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Doug's Mailbag: Dearly Defunct Tech Companies, More

Doug asked readers recently to share their favorite late, great tech companies. Here are some more:


Ricochet and Digital Equipment Corp. (the originator of 64-bit).

Mine is Wang Laboratories of Lowell, Mass. 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 did not allow smoking anymore except for one designated room on each floor.

During that time, Chinese tradition forced Fred Wang, the eldest son, to take over the business. He did not want to. Fred wanted to teach business subjects at Harvard Business School. So what happened? Fred surrounded himself with atta-boy-Fred people who agreed with everything he said and, not knowing what he should do, he ran Wang into the ground, insisting on proprietary software (which, of course, did not work with other vendors' software running on all kinds of other vendors' hardware).

As a result, I was there when Wang went back down to 350 employees in 1994, and then I left for other opportunities. I helped many good friends carry their things to their cars as they were laid off. Because so many people were being laid off at once, security couldn't manage it, so people were taking furniture, computers, etc. But who cared? It was an incredible tragedy. And where is Fred now? Teaching business subjects at Harvard Business School. Wang is no more. Well, it sort of evolved into Getronics, but they're in survival mode, with about 350 employees.

I really miss Hayes modems.

I agree that the Amiga was way ahead of its time. I recall Amigas with the NewTek video toaster selling for thousands of dollars for many years because nothing else could touch it.

DEC is long gone, but VMS (now OpenVMS) is alive and well. It follows from Compaq and then to HP, migrating from VAX to Alpha and now to Intel Itanium. I can assure you that it is as powerful, secure and stable as ever. We use it here to run our factories.

DEC was a great company. The equipment is rock-solid. In fact, we still have Alphas running VMS in production. I'll be glad when I don't have to deal with MYLEX controllers anymore. Back in the day, they were good, but compared to modern RAID controllers, are a bit short on features.

Phil has a tip for one reader who wondered why it's so complicated to mark a message as "Unread" in Gmail:

The solution to EJ's Gmail gripe is in the Gmail Labs. Click on the little beaker icon in the upper-right corner to get to Gmail Labs, then scroll down about two-thirds of the way to find the "Mark as Read" button and enable it. This has saved me many a click!

More letters coming on Friday! Meanwhile, leave a comment below or send an e-mail to [email protected]

Posted by Doug Barney on 01/27/2010 at 1:17 PM


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