verge of buying one, or are looking for information on mini-computers… [These mini-computers] offer from 4,000 to 65,000 words of directly addressable memory."                                                                   - Bank Notes, June 1978, p.2

By 1979 the first individual computers appeared in the Bank, and in 1981, when IBM introduced the first personal computer, some Bank staff began integrating computers into their workflow—usually higher level staff using computers for analytical work. By the end of 1983, there were more than 300 microcomputers in the Bank, a number that would grow in less than four years to include 3,800 PCs and 600 additional workstations.

During this same period staff customarily assigned their typing work to secretaries, who used a word processor typically shared between a group of secretaries. The Bank launched the Institutional Workstation Program—a.k.a. Workstations for All—with the goal of purchasing 2,000 new computers in 1987. In early 1988, some 2,100 Zenith XT personal computers were installed throughout the Bank, along with 200 laser printers and 600 dot matrix printers.

By 1991, there were over 6,600 desktop workstations and 6,200 printers in the Washington, D.C office and 1,200 portables and 500 desktop computers in country offices. At that time, the Bank began another expansion and upgrade program—A Computer on Every Desk—with the purchase of over 1,000 386SX computers, featuring multi-tasking operating systems capable of running more than one program at a time.

By today's standards, the early use of PCs was limited to basic business applications. In recent years, network technology and the Internet, along with email and new data communication technologies, have transformed the way we work. Today, we expect to communicate with the world from our desktop. File sharing and information exchange are commonplace in today's business practices; physical and geographic location no longer define the global workplace.

These benefits, however, have produced new challenges, such as security, reliability, and authenticity, all core concerns for people who use computers and those responsible for managing the technology and systems we rely on.

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