How DEC Failed to Enter the PC Market: A 1982 Documentary

Posted by Michael Pinto on Nov 23, 2009 in Tech |

Digital Equipment Corporation LogoThis is an amazing promotional film produced by Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) documents their attempt to enter the PC market in 1982. DEC owned a major chunk of the mini-computer market and to their credit they got the idea that the PC was the wave of the future and they knew they had to compete. Although in retrospect by 1982 it may have already been too late to get into the game when you think about the fact that the Apple II hit the market in 1977 (not to mention the fact that they were hitting the market after IBM defined it). Here’s the DEC Rainbow Triple Boot Computer which DEC introduced in May of 1982:

DEC Rainbow Triple Boot Computer from 1982

Despite the efforts shown here the project was a failure since the machines were tied to proprietary architecture verses IBM open standard which went on to dominate the market. Looking back at it Apple was able to get away with the Mac because of their previous history of the Apple II, but coming from the high end DEC was too late to the game.

Had DEC gone with the IBM standard they might had been the next Compaq. But NIH (not invented here) got in the way of that — yet unlike Apple which ripped off Xerox PARC you can see that DEC didn’t have a clue about innovative interfaces or industrial design. In fact while the software for the DEC Professional line was more powerful than PC-DOS it was much harder to learn.

DecMate-II

This is the DecMate-II which was one of three machines that came out in 1984 after this film was produced.

By the late 80s DEC still resisted making an IBM-PC compatible computer, although they gave in with small gestures and in 1986 even had a computer running the first version of Windows. But by then it was too late, and in retrospect DEC didn’t have the culture to get that computers could be for everyday people.

To their credit DEC made some great high end hardware, but as the company entered the 90s they went into a long term decline. They started spinning off parts of the company and by 1998 what was left was sold to Compaq. This is quite an irony when you think about the fact that Compaq was a tiny startup in 1982 when DEC made this film.

The Compaq Portable from 1982

Above: The Compaq Portable from 1982 was the the first IBM compatible PC — this single design decision to accept the IBM standard put the company on the map.

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