Everyone knows how the modern tech industry was born: Steve Jobs designed the Apple computer and the Mac, Bill Gates designed Windows, and the rest is history.
Well, not quite. As James Temple points in an excellent series of articles on re/code, the modern software industry was born in Boston, before shifting out west to Seattle and Silicon Valley.
At the center of the software revolution was a visionary who is now Alpha Software's Chief Technology Officer, Dan Bricklin. In this first of a two-part blog post based on Temple's articles, we look at the minicomputer and the role that Bricklin played in it.
The Death of the MinicomputerThe first big wave of Boston tech were driven by minicomputers, built by companies such as Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC), which were smaller, less expensive and easier to program and maintain than IBM's behemoth mainframes. By introducing these new types of computers, DEC became the second largest computer company in the world, second only to IBM. In the 1960s and 1970s, DEC reigned supreme in the minicomputer world, and drew people from all over the world to join the tech boom. One of them was Bricklin, who worked at DEC between 1973 and 1976.
Bricklin was caught up in the ferment of the beginning of the computer revolution. Remembering those days, he said to Temple, "It was really cool times. It was really exciting...We could share a computer among many people. We could use them for real things. I could use them to write my thesis with."
DEC had built its success on IBM's failure to see the next wave of computing — minicomputers. But Bricklin found DEC hadn't learned from its own successes, and was ignoring the third wave of computing — small personal computers. Bricklin told Temple, "At DEC, I remember asking, I think at a shareholders meeting: 'What about small computers?' Because we had one that actually ran Basic, I think. [DEC Chief Executive] Ken Olsen was talking about wheelbarrows versus pickup trucks. Classical 'Innovator's Dilemma.' He knew he was selling to engineers, and they wanted the bigger ones."
So DEC ignored personal computers. That eventually led to DEC's demise and eventual buyout by Compaq — a company built on the sales of personal computers.
But a revolution was born out of the ashes of DEC and other minicomputer companies — the modern software industry. In the second part of this series, we'll look at how Bricklin and others launched that revolution, and how his discoveries are powering new approaches to mobile app development at Alpha Software.
To learn more about Dan Bricklin's work with Alpha Software, click here.
Click here to read part 2.