Letters from Readers
I enjoyed Doug Barney's recent column, "Best Dead Companies" (Barney's Rubble, March 2010). My favorite defunct product was Cullinet CULPRIT report writer. This was a no-compile report generator that would read IDMS natively. It had sophisticated (for its time) sorting, control breaking and page setup -- all the benefits of a custom-written COBOL program without the coding or compiling. Interestingly, it was the same product as Cullinet EDP-Auditor -- the company just renamed and repackaged it with a few different modules and charged you twice. How's that for a business model?
Modern report generators like SAS and Cognos can all trace a little of their history back to CULPRIT.
This anecdote will definitely date me. I was working with GSI, an oil exploration company in Dallas, when they bought the rights to the transistor from Bell Labs in Houston and then formed Texas Instruments (TI) in Dallas. I was an electronics tech, so GSI moved me over to TI at the planning stage. I still have one of the first computer units that TI built. I even wrote a math program that would convert acoustic signals to Fourier transforms that would work on the "cracker box." This was the early 1950s.
I worked with these units from South American jungles to the Sahara Desert, spending at least 30 years overseas. I miss the early years, when the field techs worked in the development labs and then took the end results out to make sure things would work under field conditions as they were supposed to. And, we had to write the programs!
In addition to all of this, because we were working with local people, I picked up about six different languages.
Robert B. Coate
The defunct product I miss the most is the one I started my career on: Diablo. A computer called a ranger, which had four 8-inch floppy drives, with 64K of memory in a fully configured machine. It was the size of a desk with an inbuilt screen and keyboard.
The associated storage unit was called a 44B. It had 5MB of fixed storage and 5MB in a removable cartridge, and was the size of a large dinner plate.
We used an oscilloscope and a CE pack to align it, and in the days before the regular use of uninterruptible power supply units we lived in fear of a power cut whilst we worked on the innards of the beast. It had a capacitor the size of a large coffee cup whose sole purpose in life was to withdraw the heads from the disks in the event of a power cut. Woe to your fingers if they got in the way!
My favorite defunct product is the Texas Instruments TI-99\4A. When I bought mine in 1982, all the store demos -- TI-99\4A, Commodore and so on -- had Donkey Kong on them, and the TI had the best graphics. Once I got it home and opened it up, I found the manuals to be very well written and easy to understand. They made learning BASIC a breeze.
Imagine my delight when, over the past summer, I found a program online that not only emulates the TI-99\4A on the PC, but comes with the TI's most popular games and applications. Once again, I get to play Tunnels of Doom.
received via e-mail
I miss Kaypro. I had a Kaypro 2x that I wrote my Masters thesis on. It was still running strong when I gave it to
Goodwill 12 years later -- as was the Juki printer that came bundled with it.
I also miss WordPerfect. It was better than Microsoft Word, but sidelined by Microsoft's integration practices. Word hasn't come close to the ease of WriteNow, which I still have and which still functions on my Mac Plus (they're all 25 years old).
Brian M. Peck
One of my early favorites was GeoWorks; it put Microsoft Windows to shame. Unfortunately, it went the way of other companies from your list, particularly when Windows 95 hit the market.
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