A microcomputer is a computer designed for individual use. The term was introduced in the 1970s to differentiate desktop computer systems from larger minicomputers. It is often used synonymously with the term "desktop computer," but it may refer to a server or laptop as well.
In the 1960s and 1970s, computers were much larger than today, often taking up several cubic feet of space. Some mainframe computers could even fill a large room. Therefore, the first computers that could fit on a desktop were appropriately labeled "microcomputers" in comparison to these larger machines.
The first microcomputers became available in the 1970s and were used primarily by businesses. As they became cheaper, individuals were able to buy their own microcomputer systems. This lead to the personal computer revolution of the 1980s, in which microcomputers became a mainstream consumer product.
As microcomputers grew in popularity, the name "microcomputer" faded and was replaced with other more specific terms. For example, computers purchased for business purposes were labeled as workstations, while computers bought for home use became known as personal computers, or PCs. Eventually, computer manufacturers developed portable computers, which were called laptops. While computers have evolved a lot over the past few decades, these same terms are still used today.
Updated: April 11, 2013