Barney's Rubble

Best Dead Companies

You might love these new days of social networks and electronic everything, but don't forget the pioneers.

I've been writing about computers nearly nonstop since June 24, 1984. If my career were a car, I'd be an antique. I guess that makes me nostalgic, and so, from time to time, I miss our fallen vendor brothers.

A lot of Redmond readers feel the same way. You might love these new days of netbooks, iPads, social networks and electronic everything, but you also admire the pioneers.

Here, in almost scientific order, is your list of the best dead computer companies.

DEC: Many miss Digital Equipment Corp. I loved that DEC had a singular leader, Ken Olsen, with a unique view and a charming set of quirks: He drove a car that was more junky than his assembly line workers' cars.

DEC built the first minicomputer, evangelized Ethernet, invented Lotus Notes (look it up) and kept IBM very much on its toes. Two readers, Dave and Bruce, still happily run Virtual Memory System (VMS) -- and not on any old PDP-11s, but on Alpha machines from Compaq, itself now defunct.

Commodore: Owning an Amiga is like having a VW Camper: There are lots of fond memories. The Amiga computer from Commodore in 1985 had full multitasking, full TV-compatible graphics, full CD-quality sound and a full multiprocessing architecture. You could argue that the 25-year old computer had more power than an iPad, which only single-tasks.

Wang Labs: Wang was a pioneer in minicomputers and pretty much invented the concept of office automation, which back in the '80s mostly meant word processing. An anonymous reader remembers this: "I was there in 1983 when Wang had 300 employees and Dr. Wang would go around and pay office visits to all the cubicles, asking how we liked our jobs. I was there when Wang had 35,000 employees around the world in an amazing period of growth. I was there when Dr. Wang was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. He was a chain smoker to the nth degree, with two ashtrays and a cigarette going in both. When he found out, he got rid of all the cigarette machines in the building and didn't allow smoking anymore except for one designated room on each floor."

Unfortunately, a slow move to standards-based machines and missteps by Wang's son, Fred Wang, drove the company into the ground.

Other reader favorites are NeXT, Hayes, Prime, Javelin -- which invented the multidimensional database -- and even Burroughs (for being so bad, says reader Howard).

Companies I thought I'd hear about, but didn't, include WordPerfect, Lotus, Ashton-Tate and Osborne. Having used all their products, I guess I really don't miss 'em that much!

What's your favorite defunct product? Fire up that new-fangled e-mail thing and let me know at

About the Author

Doug Barney is editor in chief of Redmond magazine and the VP, editorial director of Redmond Media Group.

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Thu, Apr 7, 2011 Stock market

These companies were once upon a time at the pinnacle of glory but sad couldn't sail through. The mistakes these companies made however are lessons for the present companies.

Sat, Mar 26, 2011 Russell Solomon

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Thu, Aug 19, 2010 WangBanger NYC

"I was there in 1983 when Wang had 300 employees..." um, no. Maybe there were 300 employees in 1963 or 1973, but in 1983 Wang Labs filled 24 stories of office towers with employees, plus a training center in Burlington and a factory in Lawrence. Don't know exactly how many worked there in 1983 but it's probably 10 times the cited number.

Fri, Mar 26, 2010 Paul

I started at Wang in the 80's (the Doc was the best as was the job at his company), transitioned to DEC (long live or die Unix) and then ended up with Sun... who should I pick next?

Thu, Mar 25, 2010

Maybe it didn't have very much impact to others but as a wee lad I learned 6809 assembler and C on a TRS-80 CoCO. Very fond memories of Rainbow mag and the CoCo conventions where I met all sorts of crazy but highly brilliant characters. Coding w/4K RAM at 0.89Mhz proc was quite the challenge but taught me efficiency (until I figured out how to build bank switched mem and get a whopping 128K). Having only an RF out for a TV led me to develop a video board to drive a green screen composite monitor. 9 pin DMPs from Tandy and Star Micronics taught me how to write print and font drivers. 6 bit DAC and 6847 video chip taught graphics/sound programming (later adapted a couple of 6581's for totally cool music). Ahhh those were the days of doing it for the pure love of learning and tech, where all were friendly. And none of today's extremely tiresome tech-politics and vendor bashing...

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