June 14, 1822
Charles Babbage reads to the Royal Astronomical Society a paper entitled "Note on the application of machinery to the computation of astronomical and mathematical tables" in which he proposes the construction of the Difference Engine. Considered to be a pre-curser of modern computers, it was designed to speed-up the production of error-free mathematical tables, just as early modern computers did. In 1991, London’s Science Museum completed the construction of the first-ever working model of the Difference Engine, under the direction of Doron Swade and Alan Bromley. Swade wrote in his 2000 book, The Difference Engine: Charles Babbage and the quest to build the first computer:
This book is a tale of two quests. The first is Charles Babbage’s quest to realise a vision—that the science of number could be mastered by mechanism. By simply turning the handle of his massive calculating engine Babbage planned to achieve results which up to that point in history could be achieve only by mental effort—thinking. But this was not all. Calculating engines offered a tantalizing new prospect. The ‘unerring certainty’ of mechanism would eliminate the risk of human error to which numerical calculation was so frustratingly prone. Infallible machines would compensate for the frailties of the human mind and extend its powers…
The second quest is the twentieth-century sequel: The quest at the Science Museum to build a working Babbage engine in time for the bicentenary of Babbage’s birth.
June 14, 1941
John Mauchly meets John Atanasoff at Iowa State University. During the next five days, Mauchly learned everything he could about what became to be known as the Atanasoff-Berry Computer (ABC) which he first heard about when Atanasoff visited Philadelphia in December 1940. The ABC was the first electronic digital computing device but was never put to genuine use because both Atanasoff and Berry left Iowa in 1942 to contribute to the war effort and did not resume the work after the war.
The significance of this meeting emerged years later when it became part of the evidence that led the judge in the case of Honeywell, Inc. v. Sperry Rand Corp., et al. to decide that the ENIAC patent was invalid, among other reasons, because “Eckert and Mauchly did not themselves invent the automatic electronic computer, but instead derived that subject matter from one Dr. John Vincent Atanasoff.” Campbell-Kelly and Aspray conclude in Computer: A History of the Information Machine:
The extent to which Mauchly drew on Atanasoff’s ideas remains unknown, and the evidence is massive and conflicting. The ABC was quite modest technology, and it was not fully implemented. At the very least we can infer that Mauchly saw the potential significance of the ABC and that this may have led him to propose a similar electronic solution to the Ballistic Research Laboratory’s [at the Moore School of Electrical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania] computing needs.
They also note that in June 1941, Mauchly and Atanasoff “parted on very amicable terms.” Indeed, Mauchly wrote to Atanasoff on September 30th of that year:
A number of different ideas have come to me recently anent computing circuits—some of which are more or less hybrids, combining your methods with other things, and some of which are nothing like your machine. The question in my mind is this: is there any objection, from your point of view, to my building some sort of computer which incorporates some of the features of your machine? … Ultimately a second question might come up, of course, and that is, in the event that your present design were to hold the field against all challengers, and I got the Moore School interested in having something of the sort, would the way be open for us to build an ‘Atanasoff Calculator’ (a la Bush analyzer) here?
June 16, 1911
The Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company is incorporated. It changed its name to IBM in 1924. In “Ideas make IBM 100 years young,” IBM’s Bernard Meyerson writes: “…if you really think about what keeps a company going, it’s that you have to keep reinventing yourself. You cannot reinvent yourself in the absence of great ideas. You have to have the great ideas, and you have to follow them through.” Meyerson equates the great ideas that sustain the life of a company with great innovations but in “1100100 and counting,” The Economist quotes Forrester Research’s George Colony: “IBM is not a technology company, but a company solving business problems using technology” and concludes:
Over time [the close relationships between IBM and its customers] became IBM’s most important platform—and the main reason for its longevity. Customers were happy to buy electric ‘calculating machines’, as Thomas Watson senior insisted on calling them, from the same firm that had sold them their electromechanical predecessors. They hoped that their trusted supplier would survive in the early 1990s. And they are now willing to let IBM’s services division tell them how to organise their businesses better.
Kevin Maney lists five lessons he drew from his close study of IBM’s history, the first one being “At the start, convince the troops you’re a company of destiny, even if that seems crazy.” Thomas Watson Sr. did this and more. In a 1917 speech he said: “My duty is not the building of this business; it is rather, the building of the organization. … I [know] only one definition of good management; that is, good organization. So, as I see it, my work consists in trying to build a bigger and better organization. The organization, in its turn, will take care of the building of the business.”
So what was the Big IBM Idea? A trusted supplier? A focus on destiny and longevity? Building a bigger and better organization? All of the above?
In a 1994 Harvard Business Review article titled “The theory of the business,” Peter Drucker advanced the argument that great businesses revolve around a certain idea or “a theory of the business,” articulating the company’s assumptions about its environment, its mission, and its core competencies.
In response, I discussed in a letter-to-the-editor the similarities and dissimilarities between scientists and managers:
Managers [like scientists] must articulate their theories and how they can be refuted and then seek data that prove their theories wrong. That will prevent them from falling into the trap of discarding successful theories… the theory of the business may not just explain reality or past business success; it may also define it by communicating and convincing employees and customers that the company is unique. A business theory, then, unlike a scientific theory, can be true and false at the same time. That is how, as Drucker has illustrated, IBM and General Motors could both succeed and fail when they applied the same business theory to two different businesses.
In short, an idea or a set of ideas may explain past business success. But, business school education and management gurus notwithstanding, one cannot extract from history “management lessons,” prescriptions, and predictions about the future of this or any other business. Even if we had a perfect understanding of the reasons for IBM’s longevity, that would not tell us anything about the future of Apple or Google or Facebook. There is no one explanation or theory of business success and the same reasons for success in one case can be the very same reasons for failure in another.
I didn’t know it in 1994, but it turns out I was channeling Thomas Watson Sr. who said in another speech, this one in January 1915, shortly after he joined C-T-R:
We all know there have been numerous books written on scientific factory management, scientific sales management, the psychology of selling goods, etc. Many of us have read some of those books. Some of them are good; but we can’t accept any of them as a basis for us to work on. Neither can you afford to accept my ideas as whole and attempt to carry them out, because I do not believe in a fixed method–in any fixed way of selling goods, or of running a business.
June 16, 1977
Software Development Laboratories (SDL) is incorporated in Santa Clara, California, by Larry Ellison, Bob Miner and Ed Oates. It changed its name to Relational Software, Inc. (RSI) in 1979 and again to Oracle Systems Corporation in 1982. Since 1995, it has been known as Oracle Corporation.
June 18, 1908
Alan Archibald Campbell-Swinton publishes a letter in the journal Nature titled “Distant Electric Vision” in which he envisioned television as it was developed three decades later. He wrote: “Possibly no photoelectric phenomenon at present known will provide what is required in this respect, but should something suitable be discovered, distant electric vision will, I think, come within the region of possibility.”
In May 2013, Netflix stated its view on the future of television (PDF): “Over the coming decades and across the world, Internet TV will replace linear TV. Apps will replace channels, remote controls will disappear, and screens will proliferate. As Internet TV grows from millions to billions, Netflix, HBO, and ESPN are leading the way.”
June 18, 1948
Columbia Records introduces the LP (long playing) record at a press conference in the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York.
At the time the LP was introduced, nearly all phonograph records for home use were made of an abrasive (and therefore noisy) shellac compound, employed a much larger groove, and played at approximately 78 revolutions per minute (rpm), limiting the playing time of a 12-inch diameter record to less than five minutes per side. The new product was a 12- or 10-inch (30 or 25 cm) fine-grooved disc made of vinyl and played with a smaller-tipped "microgroove" stylus at a speed of 33 1⁄3 rpm. Each side of a 12-inch LP could play for more than 20 minutes.
The LP was developed—and became the standard for record industry for half a century—when Columbia's president Edward Wallerstein insisted on hearing an entire movement of a symphony on one side of an album. Ward Botsford in High Fidelity magazine: "He was no inventor—he was simply a man who seized an idea whose time was ripe and begged, ordered, and cajoled a thousand men into bringing into being the now accepted medium of the record business."
The story so far.... In 1975, Ed Roberts invented the Altair personal computer. It was a pain to use until 19 year-old pre-billionaire Bill Gates wrote the first personal computer language. Still, the public didn't care. Then two young hackers -- Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak -- built the Apple computer to impress their friends. We were all impressed and Apple was a stunning success. By 1980, the PC market was worth a billion dollars. Now, view on.....
We are nerds.
Most of the people in the industry were young because the guys who had any real experience were too smart to get involved in all these crazy little machines.
It really wasn't that we were going to build billion dollar businesses. We were having a good time.
I thought this was the most fun you could possibly have with your clothes on.
When the personal computer was invented twenty years it was just that - an invention - it wasn't a business. These were hobbyists who built these machines and wrote this software to have fun but that has really changed and now this is a business this is a big business. It just goes to show you that people can be bought. How the personal computer industry grew from zero to 100 million units is an amazing story. And it wasn't just those early funky companies of nerds and hackers, like Apple, that made it happen. It took the intervention of a company that was trusted by the corporate world. Big business wasn't interested in the personal computer. In the boardrooms of corporate America a computer still meant something the size of a room that cost at least a hundred thousand dollars. Executives would brag that my mainframe is bigger than your mainframe. The idea of a $2,000 computer that sat on your desk in a plastic box was laughable that is until that plastic box had three letters stamped on it - IBM. IBM was, and is, an American business phenomenon. Over 60 years, Tom Watson and his son, Tom Jr., built what their workers called Big Blue into the top computer company in the world. But IBM made mainframe computers for large companies, not personal computers -- at least not yet. For the PC to be taken seriously by big business, the nerds of Silicon Valley had to meet the suits of corporate America. IBM never fired anyone, requiring only that undying loyalty to the company and a strict dress code. IBM hired conservative hard-workers straight from school. Few IBM'ers were at the summer of love. Their turn-ons were giant mainframes and corporate responsibility. They worked nine to five and on Saturdays washed the car. This is intergalactic HQ for IBM - the largest computer company in the world...but in many ways IBM is really more a country than it is a company. It has hundreds of thousands of citizens, it has a bureaucracy, it has an entire culture everything in fact but an army. OK Sam we're ready to visit IBM country, obviously we're dressed for the part. Now when you were in sales training in 1959 for IBM did you sing company songs?
Former IBM Executive
BOB: Well just to get us in the mood let's sing one right here.
SAM: You're kidding.
BOB: I have the IBM - the songs of the IBM and we're going to try for number 74, our IBM salesmen sung to the tune of Jingle Bells.
Bob & Sam singing
'IBM, happy men, smiling all the way, oh what fun it is to sell our products our pruducts night and day. IBM Watson men, partners of TJ. In his service to mankind - that's why we are so gay.'
Now gay didn't mean what it means today then remember that OK?
BOB: Right ok let's go.
SAM: I guess that was OK.
When I started at IBM there was a dress code, that was an informal oral code of white shirts. You couldn't wear anything but a white shirt, generally with a starched collar. I remember attending my first class, and a gentleman said to me as we were entering the building, are you an IBMer, and I said yes. He had a three piece suit on, vests were of the vogue, and he said could you just lift your pants leg please. I said what, and before I knew it he had lifted my pants leg and he said you're not wearing any garters. I said what?! He said your socks, they're not pulled tight to the top, you need garters. And sure enough I had to go get garters.
IBM is like Switzerland -- conservative, a little dull, yet prosperous. It has committees to verify each decision. The safety net is so big that it is hard to make a bad decision - or any decision at all. Rich Seidner, computer programmer and wannabe Paul Simon, spent twenty-five years marching in lockstep at IBM. He feels better now.
Former IBM Programmer
I mean it's like getting four hundred thousand people to agree what they want to have for lunch. You know, I mean it's just not going to happen - it's going to be lowest common denominator you know, it's going to be you know hot dogs and beans. So ahm so what are you going to do? So IBM had created this process and it absolutely made sure that quality would be preserved throughout the process, that you actually were doing what you set out to do and what you thought the customer wanted. At one point somebody kind of looked at the process to see well, you know, what's it doing and what's the overhead built into it, what they found is that it would take at least nine months to ship an empty box.
By the late seventies, even IBM had begun to notice the explosive growth of personal computer companies like Apple.
The Apple 2 - small inexpensive and simple to use the first computer.....
What's more, it was a computer business they didn't control. In 1980, IBM decided they wanted a piece of this action.
Former IBM Executive
There were suddenly tens of thousands of people buying machines of that class and they loved them. They were very happy with them and they were showing up in the engineering departments of our clients as machines that were brought in because you can't do the job on your mainframe kind of thing.
JB wanted to know why I'm doing better than all the other managers...it's no secret...I have an Apple - sure there's a big computer three flights down but it won't test my options, do my charts or edit my reports like my Apple.
The people who had gotten it were religious fanatics about them. So the concern was we were losing the hearts and minds and deliver me a machine to win back the hearts and minds.
In business, as in comedy, timing is everything, and time looked like it might be running out for an IBM PC. I'm visiting an IBMer who took up the challenge. In August 1979, as IBM's top management met to discuss their PC crisis, Bill Lowe ran a small lab in Boca Raton Florida.
Hello Bob nice to see you.
BOB: Nice to see you again. I tried to match the IBM dress code how did I do?
BILL: That's terrific, that's terrific.
He knew the company was in a quandary. Wait another year and the PC industry would be too big even for IBM to take on. Chairman Frank Carey turned to the department heads and said HELP!!!
Head, IBM IBM PC Development Team 1980
He kind of said well, what should we do, and I said well, we think we know what we would like to do if we were going to proceed with our own product and he said no, he said at IBM it would take four years and three hundred people to do anything, I mean it's just a fact of life. And I said no sir, we can provide with product in a year. And he abruptly ended the meeting, he said you're on Lowe, come back in two weeks and tell me what you need.
An IBM product in a year! Ridiculous! Down in the basement Bill still has the plan. To save time, instead of building a computer from scratch, they would buy components off the shelf and assemble them -- what in IBM speak was called 'open architecture.' IBM never did this. Two weeks later Bill proposed his heresy to the Chairman.
And frankly this is it. The key decisions were to go with an open architecture, non IBM technology, non IBM software, non IBM sales and non IBM service. And we probably spent a full half of the presentation carrying the corporate management committee into this concept. Because this was a new concept for IBM at that point.
BOB: Was it a hard sell?
BILL: Mr. Carey bought it. And as result of him buying it, we got through it.
With the backing of the chairman, Bill and his team then set out to break all the IBM rules and go for a record.
We'll put it in the IBM section.
Once IBM decided to do a personal computer and to do it in a year - they couldn't really design anything, they just had to slap it together, so that's what we'll do. You have a central processing unit and eh let's see you need a monitor or display and a keyboard. OK a PC, except it's not, there's something missing. Time for the Cringely crash course in elementary computing. A PC is a boxful of electronic switches, a piece of hardware. It's useless until you tell it what to do. It requires a program of instructions...that's software. Every PC requires at least two essential bits of software in order to work at all. First it requires a computer language. That's what you type in to deliver instructions to the computer. To tell it what to do. Remember it was a computer language called BASIC that Paul Allen and Bill Gates adapted to the Altair...the first PC. The other bit of software that's required is called an operating system and that's the internal traffic cop that tells the computer itself how the keyboard is connected to the screen or how to store files on a floppy disk instead of just losing them when you turn off the PC at the end of the day. Operating systems tend to have boring unfriendly names like UNIX and CPM and MS-DOS but though they may be boring it's an operating system that made Bill Gates the richest man in the world. And the story of how that came about is, well, pretty interesting. So the contest begins. Who would IBM buy their software from? Let's meet the two contenders -- the late Gary Kildall, then aged 39, a computer Ph.D., and a 24 year old Harvard drop-out - Bill Gates. By the time IBM came calling in 1980, Bill Gates and his small company Microsoft was the biggest supplier of computer languages in the fledgling PC industry.
'Many different computer manufacturers are making the CPM Operating System standard on most models.'
For their operating system, though, the logical guy for the IBMers to see was Gary Kildall. He ran a company modestly called Interglactic Digital Research. Gary had invented the PC's first operating system called CP/M. He had already sold 600,000 of them, so he was the big cheese of operating systems.
Founder Digital Research
Speaking in 1983
In the early 70s I had a need for an operating system myself and eh it was a very natural thing to write and it turns out other people had a need for an operating system like that and so eh it was a very natural thing I wrote it for my own use and then started selling it.
In Gary's mind it was the dominant thing and it would always be the dominant of course Bill did languages and Gary did operating systems and he really honestly believed that would never change.
But what would change the balance of power in this young industry was the characters of the two protagonists.
Founder West Coast Computer Faire 1978
So I knew Gary back when he was an assistant professor at Monterrey Post Grad School and I was simply a grad student. And went down, sat in his hot tub, smoked dope with him and thoroughly enjoyed it all, and commiserated and talked nerd stuff. He liked playing with gadgets, just like Woz did and does, just like I did and do.
He wasn't really interested in how you drive the business, he worked on projects, things that interested him.
He didn't go rushing off to the patent office and patent CPM and patent every line of code he could, he didn't try to just squeeze the last dollar out of it.
Gary was not a fighter, Gary avoided conflict, Gary hated conflict. Bill I don't think anyone could say backed away from conflict.
Nobody said future billionaires have to be nice guys. Here, at the Microsoft Museum, is a shrine to Bill's legacy. Bill Gates hardly fought his way up from the gutter. Raised in a prosperous Seattle household, his mother a homemaker who did charity work, his father was a successful lawyer. But beneath the affluence and comfort of a perfect American family, a competitive spirit ran deep.
President, The Paul Allen Group
I ended up spending Memorial Day Weekend with him out at his grandmother's house on Hood Canal. She turned everything in to a game. It was a very very very competitive environment, and if you spent the weekend there, you were part of the competition, and it didn't matter whether it was hearts or pickleball or swimming to the dock. And you know and there was always a reward for winning and there was always a penalty for losing.
CEO Corporate Computing Intl.
One time, it was funny. I went to Bill's house and he really wanted to show me his jigsaw puzzle that he was working on, and he really wanted to talk about how he did this jigsaw puzzle in like four minutes, and like on the box it said, if you're a genius you will do the jigsaw puzzle in like seven. And he was into it. He was like I can do it. And I said don't, you know, I believe you. You don't need to break it up and do it for me. You know.
Bill Gates can be so focused that the small things in life get overlooked.
Former VP, Corporate Comms, Microsoft
If he was busy he didn't bathe, he didn't change clothes. We were in New York and the demo that we had crashed the evening before the announcement, and Bill worked all night with some other engineers to fix it. Well it didn't occur to him to take ten minutes for a shower after that, it just didn't occur to him that that was important, and he badly needed a shower that day.
The scene is set in California...laid back Gary Kildall already making the best selling PC operating system CPM. In Seattle Bill Gates maker of BASIC the best selling PC language but always prepared to seize an opportunity. So IBM had to choose one of these guys to write the operating system for its new personal computer. One would hit the jackpot the other would be forgotten...a footnote in the history of the personal computer and it all starts with a telephone call to an eighth floor office in that building the headquarters of Microsoft in 1980.
At about noon I guess I called Bill Gates on Monday and said I would like to come out and talk with him about his products.
Bill said well, how's next week, and they said we're on an airplane, we're leaving in an hour, we'd like to be there tomorrow. Well, hallelujah. Right oh.
Steve Ballmer was a Harvard roommate of Gates. He'd just joined Microsoft and would end up its third billionaire. Back then he was the only guy in the company with business training. Both Ballmer and Gates instantly saw the importance of the IBM visit.
You know IBM was the dominant force in computing. A lot of these computer fairs discussions would get around to, you know, I.. most people thought the big computer companies wouldn't recognise the small computers, and it might be their downfall. But now to have one of the big computer companies coming in and saying at least the - the people who were visiting with us that they were going to invest in it, that - that was er, amazing.
And Bill said Steve, you'd better come to the meeting, you're the only other guy here who can wear a suit. So we figure the two of us will put on suits, we'll put on suits and we'll go to this meeting.
We got there at roughly two o'clock and we were waiting in the front, and this young fella came out to take us back to Mr. Gates office. I thought he was the office boy, and of course it was Bill. He was quite decisive, we popped out the non-disclosure agreement - the letter that said he wouldn't tell anybody we were there and that we wouldn't hear any secrets and so forth. He signed it immediately.
IBM didn't make it easy. You had to sign all these funny agreements that sort of said I...IBM could do whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, and use your secrets however they - they felt. But so it took a little bit of faith.
Jack Sams was looking for a package from Microsoft containing both the BASIC computer language and an Operating System. But IBM hadn't done their homework.
They thought we had an operating system. Because we had this Soft Card product that had CPM on it, they thought we could licence them CPM for this new personal computer they told us they wanted to do, and we said well, no, we're not in that business.
When we discovered we didn't have - he didn't have the rights to do that and that it was not...he said but I think it's ready, I think that Gary's got it ready to go. So I said well, there's no time like the present, call up Gary.
And so Bill right there with them in the room called Gary Kildall at Digital Research and said Gary, I'm sending some guys down. They're going to be on the phone. Treat them right, they're important guys.
The men from IBM came to this Victorian House in Pacific Grove California, headquarters of Digital Research, headed by Gary and Dorothy Kildall. Just imagine what its like having IBM come to visit - its like having the Queen drop by for tea, its like having the Pope come by looking for advice, its like a visit from God himself. And what did Gary and Dorothy do? They sent them away.
Gary had some other plans and so he said well, Dorothy will see you. So we went down the three of us...
Former Head of Language Division, Digital Research
IBM showed up with an IBM non-disclosure and Dorothy made what I...a decision which I think it's easy in retrospect to say was dumb.
We popped out our letter that said please don't tell anybody we're here, and we don't want to hear anything confidential. And she read it and said and I can't sign this.
She did what her job was, she got the lawyer to look at the nondisclosure. The lawyer, Gerry Davis who's still in Monterey threw up on this non-disclosure. It was uncomfortable for IBM, they weren't used to waiting. And it was unfortunate situation - here you are in a tiny Victorian House, its overrun with people, chaotic.
So we spent the whole day in Pacific Grove debating with them and with our attorneys and her attorneys and everybody else about whether or not she could even talk to us about talking to us, and we left.
This is the moment Digital Research dropped the ball. IBM, distinctly unimpressed with their reception, went back to Microsoft.
BOB: It seems to me that Digital Research really screwed up.
STEVE BALLMER: I think so - I think that's spot on. They made a big mistake. We referred IBM to them and they failed to execute.
Bill Gates isn't the man to deliver a rival a second chance. He saw the opportunity of a lifetime.
Digital research didn't seize that, and we knew it was essential, if somebody didn't do it, the project was going to fall apart.
We just got carried away and said look, we can't afford to lose the language business. That was the initial thought - we can't afford to have IBM not go forward. This is the most exciting thing that's going to happen in PCs.
And we were already out on a limb, because we had licensed them not only Basic, but Fortran, Cobol Assembler er, typing tutor and Venture. And basically every - every product the company had we had committed to do for IBM in a very short time frame.
But there was a problem. IBM needed an operating system fast and Microsoft didn't have one. What they had was a stroke of luck - the ingredient everyone needs to be a billionaire. Unbelievably, the solution was just across town. Paul Allen, Gates's programming partner since high school, had found another operating system.
There's a local company here in CL called CL Computer Products by a guy named Tim Patterson and he had done an operating system a very rudimentary operating system that was kind of like CPM.
And we just told IBM look, we'll go and get this operating system from this small local company, we'll take care of it, we'll fix it up, and you can still do a PC.
Tim Patterson's operating system, which saved the deal with IBM, was, well, adapted from Gary Kildall's CPM.
So I took a CPM manual that I'd gotten from the Retail Computer Store five dollars in 1976 or something, and used that as the basis for what would be the application program interface, the API for my operating system. And so using these ideas that came from different places I started in April and it was about half time for four months before I had my first working version.
This is it, the operating system Tim Patterson wrote. He called in QDOS the quick and dirty operating system. Microsoft and IBM called it PC DOS 1.0 and under any name it looks an awful lot like CPM. On this computer here I have running a PC DOS and CPM 86 and frankly it�s very hard to tell the difference between the two. The command structures are the same, so are the directories, in fact the only obvious external difference is the floppy dirive is labelled A in PC DOS and and C in CPM. Some difference and yet one generated billions in revenue and the other disappeared. As usual in the PC business the prize didn't go to the inventor but to the exploiter of the invention. In this case that wasn't Gary Kildall it wasn't even Tim Paterson.
There was still one problem. Tim Patterson worked for Seattle Computer Products, or SCP. They still owned the rights to QDOS - rights that Microsoft had to have.
Former Vice-President Microsoft
But then we went back and said to them look, you know, we want to buy this thing, and SCP was like most little companies, you know. They always needed cash and so that was when they went in to the negotiation.
And so ended up working out a deal to buy the operating system from him for whatever usage we wanted for fifty thousand dollars.
Hey, let's pause there. To savour an historic moment.
For whatever usage we wanted for fifty thousand dollars.
It had to be the deal of the century if not the millenium it was certainly the deal that made Bill Gates and Paul Allen multi billionaires and allowed Paul Allen to buy toys like these, his own NBA basketball team and arena. Microsoft bought outright for fifty thousand dollars the operating system they needed and they turned around and licensed it to the world for up to fifty dollars per PC. Think of it - one hundred million personal computers running MS DOS software funnelling billions into Microsoft - a company that back then was fifty kids managed by a twenty-five year old who needed to wash his hair. Nice work if you can get it and Microsoft got it. There are no two places further apart in the USA than south eastern Florida and Washington State where Microsoft is based. This - this is Florida, Boca Raton and this building right here is where the IBM PC was developed. Here the nerds from Seattle joined forces with the suits of corporate and in that first honeymoon year they pulled off a fantastic achievement.
After we got a package in the mail from the people down in Florida...
As August 1981 approached, the deadline for the launch of the IBM Acorn, the PC industry held its breath.
Supposedly, maybe at this very moment eh, IBM is announcing the personal computer. We don't know that yet.
Software writers like Dan Bricklin, the creator of the first spreadsheet VisiCalc waited by the phones for news of the announcement. This is a moment of PC history. IBM secrecy had codenamed the PC 'The Floridian Project.' Everyone in the PC business knew IBM would change their world forever. They also knew that if their software was on the IBM PC, they would make fortunes.
Please note that the attached information is not to be disclosed prior to any public announcement. (It's on the ticker) It's on the ticker OK so now you can tell people.
What we're watching are the first few seconds of a $100 billion industry.
After years of thinking big today IBM came up with something small. Big Blue is looking for a slice of Apple's market share. Bits and Bytes mean nothing try this one. Now they're going to sell $1,000 computers to millions of customers. I have seen the future said one analyst and it computes.
Today an IBM computer has reached a personal......
Nobody was ever fired for buying IBM. Now companies could put PCs with the name they trusted on desks from Wisconsin to Wall Street.
When the IBM PC came and the PC became a serious business tool, a lot of them, the first of them went into those buildings over there and that was the real ehm when the PC industry started taking off, it happened there too.
Can learn to use it with ease...
Former IBM Executive
What IBM said was it's okay corporate America for you to now start buying and using PCs. And if it's okay for corporate America, it's got to be okay for everybody.
For all the hype, the IBM PC wasn't much better than what came before. So while the IBM name could create immense demand, it took a killer application to sustain it. The killer app for the IBM PC was yet another spreadsheet. Based on Visicalc, but called Lotus 1-2-3, its creators were the first of many to get rich on IBM's success. Within a year Lotus was worth $150 million bucks. Wham! Bam! Thank you IBM!
Time to rock time for code...
IBM had forecast sales of half a million computers by 1984. In those 3 years, they sold 2 million.
Euphoric I guess is the right word. Everybody was believed that they were not going to... At that point two million or three million, you know, they were now thinking in terms of a hundred million and they were probably off the scale in the other direction.
What did all this mean to Bill Gates, whose operating system, DOS, was at the heart of every IBM PC sold? Initially, not much, because of the deal with IBM. But it did deliver him a vital bridgehead to other players in the PC marketplace, which meant trouble in the long run for Big Blue.
The key to our...the structure of our deal was that IBM had no control over...over our licensing to other people. In a lesson on the computer industry in mainframes was that er, over time, people built compatible machines or clones, whatever term you want to use, and so really, the primary upside on the deal we had with IBM, because they had a fixed fee er, we got about $80,000 - we got some other money for some special work we did er, but no royalty from them. And that's the DOS and Basic as well. And so we were hoping a lot of other people would come along and do compatible machines. We were expecting that that would happen because we knew Intel wanted to vend the chip to a lot more than just than just IBM and so it was great when people did start showing up and ehm having an interest in the licence.
IBM now had fifty per cent market share and was defining what a PC meant. There were other PCs that were sorta like the IBM PC, kinda like it. But what the public wanted was IBM PCs. So to be successful other manufacturers would have to build computers exactly like the IBM. They wanted to copy the IBM PC, to clone it. How could they do that legally, well welcome to the world of reverse engineering. This is what reverse engineering can get you if you do it right. It's the modest Aspen, Colorado ski shack of Rod Canion, one of the founders of Compaq, the company set up to compete head-on with the IBM PC. Back in 1982, Rod and three fellow engineers from Texas Instruments sketched out a computer design on a place mat at the House of Pies restaurant in Houston, Texas. They decided to manufacture and market a portable version of the IBM PC using the curious technique of reverse engineering.
Reverse engineering is figuring out after something has already been created how it ticks, what makes it work, usually for the purpose of creating something that works the same way or at least does something like the thing you're trying to reverse engineer.
Here's how you clone a PC. IBM had made it easy to copy. The microprocessor was available off the shelf from Intel and the other parts came from many sources. Only one part was IBM's alone, a vital chip that connected the hardware with the software. Called the ROM-BIOS, this was IBM's own design, protected by copyright and Big Blue's army of lawyers. Compaq had to somehow copy the chip without breaking the law.
First you have to decide how the ROM works, so what we had to do was have an engineer sit down with that code and through trial and error write a specification that said here's how the BIOS ROM needs to work. It couldn't be close it had to be exact so there was a lot of detailed testing that went on.
You test how that all-important chip behaves, and make a list of what it has to do - now it's time to meet my lawyer, Claude.
Silicon Valley Attorney
BOB: I've examined the internals of the ROM BIOS and written this book of specifications now I need some help because I've done as much as I can do, and you need to explain what's next.
CLAUDE: Well,the first thing I'm going to do is I'm going to go through the book of specifications myself, but the first thing I can tell you Robert is that you're out of it now. You are contaminated, you are dirty. You've seen the product that's the original work of authorship, you've seen the target product, so now from here on in we're going to be working with people who are not dirty. We're going to be working with so called virgins, who are going to be operating in the clean room.
BOB: I certainly don't qualify there.
CLAUDE: I imagine you don't. So what we're going to do is this. We're going to hire a group of engineers who have never seen the IBM ROM BIOS. They have never seen it, they have never operated it, they know nothing about it.
Claude interrogates Mark
CLAUDE: Have you ever before attempted to disassemble decompile or to in any way shape or form reverse engineer any IBM equipment?
MARK: Oh no.
CLAUDE: And have you ever tried to disassemble....
This is the Silicon Valley virginity test. And good virgins are hard to find.
CLAUDE: You understand that in the event that we discover that the information you are providing us is inaccurate you are subject to discipline by the company and that can include but not limited to termination immediately do you understand that?
MARK: Yes I do.
After the virgins are deemed intact, they are forbidden contact with the outside world while they build a new chip -- one that behaves exactly like the one in the specifications. In Compaq's case, it took l5 senior programmers several months and cost $1 million to do the reverse engineering. In November 1982, Rod Canion unveiled the result.
What I�ve brought today is a Compaq portable computer.
When Bill Murto, another Compaq founder got a plug on a cable TV show their selling point was clear 100 percent IBM compatibility.
It turns out that all major popular software runs on the IBM personal computer or the Compaq portable computer.
Q: That extends through all software written for IBM?
A: Eh Yes.
Q: It all works on the Compaq?
The Compaq was an instant hit. In their first year, on the strength of being exactly like IBM but a little cheaper, they sold 47,000 PCs.
In our first year of sales we set an American business record. I guess maybe a world business record. Largest first year sales in history. It was a hundred and eleven million dollars.
So Rod Canion ends up in Aspen, famous for having the most expensive real estate in America and I try not to look envious while Rod tells me which executive jet he plans to buy next.
ROD: And finally I picked the Lear 31.
BOB: Oh really?
ROD: Now thart was a fun airplane.
BOB: Oh yeh.
Poor Big Blue! Suddenly everybody was cashing in on IBM's success. The most obvious winner at first was Intel, maker of the PCs microprocessor chip. Intel was selling chips like hotcakes to clonemakers -- and making them smaller, quicker and cheaper. This was unheard of! What kind of an industry had Big Blue gotten themselves into?
Former Head, IBM PC Division
Things get less expensive every year. People aren't used to that in general. I mean, you buy a new car, you buy one now and four years later you go and buy one it costs more than the one you bought before. Here is this magical piece of an industry - you go buy one later it costs less and it does more. What a wonderful thing. But it causes some funny things to occur when you think about an industry. An industry where prices are coming down, where you have to sell it and use it right now, because if you wait later it's worth less.
Where Compaq led, others soon followed. IBM was now facing dozens of rivals - soon to be familiar names began to appear, like AST, Northgate and Dell. It was getting spectacularly easy to build a clone. You could get everything off the shelf, including a guaranteed-virgin ROM BIOS chip. Every Tom, Dick & Bob could now make an IBM compatible PC and take another bite out of Big Blue's business. OK we're at Dominos Computers at Los Altos California, Silicon Valley and this is Yukio and we're going to set up the Bob and Yukio Personal Computer Company making IBM PC clones. You're the expert, I of course brought all the money so what is it that we're going to do.
OK first of all we need a motherboard.
BOB: What's a motherboard?
YUKIO: That's where the CPU is set in...that's the central processor unit.
YUKIO: In fact I have one right here. OK so this is the video board...
BOB: That drives the monitor.
BILL LOWE: Oh, of course. I mean we were able to sell a lot of products but it was getting difficult to make money.
YUKIO: And this is the controller card which would control the hard drive and the floppy drive.
And the way we did it was by having low overhead. IBM had low cost of product but a lot of overhead - they were a very big company.
YUKIO: Right this is a high density recorder.
BOB: So this is a hard disk drive.
And by keeping our overhead low even though our margins were low we were able to make a profit.
YUKIO: OK I have one right here.
BOB: Hey...OK we have a keyboard which plugs in right over here.
BOB: People build them themselves - how long does it take?
YUKIO: About an hour.
BOB: About an hour.
And where did every two-bit clone-maker buy his operating system? Microsoft, of course. IBM never iniagined Bill Gates would sell DOS to anyone else. Who was there? But by the mid 80's it was boom time for Bill. The teenage entrepreneur had predicted a PC on every desk and in every home, running Microsoft software. It was actually coming true. As Microsoft mushroomed there was no way that Bill Gates could personally dominate thousands of employees but that didn't stop him. He still had a need to be both industry titan and top programmer. So he had to come up with a whole new corporate culture for Microsoft. He had to find a way to satisfy both his adolescent need to dominate and his adult need to inspire. The average Microsoftee is male and about 25. When he's not working, well he's always working. All his friends are Microsoft programmers too. He has no life outside the office but all the sodas are free. From the beginning, Microsoft recruited straight out of college. They chose people who had no experience of life in other companies. In time they'd be called Microserfs.
Chief Programmer, Microsoft
It was easier to to to create a new culture with people who are fresh out of school rather than people who came from, from from eh other companies and and and other cultures. You can rely on it you can predict it you can measure it you can optimise it you can make a machine out of it.
I mean everyone like lived together, ate together dated each other you know. Went to the movies together it was just you know very much a it was like a frat or a dorm.
Everybody's just push push push - is it right, is it right, do we have it right keep on it - no that's not right ugh and you're very frank about that - you loved it and it wasn't very formal and hierarchical because you were just so desirous to do the right thing and get it right. Why - it reflects Bill's personality.
And so a lot of young, I say people, but mostly it was young men, who just were out of school saw him as this incredible role model or leader, almost a guru I guess. And they could spend hours with him and he valued their contributions and there was just a wonderful camaraderie that seemed to exist between all these young men and Bill, and this strength that he has and his will and his desire to be the best and to be the winner - he is just like a cult leader, really.
As the frenzied 80's came to a close IBM reached a watershed - they had created an open PC architecture that anyone could copy. This was intentional but IBM always thought their inside track would keep them ahead - wrong. IBM's glacial pace and high overhead put them at a disadvantage to the leaner clone makers - everything was turning into a nightmare as IBM lost its dominant market share. So in a big gamble they staked their PC future to a new system a new line of computers with proprietary closed hardware and their very own operating system. It was war.
Start planning for operating system 2 today.
IBM planned to steal the market from Gates with a brand new operating system, called - drum roll please - OS/2. IBM would design OS/2. Yet they asked Microsoft to write the code. Why would Microsoft help create what was intended to be the instrument of their own destruction? Because Microsoft knew IBM was was the source of their success and they would tolerate almost anything to stay close to Big Blue.
It was just part of, as we used to call it, the time riding the bear. You just had to try to stay on the bear's back and the bear would twist and turn and try to buck you and throw you, but darn, we were going to ride the bear because the bear was the biggest, the most important you just had to be with the bear, otherwise you would be under the bear in the computer industry, and IBM was the bear, and we were going to ride the back of the bear.
It's easy for people to forget how pervasive IBM's influence over this industry was. When you talked to people who've come in to the industry recently there's no way you can get that in to their - in to their head, that was the environment.
The relationship between IBM and Microsoft was always a culture clash. IBMers were buttoned-up organization men. Microsoftees were obsessive hackers. With the development of OS/2 the strains really began to show.
In IBM there's a religion in software that says you have to count K-LOCs, and a K-LOC is a thousand line of code. How big a project is it? Oh, it's sort of a 10K-LOC project. This is a 20K-LOCer. And this is 5OK-LOCs. And IBM wanted to sort of make it the religion about how we got paid. How much money we made off OS 2, how much they did. How many K-LOCs did you do? And we kept trying to convince them - hey, if we have - a developer's got a good idea and he can get something done in 4K-LOCs instead of 20K-LOCs, should we make less money? Because he's made something smaller and faster, less KLOC. K-LOCs, K-LOCs, that's the methodology. Ugh anyway, that always makes my back just crinkle up at the thought of the whole thing.
When I took over in '89 there was an enormous amount of resources working on OS 2, both in Microsoft and the IBM company. Bill Gates and I met on that several times. And we pretty quickly came to the conclusion together that that was not going to be a success, the way it was being managed. It was also pretty clear that the negotiating and the contracts had given most of that control to Microsoft.
It was no longer just a question of styles. There was now a clear conflict of business interest. OS/2 was planned to undermine the clone market, where DOS was still Microsoft's major money-maker. Microsoft was DOS. But Microsoft was helping develop the opposition? Bad idea. To keep DOS competitive, Gates had been pouring resources into a new programme called Windows. It was designed to provide a nice user-friendly facade to boring old DOS. Selling it was another job for shy, retiring Steve Ballmer.
Steve Ballmer (Commercial)
How much do you think this advanced operating environment is worth - wait just one minute before you answer - watch as Windows integrates Lotus 1, 2, 3 with Miami Vice. Now we can take this...
Just as Bill Gates saw OS/2 as a threat, IBM regarded Windows as another attempt by Microsoft to hold on to the operating system business.
We created Windows in parallel. We kept saying to IBM, hey, Windows is the way to go, graphics is the way to go, and we got virtually everyone else, enthused about Windows. So that was a divergence that we kept thinking we could get IBM to - to come around on.
It was clear that IBM had a different vision of its relationship with Microsoft than Microsoft had of its vision with IBM. Was that Microsoft's fault? You know, maybe some, but IBM's not blameless there either. So I don't view any of that as anything but just poor business on IBM's part.
Bill Gates is a very disciplined guy. He puts aside everything he wants to read and twice a year goes away for secluded reading weeks - the decisive moment in the Microsoft/IBM relationship came during just such a retreat. In front of a log fire Bill concluded that it was no longer in Microsoft's long term interests to blindly follow IBM. If Bill had to choose between OS2, IBM's new operating system and Windows, he'd choose Windows.
We said ooh, IBM's probably not going to like this. This is going to threaten OS 2. Now we told them about it, right away we told them about it, but we still did it. They didn't like it, we told em about it, we told em about it, we offered to licence it to em.
We always thought the best thing to do is to try and combine IBM promoting the software with us doing the engineering. And so it was only when they broke off communication and decided to go their own way that we thought, okay, we're on our own, and that was definitely very, very scary.
We were in a major negotiation in early 1990, right before the Windows launch. We wanted to have IBM on stage with us to launch Windows 3.0, but they wouldn't do the kind of deal that would allow us to profit it would allow them essentially to take over Windows from us, and we walked away from the deal.
Jack Sams, who started IBM's relationship with Microsoft with that first call to Bill Gates in 1980, could only look on as the partnership disintegrated.
Then they at that point I think they agreed to disagree on the future progress of OS 2 and Windows. And internally we were told thou shalt not ship any more products on Windows. And about that time I got the opportunity to take early retirement so I did.
Bill's decison by the fireplace ended the ten year IBM/Microsoft partnership and turned IBM into an also-ran in the PC business. Did David beat Goliath? The Boca Raton, Florida birthplace of the IBM's PC is deserted - a casualty of diminishing market share. Today, IBM is again what it was before - a profitable, dominant mainframe computer company. For awhile IBM dominated the PC market. They legitimised the PC business, created the standards most of us now use, and introduced the PC to the corporate world. But in the end they lost out. Maybe it was to a faster, more flexible business culture. Or maybe they just threw it away. That's the view of a guy who's been competing with IBM for 20 years, Silicon Valley's most outspoken software billionaire, Larry Ellison.
I think IBM made the single worst mistake in the history of enterprise on earth.
Q: Which was?
LARRY: Which was the manufacture - being the first manufacturer and distributor of the Microsoft/Intel PC which they mistakenly called the IBM PC. I mean they were the first manufacturer and distributor of that technology I mean it's just simply astounding that they could ah basically deliver a third of their market value to Intel and a third of their market value to Microsoft by accident - I mean no-one, no-one I mean those two companies today are worth close to you know approaching a hundred billion dollars I mean not many of us get a chance to make a $100 billion mistake.
As fast as IBM abandons its buildings, Microsoft builds new ones. In 1980 IBM was 3000 times the size of Microsoft. Though still a smaller company, today Wall Street says Microsoft is worth more. Both have faced anti-trust investigations about their monopoly positions. For years IBM defined successful American corporate culture - as a machine of ordered bureaucracy. Here in the corridors of Microsoft it's a different style, it's personal. This company - in its drive, its hunger to succeed - is a reflection of one man, its founder, Bill Gates.
Bill wanted to win. Incredible desire to win and to beat other people. At Microsoft we, the whole idea was that we would put people under, you know. Unfortunately that's happened a lot.
Computer Industry Analyst
Bill Gates is special. You wouldn't have had a Microsoft with take a random other person like Gary Kildall. On the other hand, Bill Gates was also lucky. But Bill Gates knows that, unlike a lot of other people in the industry, and he's paranoid. Every morning he gets up and he doesn't feel secure, he feels nervous about this. They're trying hard, they're not relaxing, and that's why they're so successful.
And I remember, I was talking to Bill once and I asked him what he feared, and he said that he feared growing old because you know, once you're beyond thirty, this was his belief at the time, you know once you're beyond thirty, you know, you don't have as many good ideas anymore. You're not as smart anymore.
If you just slow down a little bit who knows who it'll be, probably some company that may not even exist yet, but eh someone else can come in and take the lead.
And I said well, you know, you're going to age, it's going to happen, it's kind of inevitable, what are you going to do about it? And he said I'm just going to hire the smartest people and I'm going to surround myself with all these smart people, you know. And I thought that was kind of interesting. It was almost - it was like he was like oh, I can't be immortal, but like maybe this is the second best and I can buy that, you know.
If you miss what's happening then the same kind of thing that happened to IBM or many other companies could happen to Microsoft very easily. So no-one's got a guaranteed position in the high technology business, and the more you think about, you know, how could we move faster, what could we do better, are there good ideas out there that we should be going beyond, it's important. And I wouldn't trade places with anyone, but the reason I like my job so much is that we have to constantly stay on top of those things.
The Windows software system that ended the alliance between Microsoft and IBM pushed Gates past all his rivals. Microsoft had been working on the software for years, but it wasn't until 1990 that they finally came up with a version that not only worked properly, it blew their rivals away and where did the idea for this software come from? Well not from Microsoft, of course. It came from the hippies at Apple. Lights! Camera! Boot up! In 1984, they made a famous TV commercial. Apple had set out to create the first user friendly PC just as IBM and Microsoft were starting to make a machine for businesses. When the TV commercial aired, Apple launched the Macintosh.
Glorious anniversary of the information...
The computer and the commercial were aimed directly at IBM - which the kids in Cupertino thought of as Big Brother. But Apple had targeted the wrong people. It wasn't Big Brother they should have been worrying about, it was big Bill Gates.
We are one people....
To find out why, join me for the concluding episode of Triumph of the Nerds.
...........we shall prevail.
A common refrain we heard at CREtech’s well-attended gathering of the proptech tribe in NYC this week is that the proptech universe is “filled with solutions looking for a problem.”
The CREtech 2022 confab showcased a proliferation of SaaS-oriented data integration platforms that are gaining wide acceptance as essential tools to manage CRE portfolios and operations—and to glean real-time analytics of the performance of both—all from a dashboard you can access with the device in your pocket.
IBM employed some 12,500 people manufacturing computer chips and processors and was the lifeblood of the largest private employer in New York.
‘Kyndryl continues to launch capabilities to help customers launch the right workloads on the right platforms, including their mainframe workloads. Customers have critical workloads on multiple platforms and want to connect everything to the cloud,’ says Petra Goude, Kyndryl’s global practice leader for Core Enterprise and zCloud.
Global infrastructure services provider Kyndryl this week expanded its ability to help customers run or migrate their mainframe workloads to public clouds with two new integrations.
In the first, Kyndryl used its Microsoft Ignite presence Thursday to unveil a new cloud offering combining the company’s managed services expertise with Microsoft Azure Stack HCI software and Dell Technologies hardware to help businesses with on-premises, remote or third-party data center workloads accelerate their cloud transformation projects.
The Microsoft Azure Stack HCI offering also supports mainframe modernization by connecting to on-premises mainframe or distributed computing infrastructures.
[Related: Kyndryl CEO Martin Schroeter: We Are Exiting The Influence Of IBM]
In the second, Kyndryl is working with Google Dual Run, a new service introduced Wednesday by Google as a way to migrate workloads off mainframes and onto the Google Cloud by letting the workloads work on both the cloud and on the mainframe until customers feel the time is right to take them off the mainframe altogether.
The two new mainframe-cloud integrations follow last week’s news that Kyndryl is partnering with Microsoft to allow mainframe applications to be run on Azure without the need to migrate them off the mainframe.
Together, Kyndryl, which was formerly the managed infrastructure services business of IBM before being spun out into a separate company, is taking advantage of its long history of working with mainframes to help customers modernize their mission-critical workloads, said Petra Goude, global practice leader for Core Enterprise and zCloud at New York-based Kyndryl.
“Kyndryl continues to launch capabilities to help customers launch the right workloads on the right platforms, including their mainframe workloads,” Goude told CRN. “Customers have critical workloads on multiple platforms and want to connect everything to the cloud.”
While Kyndryl last week introduced a data pipe to allow mainframe-based workloads to be run on the Microsoft Azure cloud, the new technology introduced Thursday uses Microsoft Azure Stack HCI together with Dell hardware to let the on-premises Azure Stack run both mainframe and distributed computing workloads, Goude said.
“We are using our integration to connect Azure Stack HCI to other platforms,” she said. “We create the integration layer to manage cloud, HCI and on-premises solutions. We are connecting it all together.”
The Kyndryl offering also uses the Dell Integrated System for Azure Stack HCI, based on Dell PowerEdge servers and Microsoft Azure Stack HCI software.
Kyndryl is now also providing services around Google Dual Run to customers looking to move mainframe workloads to the Google’s cloud, Goude said.
“For customers who want to move their workloads from mainframes to the Google Cloud Platform, we let them run in the cloud and on-premises,” she said. “We’re strong with mainframes and want to help customers put the right workload on the right platform. Google Dual Run is for customers who eventually want to take the workloads of the mainframes. The workloads can run on the mainframe and in Google for a while, and when it’s certain they run well in Google, they can be moved off the mainframe.”
For mainframe workloads that need to migrate to Amazon Web Services, Kyndryl works with Blu Age, which AWS acquired in 2021, Goude said.
pressconnects.com cannot provide a good user experience to your browser. To use this site and continue to benefit from our journalism and site features, please upgrade to the latest version of Chrome, Edge, Firefox or Safari.
We’re used to our laptop computers here in 2022 being ultra-portable, super-powerful, and with impressively long battery lives. It’s easy to forget then that there was a time when from those three features the laptop user could usually expect only one of them in their device. Powerful laptops were the size of paving slabs and had battery lives measured in minutes, while anything small usually had disappointing performance or yet again a minuscule power budget.
In the late 1990s manufacturers saw a way out of this in Microsoft’s Windows CE, which would run on modest hardware without drinking power. Several devices made it to market, among them one from IBM which [OldVCR] has taken a look at. It makes for an interesting trip down one of those dead-end side roads in computing history.
In the box bought through an online auction is a tiny laptop that screams IBM, we’d identify it as a ThinkPad immediately if it wasn’t for that brand being absent. This is an IBM WorkPad, a baby sibling of the ThinkPad line intended as a companion device. This one has a reduced spec screen and an NEC MIPS processor, with Windows CE on a ROM SODIMM accessible through a cover on the underside. For us in 2022 MIPS processors based on the open-sourced MIPS ISA are found in low-end webcams and routers, but back then it was a real contender. The article goes into some detail on the various families of chips from that time, which is worth a read in itself.
We remember these laptops, and while the IBM one was unaffordable there was a COMPAQ competitor which did seem tempting for on-the-road work. They failed to make an impact due to being marketed as a high-end executive’s toy rather than a mass-market computer, and they were seen off as “real” laptops became more affordable. A second-hand HP Omnibook 800 did the ultra-portable job on this bench instead.
The industry had various attempts at cracking this market, most notably with the netbooks which appeared a few years after the WorkPad was produced. It was left to Google to reinvent the ultra-portable non-Intel laptop as an internet appliance with their Chromebooks before they would become a mass-market device, but the WorkPad remains a tantalizing glimpse of what might have been.
Windows CE occasionally makes an appearance here, and yes, it runs DOOM.
One of the important positive spillovers of the success of Indian IT is that it has inspired and accelerated entrepreneurial activity in India over the past couple of decades. In the last chapter, we read about Indian deep-tech start-ups, like Niramai and Plansys, that are applying technologies like AI and ML, virtual reality/augmented reality, drones, robotics and blockchain in multiple industry domains. But, why should India care about creating and sustaining more deep-tech start-ups?
Some of the most valuable companies today started as deep-tech start-ups. Take the S&P 500 market capitalization-weighted index as an illustration. In 1970, the top five American companies were IBM, AT&T, General Motors, Standard Oil and Eastman Kodak. In 2020, this list includes Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Alphabet (parent company of Google) and Facebook23—all IT companies, and all at the forefront of creating new technologies and knowledge in fields like AI/ML. And none of these companies even existed in 1970.
Kris captures the importance of deep-tech start-ups for India when he says, ‘If India needs to become a developed economy, it has to focus on deep-tech. In the US, the most amount of wealth is being generated in companies with deep-tech as their starting point. Today, with our deep-engineering capabilities, when India does something in deep-tech, the entire world benefits. India has the potential to create products for 100 per cent of the world, not just the top 10 per cent.’24 S. Ramadorai believes that India will become the innovation capital of the world: ‘I think innovation, and innovation across domains, whether it is in healthcare, affordable or frugal innovation, which translates into global products, will become a way of life.’
Deep-tech start-ups are also important for boosting human productivity in a resource-constrained economy like India’s. N. Chandrasekaran, chairperson of Tata Sons, explains the importance of integrating technology and people in building a ‘bridgital nation’: ‘India suffers from a lack of access—we don’t have enough hospitals, enough doctors, enough judges, enough teachers, enough infrastructure. In everything there is shortage. And on the other side we have a jobs problem. There is plenty of talent but we don’t seem to do a good job of matching demand and supply. It is that way because we are attacking both problems differently. The two have to meet each other—an integration of technology with people. We have to remove the halo or the aura around technology. I think AI/machine learning should be in the hands of every citizen. How do you build tools based on technology so that they will empower the people who have low or no skills so they operate at a higher level? This also ensures that the productivity of an expert doubles or triples.’
Also read: New book details untold story of how a ‘band of dreamers’ set up NASSCOM
We can witness this idea in action in how Indian deep-tech start-ups are addressing some of the wicked problems in Indian healthcare. For instance, Forus Health has developed an innovative AI/ML-based image recognition system—a portable device that can screen common eye problems leading to blindness, such as the early onset of diabetic retinopathy. During mass eyecare check-ups conducted in remote locations, the AI system checks the eye image as soon as it is clicked and prompts the local technician to click another image in case it is not good enough. Once usable images are captured, the system grades the images, again in real time, and ascertains whether the patient has diabetic retinopathy. If that is the case, then the patient is advised to consult an ophthalmologist to determine the next course of action. Deep-tech solutions enhance the productivity of both the low-skilled technician in Indian villages as well as the expert ophthalmologist in Indian cities.
Deep-tech start-ups need a nurturing environment, rich in scientific research and engineering capabilities, to thrive. As we noted in the last chapter, they are discovering it in incubators in Indian universities. The IIT Madras Research Park, established in 2006, is modelled on the famous Stanford Research Institute. It offers an interesting model of nurturing the academia-start-up ecosystem for deep-technology start-ups. Its main objectives are to develop innovation capabilities and to transfer basic research to applications that can be commercialized. The research park creates a collaborative environment between industry and academia through joint research projects and consulting assignments. It nurtures a self-sustaining and technologically fertile environment that aligns R&D to the potential needs of the industry. It also facilitates the development of a high-quality and technology competent workforce. It does this by providing opportunities for students to work in the companies in the park and by encouraging employees of the companies in the park to enrol in part-time master’s and PhD programmes at the institute. India needs more of such research parks. In 2017–18, the government approved the setting up of eight more such parks, one each at IIT Kharagpur, IIT Bombay, IIT Gandhinagar, IIT Delhi, IIT Guwahati, IIT Kanpur, IIT Hyderabad and IISc Bangalore.
Also read: Achieving success as a techie in content management system and artificial intelligence spectrum
Other structured mechanisms are required to promote deeptech start-ups. Initiatives like the NASSCOM DeepTech Club and the India Deep Tech, a pan-industry alliance of deep-tech start-ups, deep-tech-focused incubators and venture capital funds, promote start-ups in India focused on scientific research and engineering innovation. Another programme is the Gopalakrishnan Deshpande Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which was established in 2017 in IIT Madras. Through a structured training programme, this centre works with STEM colleges and scientific research institutions across India to implement a ‘Lab to Market’ mission by helping faculty, researchers and students commercialize their research ideas by creating deep-tech start-ups. We are beginning to see some green shoots of the positive impact of such efforts—by 2018–19, about 35 per cent of the total portfolio of 170 deep-tech start-ups established at the IIT Madras Incubation Cell had faculty members as founders or minority shareholders.
It is not just industry that is riding the new IT wave, the Indian government too is looking at IT to power some of its largest programmes to ensure that every one of its people benefits from public services. IT enhances the effectiveness and efficiency of the government’s engagement with citizens.
This excerpt from Against All Odd: The IT Story of India has been taken with permission from Penguin India.