[SIGCIS-Members] History of personal computers in Japan

Brian Randell brian.randell at newcastle.ac.uk
Tue Apr 2 08:31:01 PDT 2019


I’ve just seen this very interesting article:

History of personal computers in Japan
Ryozo Yamashita

International Journal of Parallel, Emergent and Distributed Systems

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	• https://doi.org/10.1080/17445760.2019.1587435


We give a survey on the history of computers in Japan that have been produced over the last 50 years. Here, we focus on the topics of personal computers (PCs). We can see PCs produced in Japan have very unique features. They coevolved with some other related machines, e.g. word processing machines, game machines, etc. They also had several localised features such as capability of dealing with Japanese language. At the same time, developers of PCs struggled to find a good solution between localisation and globalisation. In the early stage of the history of PCs, their architectures were all different, and software had to be developed and tuned for each of them. Thus providing a common platform to all PCs on which every software can run was indispensable for globalisation. In this paper, how PCs in Japan have been evolved and how such problems were attacked are discussed based on the author's experiences of developing early PCs.

1. Introduction

A computer is a product that cannot be completed only with the computer itself. It is unusable without software. In addition, peripheral devices such as printers and storage devices are necessary. Those software and peripheral devices are provided by third-party manufacturers other than the manufacturer of the computer itself. Because the third-party manufacturers target the best-selling computer to maximise their sales, such a computer gets better and cheaper software and peripheral devices than other computers. By this, it sells much more. This positive feedback mechanism makes the best-selling computer dominates the market. In order to compete with the top selling manufacturer, it becomes effective for the second and subsequent computer manufacturers to provide products that are compatible with those from the top manufacturer. This is because they can use the software and peripherals provided by the third-party manufacturers.

For the past 50 years, computer makers with the largest market continued to be U.S. makers, who have been expanding their business based on the big U.S. market. Therefore, Japanese computer makers inevitably decided to adopt the technology of U.S. manufacturers and took a strategy to develop compatible products to survive. However, even in these trends, there were other activities in the manufacturers in Japan. They not only produced U.S. compatible computers but also developed computers that are useful for Japanese users. In particular, by providing excellent Japanese language support, which was not possible by the U.S.-made machines, they had gained a large share in the Japanese market. On the other hand, there was also an activity of creating a world standard computer such as MSX personal computers (see Section 6) for general consumers and selling it all over the world. Such a project was carried out based on the technical strengths of the Japanese consumer electronics industry.

In the latter half of the 1970s, the beginning of the market introduction of personal computers, I was involved in this industry. Since then, I had been engaged in introducing U.S. technology into Japan, developing systems for Japanese language support, and creating a standard personal computer for general consumers. Based on these experiences, I will explain how personal computers have penetrated into the Japanese society.

Contents of the following sections are as follows. Section 2 gives a brief history of computers in Japan before personal computers. Sections 3–8 explain several important achievements in the history of personal computers and related products. Sections 9 and 10 describe some on-going activities other than personal computers. Section 11 gives concluding remarks of the author.

Full story at:  https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17445760.2019.1587435


Brian Randell

School of Computing, Newcastle University, 1 Science Square, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE4 5TG
EMAIL = Brian.Randell at ncl.ac.uk   PHONE = +44 191 208 7923
URL = http://www.ncl.ac.uk/computing/people/profile/brianrandell.html

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