One of IBM's most influential CEOs, John Opel, died late Thursday at the age of 86, IBM confirmed on Friday. The former executive was CEO of the company from January 1981 to January 1985 and oversaw the launch of the original IBM PC, the 5150, in August 1981. He was credited with having the foresight to support home computers at a time when IBM was still known by most for its mainframes. Opel had IBM invest a minority stake in Intel in 1984 that helped establish its chips as the main choice for PC processors, even through today.
His support and early success with PCs ultimately ended up changing the computing landscape, creating the dichotomy between IBM PCs and Apple computers. While not directly under his guidance, IBM's choice of DOS helped Microsoft get the foothold that it would eventually use to control much of the computer market. Indirectly, it may have spurred Apple on to create the Mac as a more intuitive rival to what IBM offered; the famous "1984" ad was targeted against a computer culture that had been fostered under Opel's wing.
The executive saw information as an important currency and wanted to make it as accessible as possible. "I have yet to hear somebody say they could not use more information," he told Time.
Opel started off at IBM as an executive assistant to legendary CEO Thomas Watson in 1959 and learned directly from him as he rose to vice president in 1966, senior vice president in 1969, a group executive for Data Processing in 1972, and president in 1974.
After a quiet transition out of the CEO role in 1985, Opel was still chairman until May 1986 and headed its executive committee until as late as 1993, by which point his PCs and the platform they established had become the front runners.