[FoRK] #digital now completely zeroed out

Stephen Williams sdw at lig.net
Tue Feb 8 23:09:42 PST 2011


On 2/8/11 7:46 PM, Ken Ganshirt @ Yahoo wrote:
>> From: Marty Halvorson<marty at halvorson.us>
>> Subject: Re: [FoRK] #digital now completely zeroed out
>> To: fork at xent.com
>> Received: Tuesday, February 8, 2011, 6:55 PM
>> On 2/8/2011 1:00 PM, Wayne Baisley wrote:
>>> RIP, Ken Olsen. #dec founder swapped out at '11/84.
>> One of the smartest men I've ever met.  He came to
>> Albuquerque for dinner with an old friend (Tom Stockebrand,
>> who managed one of DEC's advanced development groups), and
>> attended our weekly staff meeting.  He asked amazing
>> insightful questions of every speaker.  Some of which
>> resulted in much better projects.  I was one of the few
>> invited to attend the dinner where he continued to impress.
>>
>> The world has lost another in a long line of brilliant and
>> effective leaders.
>>
> He was very smart but he had a serious blind spot and I don't know where it came from.
>
> After helping to create an entire new industry that had virtually all of the characteristics of the "PC revolution" he refused to accept that what he had foreseen and helped create could be repeated at another level of "smaller", "more affordable" and "distributed". Unfortunately for Digital Equipment Corp it could and it did happen. And they missed it.

Olsen and DEC made valuable contributions.  And then they blew it when they could have been a better IBM II.  Dismissing Unix as 
"snake oil" when they could have, and should have embraced it.  (Just like Microsoft.)  Many little decisions, some of which are 
irritating us still: the verbose argument style "/blablablablabla" which led Microsoft to follow and go with '\' for directory path 
separators.  I'm glad I didn't use EDT too long, using Emacs on the Unix systems.  The shell was pathetic compared to any Unix 
shell.  (What was VMS doing that took so long to start a process???)

> What's scary is where it should have been DEC leading the charge because they would have had the most cred, it turned out to be IBM who legitimized it. Dontcha just love the irony?

Even more ironic that IBM empowered Microsoft who proceeded to imitate VMS (and later hire a main architect of VMSen).
IBM, who also should have embraced Unix.  Earlier.  They are only doing so well because they embraced Unix, Linux, Java, and some 
things open.

Besides all of that, some combination of Mass., Boston, East Coast, and the DNA of DEC and other companies caused the culture to 
assume and force strict NDA, non-compete, etc.  I've read that is one of the key reasons that Boston and the NorthEast didn't become 
Silicon Valley-like, even though they had MIT, Harvard, etc.  California, and the Bay Area in particular, did it right from the 
beginning.  Probably a clear case of subtleties of law, culture, court decisions, companies, and workers making the difference 
between spiral up vs. spiral down / stagnate.

Anyway, a good lesson that the smartest people don't always make the best choices for themselves or others.
>           ...ken...
sdw



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