Top 15 Underachievers in IT

I used to write a lot of books … but I’ve moved to creating Web material, which is easier to update. From the past, here’s one of my essays I did many years ago …

When it comes to failures, there are no failures really, and it is easy to be wise after the event. Who really knows what would have happened if the industry had taken another route? So instead of the Top 15 failures, I’ve listed the following as the Top 15 under-achievers (please forgive me for adding a few of my own, such as DOS and the Intel 8088):

1. DOS, which became the best selling, standard operating systems for IBM PC systems. Unfortunately, it held the computer industry back for at least ten years. It was text-based, command-oriented, had no graphical user interface, could only access up to 640KB, it could only use 16 bits at a time, and so on, …. Many with a short memory will say that the PC is easy to use, and intuitive, but they are maybe forgetting how it used to be. With Windows 95 (and to a lesser extent with Windows 3.x), Microsoft made computers much easier to use. From then on, users could actually switch their computer on without have to register for a high degree in Computer Engineering. DOS would have been fine, as it was compatible with all its previous parents, but the problem was MAC OS, which really showed everyone how a user interface should operate. Against this competition, it was no contest. So, what was it? Application software. The PC had application software coming out of its ears.

S_Intel-D8088-22. Intel 8088, which became the standard processor, and thus the standard machine code for PC applications. So why is it in the failures list? Well, like DOS, its because it was so difficult to use, and was a compromised system. While Amiga and Apple programmers were writing proper programs which used the processor to its maximum extent, PC programs were still using their processor in ‘sleepy-mode’ (8088-compatiable mode), and could only access a maximum of 1MB of memory (because of the 20-bit address bus limit for 8088 code). The big problem with the 8088 was that it kept compatibility with its father: the 8080. For this Intel decided to use a segmented memory access, which is fine for small programs, but a nightmare for large programs (basically anything over 64KB).

3. Alpha processor, which was DEC’s attack on the processor market. It had blistering performance, which blew every other processor out of the water (and still does). It has never been properly exploited, as there is a lack of development tools for it. The Intel Pentium proved that it was a great all-comer and did many things well, and was willing to improved the bits that it was not so good at.

4. Z8000 processor, which was a classic case of being technically superior, but was not compatible with its father, the mighty Z80, and its kissing cousin, the 8080. Few companies have given away such an advantage with a single product. Where are Zilog now? Head buried in the sand, probably.

images5. DEC, who were one of the most innovate companies in the computer industry. They developed a completely new market niche with their minicomputers, but they refused, until it was too late, that the microcomputer would have an impact on the computer market. DEC went from a company that made a profit of $1.31 billion in 1988, to a company which, in one quarter of 1992, lost $2 billion. Their founder, Ken Olsen, eventually left the company in 1992, and his successor brought sweeping changes. Eventually, though, in 1998 it was one of the new PC companies, Compaq, who would buy DEC. For Compaq, DEC seemed a good match, as DEC had never really created much of a market for PCs, and had concentrated on high-end products, such as Alpha-based workstations and network servers.

6. Fairchild Semiconductor. Few companies have ever generated so many ideas and incubated so many innovative companies, and got little in return.

index7. Xerox. Many of the ideas in modern computing, such as GUIs and networking, were initiated at Xerox’s research facility. Unfortunately, Xerox lacked force to develop them into products, maybe because they reduced Xerox’s main market, which was, and still is, very much based on paper.

8. PCjr, which was another case of incompatibility. IBM lost a whole year in releasing the PCjr, and lost a lot of credibility with their suppliers (many of whom were left with unsold systems) and their competitors (who were given a whole year to catch-up with IBM).

9. OS/2, IBM’s attempt to regain the operating system market from Microsoft. It was a compromised operating system, and their development team lacked the freedom of the original IBM PC development. Too many people and too many committees were involved in its development. It thus lacked the freedom, and independence that the Boca Raton development team had. IBM’s mainframe divisions were, at the time, a powerful force in IBM, and could easily stall, or veto a product if it had an effect on their profitable market.

10. CP/M, which many believed would because the standard operating system for microcomputers. Digital Research had an excellent opportunity to make it the standard operating system for the PC, but Microsoft overcame them by making their DOS system much cheaper.

11. MCA, which was the architecture that IBM tried to move the market with. It failed because Compaq, and several others, went against it, and kept developing the existing architecture.

12. RISC processors, which were seen as the answer to increased computing power. As Intel as shown, one of the best ways to increase computing speed is to simply ramp-up the clock speed, and make the busses faster.

13. Sinclair Research, who after the success of the ZX81 and the Spectrum, threw it all away by releasing a whole range of under-achievers, such as the QL, and the C-5.

14. MSX, which was meant to be the technology that would standardize computer software on PCs. Unfortunately, it hadn’t heard of the new 16-bit processors, and most of all, the IBM PC.

2.1-os215. Lotus Development, who totally misjudged the market, by not initially developing their Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet for Microsoft Windows. They instead developed it for OS/2, and eventually lost the market leadership to Microsoft Excel. Lotus also missed an excellent opportunity to purchase a large part of Microsoft when they were still a small company. The profits on that purchase would have been gigantic.

Here is my Top 15 successes in the computer industry:

1.    IBM PC
(for most), which was a triumph of design and creativity. One of the few computer systems to ever to be released on time, within budget, and within specification. Bill Gates must take some credit in getting IBM to adopt the 8088 processor, rather than 8080. After its success, every man and his dog had a say in what went into it. The rise of the bland IBM PC was a great success of an open-system over closed-systems. Companies who have quasi-monopolies are keen on keeping their systems closed, while companies against other competitors prefer open systems. The market, and thus, the user, prefers open-systems.

2.    TCP/IP, which is the standard protocol used by computers communicating over the Internet. It has been designed to be computer independent to any type of computer, can talk to any other type. It has withstood the growth of the Internet with great success. Its only problem is that we are now running out of IP addresses to grant to all the computers that connect to the Internet. It is thus a victim of its own success.

3.    Electronic mail, which has taken the paperless office one step nearer. Many mourned the death of the letter writing. Before email, TV and the telephone had suppressed the art of letter writing, but with email it is back again, stronger than ever. It is not without its faults, though. Many people have sent emails in anger, or ignorance, and then regretted them later. It is just too quick, and does not allow for a cooling off period. My motto is: ‘If your annoyed about something. Sleep on it, and send the email in the morning’. Also, because email is not a face-to-face communicate, or a voice-to-voice communication, it is easy to take something out of context. So another motto is: ‘Careful read everything that you have written, and make sure there is nothing’. Only on the Internet could email address be accepted, world-wide, in such a short time.

4.    Microsoft, who made sure that they could not loose in the growth of the PC, by teaming up with the main computer manufacturers, such as IBM (for DOS and OS/2), Apple (for Macintosh application software) and for their own operating system: Windows. Luckily for them it was their own operating system which became the industry standard. With the might of having the industry-standard operating system, they captured a large market for industry-standard application programs, such as Word and Excel.

5.    Intel, who was gifted an enormous market with the development of the IBM PC, but have since invested money in enhancing their processors, but still keeping compatibility with their earlier ones. This has caused a great deal of hassle for software developers, but is a dream for users. With processors, the larger the market you have, the more money you can invest in new ones, which leads to a larger market, and so on. Unfortunately, the problem with this is that other processor companies can simply copy their designs, and change them a little so that they are still compatible. This is something that Intel have fought against, and, in most cases have succeed in regaining their market share, either with improved technology or through legal action. The Pentium processor was a great success, as it was technologically superior to many other processors in the market, even the enhanced RISC devices. It has since become faster and faster.

6.    6502 and Z80 processors, the classic 16-bit processors which became a standard part in most of the PCs available before the IBM PC. The 6502 competed against the Motorola 6800, while the Z80 competed directly with the Intel 8080.

7.    Apple II, which brought computing into the class room, the laboratory, and, even, the home.

8.    Ethernet, which has become the standard networking technology. It is not the best networking technology, but has survived because of its upgradeabliity, its ease-of-use, and its cheapness. Ethernet does not cope well with high capacity network traffic. This is because it is based on contention, where nodes must contend with each other to get access to a network segment. If two nodes try to get access at the same time, a collision results, and no data is transmitted. Thus the more traffic there is on the network, the more collisions there are. This reduces the overall network capacity. However, Ethernet had two more trump cards up its sleeve. When faces with network capacity problems, it increased its bit rate from the standard 10Mbps (10BASE) to 100Mbps (100BASE). So there was ten times the capacity which reduced contention problems. For networks backbones it also suffered because it could not transmit data fast enough. So, it played its next card: 1000BASE. This increased the data rate to 1Gbps (1000MBps). Against this type of card player, no other networking technology had a chance.

9.    Web, which is often confused with the Internet, and is becoming the largest data infastructure ever created.. The Web is one of the uses of the Internet (others include file transfer, remote login, electronic mail, and so on).

10.    Apple Macintosh, which was one of few PC systems which competed with the IBM PC. It succeeded mainly because of its excellent operating system (MAC OS), which was approximately 10 years ahead of its time. Possibly if Apple had spent as much time in developing application software rather than for their operating system it would have considerably helped the adoption of the Mac. Apple refusing to license it to other manufacturers also held its adoption back. For a long time it thus stayed a closed-system.

11.    Compaq DeskPro 386. Against all the odds, Compaq stole the IBM PC standard from the creators, who had tried to lead the rest of the industry up a dark alley, with MCA.

12.    Sun SPARC, which succeed against of the growth of the IBM PC, because of its excellent technology, its reliable Unix operating system, and its graphical user interface (X-Windows). Sun did not make the mistakes that Apple made, and allowed other companies to license their technology. They also supported open systems in terms of both the hardware and software.

13.    Commodore, who bravely fought on against the IBM PC. They released mainly great computers, such as the Vic range and the Amiga. Commodore was responsible for forcing the price of computers.

14.    Sinclair, who, more than any other company, made computing acceptable to the masses. Okay, most of them had terrible membrane keyboards, and memory adaptor that wobbled, and it took three fingers to get the required command (Shift-2nd Function-Alt-etc), and it required a cassette imagesrecorder to download program, and it would typically crash after you had entered one thousand lines of code. But, all of this aside, in the Sinclair Spectrum they found the right computer, for the right time, at the right price. Sometimes success can breed complacency, and so it turned out with the Sinclair QL and the Sinclair C-5 (the electric slipper).

15.    Compaq, for startling growth, that is unlikely to be ever repeated. From zero to one billion dollars in five years. They achieved their growth, not by luck, but by shear superior technology, and with the idea of sharing their developments.

So, apart from the IBM PC, what are the what are the all-time best computers. A list by Byte in September 1995 stated the following:

1.       MITS Altair8800
2.       Apple II
3.       Commodore PET
4.       Radio Shack TRS-80
5.       Osborne 1 Portable
6.       Xerox Star
7.       IBM PC
8.       Compaq Portable
9.       Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 100
10.    Apple Macintosh    11.    IBM AT
12.    Commodore Amiga 1000
13.    Compaq Deskpro 386
14.    Apple Macintosh II
15.    Next Nextstation
16.    NEC UltraLite
17.    Sun SparcStation 1
18.    IBM RS/6000
19.    Apple Power Macintosh
20.    IBM ThinkPad 701C

And the Top 10 computer people as:

1.    DAN BRICKLIN (VisiCalc)
2.    BILL GATES (Microsoft)
3.    STEVE JOBS (Apple)
4.    ROBERT NOYCE (Intel)
5.    DENNIS RITCHIE (C Programming)
6.    MARC ANDREESSEN (Netscape Communications)
7.    BILL ATKINSON  (Apple Mac GUI)
8.    TIM BERNERS-LEE (CERN)
9.    DOUG ENGELBART (Mouse/Windows/etc)
10.    GRACE MURRAY HOPPER (COBOL)
11.    PHILIPPE KAHN (Turbo Pascal)
12.    MITCH KAPOR (Lotus 123)
13.    DONALD KNUTH (TEX)
14.    THOMAS KURTZ
15.    DREW MAJOR (NetWare)
16.    ROBERT METCALFE (Ethernet)
17.    BJARNE STROUSTRUP (C++)
18.    JOHN WARNOCK (Adobe)
19.    NIKLAUS WIRTH (Pascal)
20    STEVE WOZNIAK (Apple)

One of the classic comments of all time was by Ken Olson at DEC, who stated, “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” This seems farcical now, but at the time, in the 1970s, there were no CD-ROMs, no microwave ovens, no automated cash dispensers, and no Internet. Few people predicted them, so, predicting the PC was also difficult. But the two best comments were:

“Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.” Popular Mechanics
“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers”, Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943

From John Napier to the Millenium Bug

Before the Internet really took off, here was my quick history of the computer:

images1614    John Napier discovered logarithms, which allowed the simple calculation of complex multiplications, divisions, square roots and cube roots.
1642    Blaise Pascal built a mechanical adding machine.
1801    Joseph-Maire Jacuard developed an automatic loom controlled by punched cards.
1822    Charles Babbage designed his first mechanical computer, the first prototype for his difference engine. His model would be used in many future computer systems.
1880s    Hollerith produced a punch-card reader for the US Census.
1896    IBM founded (as the Tabulating Machine Company).
1906    Lee De Forest produces the first electronic value.
1946    ENIAC built at the University of Pennsylvania.
1948    Manchester University produces the first computer to use a stored program (the Mark I).
1948    William Shockley (and others) invents the transistor.
1954    Texas Instruments produces a transistor using silicon (rather than germanium). IBM produces the IBM 650 which was, at the time, the workhorse of the computer indus-try. MIT produces the first transistorized computer: the TX-O.
1957    IBM develops the FORTRAN (FORmula TRANslation) programming language.
1958    Jack St. Clair Kilby proposes the integrated circuit.
1959    Fairchild Semiconductor produces the first commercial transistor using the planar process. IBM produces the first transistorized computer: the IBM 7090.
1960    ALGOL introduced which was the first structured, procedural, language. LISP (LISt Processing) was introduced for the Artificial Intelligence applications.
1961    Fairchild Semiconductor produces the first commercial integrated circuit.
COBOL (COmmon Business-Orientated Language) developed by Grace Murray Hop-per.
1963    DEC produce its first minicomputer.
1965    BASIC (Beginners All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) was developed at Darth-mouth College. IBM produced the System/360, which used integrated circuits.
1968    Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore start-up the Intel Corporation.
1969    Intel began work on a device for Busicom, which would eventually become the first microprocessor.
1970    Xerox creates the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), which would become one of the leading research centers of creative ideas in the computer industry. Intel release the first RAM chip (the 1103), which had a memory capacity of 1Kb (1024 bits). DEC re-leases the 16-bit PDP-11 (PDP-11/20) computer, which would eventually sell over 600,000 computers.
1971    Intel release the first microprocessor: the Intel 4004. Bill Gates and Paul Allen start work on a PDP-10 computer in their spare time. Ken Thompson, at Bell Laboratories, produces the first version of the UNIX operating system. Niklaus Wirth introduces the Pascal programming language.
1973    Xerox demonstrates a bit-mapped screen. IBM produces the first hard disk drive (an 8 inch diameter, and a storage of 70MB).
1974    Intel produces the first 8-bit microprocessor: the Intel 8008. Bill Gates and Paul Al-len start-up a company named Traf-O-Data. Xerox demonstrates Ethernet. MITS produces a kit computer, based on the Intel 8008. Xerox demonstrates WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get).  Motorola develops the 6800 microprocessor. Brian Kerighan and Dennis Ritchie produced the C programming language.
1975    MOS Technologies produces the 6502 microprocessor. Microsoft develops BASIC for the MITS computer.
1976    Zilog releases the Z80 processor. Digital Research copyrighted the CP/M operating system. Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs develop the Apple I computer, and create the Apple Corporation. Texas Instruments produces the first 16-bit microprocessor: the TMS9900. Cray-1 supercomputer released, the first commercial supercomputer (150 million floating point operations per second).
1977    FORTRAN 77 introduced. DEC released their new 32-bit VAX computer range (VAX-11/780).
1978    Commodore released the Commodore PET. DEC release VMS Version 1.0 for their VAX range.
1979    Intel releases the 8086/8088 microprocessors. Zilog introduced the Z8000 micro-processor and Motorola releases the 6800 microprocessor. Apple introduced the Apple II computer, and Radio Shack releases the TRS-80 computer. VisiCalc and WordStar introduced.
1981    IBM releases the IBM PC, which is available with MS-DOS supplied by Microsoft and PC-DOS (IBM’s version).
1982    Compaq Corporation founded. Commodore releases the Vic-20 computer and Com-modore 64. Sinclair releases the ZX81 computer and the Sinclair Spectrum. TCP/IP communications protocol created. Intel releases the 80286, which is an improved 8088 processor.
WordPerfect 1.0 released.
1983    Compaq releases their first portable PC. Lotus 1-2-3 and WordPerfect released. Bjarn Stroustrup defines the C++ programming language. MS-DOS 2.0 and PC-DOS 2.0 released.
1984    Apple releases the Macintosh computer. MIT introduce the X-Windows user inter-face.
1985    Microsoft releases the first version of Microsoft Windows, and Intel releases the classic 80386 microprocessor. Adobe Systems define the PostScript standard which is used with the Apple LaserWriter. Philips and Sony introduce the CD-ROM. DEC re-lease MicroVAX II.
1986    Microsoft releases MS-DOS 3.0. Compaq release the Deskpro 386.
1987    Microsoft releases the second version of Microsoft Windows. IBM releases PS/2 range. Model 30 uses 8088 processor, Model 50 and Model 60 use 80286, and Model 80 uses 80386 processor. VGA standard also introduced. IBM and Microsoft release the first version of OS/2.
1988    MS-DOS 4.0 released.
1989    WWW (World Wide Web) created by Tim Bernes-Lee at CERN, European Particle Physics Laboratory in Switzerland. Intel develops the 80486 processor. Creative La-boratories release Sound Blaster card.
1990    Microsoft releases Microsoft Windows 3.0. DEC releases its two last members of its PDP family (MicroPDP-11/93 and PDP-11/94), after 20 years of sales.
1991    MS-DOS 5.0 released. Collaboration between IBM and Microsoft on DOS finishes.
1993    Intel introduces the Pentium processor (60MHz). Microsoft release Windows NT, Office 4.0 (Word 6.0, Excel 5.0 and PowerPoint 4.0) and MS-DOS 6.0 (which includes DoubleSpace, a disk compression program). IBM makes an annual loss of $8 billion.
1994    Netscape 1.0 released. Microsoft withdraws DoubleSpace in favor of DriveSpace (be-cause of successful legal action by Stac which claimed that parts of it were copies of its program: Stacker). MS-DOS 6.22 would be the final version of DOS.
1995    Microsoft release Windows 95 and Office 95. Intel releases the Pentium Pro, which has speeds of 150, 166, 180 and 200MHz (400MIPs). JavaScript developed by Netscape. IBM purchase Lotus Development Corp.
1996    Netscape Navigator 2.0 released (the first to support Java Script). Microsoft releases Windows 95 OSR 2.0, which fixed the bugs in the first release and adds USB and FAT 32 support.
1997    Intel release Pentium MMX. Microsoft release Office 97, which creates a virtual mo-nopoly in office application software for Microsoft. Office 97 is fully integrated and has enhanced version of Microsoft Word (upgraded from Word 6.0), Microsoft Excel (upgraded from Excel 5.0), Microsoft Access, Microsoft PowerPoint and Microsoft Outlook. IBM’s Deep Blue beats Gary Kasparov (the World Chess Champion) in a chess match. Intel releases the Pentium II processor (233, 266 and 300MHz ver-sions). Apple admits serious financial trouble. Microsoft purchases 100,000 non-voting shares for $150 million. One of the conditions is that Apple drops their long running court case with Microsoft for copying the Mac interface on Microsoft Win-dows (although Apple copied its interface from Xerox). Bill Gate’s fortune reaches $40 billion. He has thus, since 1975 (the year that Microsoft were founded), earned $500,000 per hour (assuming that he worked a 14 hour day), or $150 per second. IBM’s Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov at chess.
1998    Microsoft releases Microsoft Windows 98. Legal problems arise for Microsoft, espe-cially as its new operating system includes several free programs as standard. The biggest problem is with Microsoft Internet Explorer, which is free compared to Netscape, which must be purchased.
1999    Linux Kernel 2.2.0 released, and heralded as the only real contender in the PC oper-ating market to Microsoft.     Intel releases Pentium III (basically a faster version of the Pentium II). Microsoft Office 2000 released. Bill Gates’ wealth reaches $100 bil-lion (in fact, $108 billion in September 1999).
2000     Millennium bug bites with false teeth.
and on    Microsoft release Windows NT Version 5/2000 in three versions: Workstation, Server and SMP Server (multiprocessor). It runs on DEC Alpha’s, Intel x86, Intel IA32, Intel IA64 and AMD K7 (which is similar to an Alpha). Microsoft releases Office 2000, but loses court case.

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