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Ken Olsen: We Lost a Great One

Ken Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corp., passed away on Sunday.

I covered DEC in 1984 and saw Olsen in action at many press conferences. Unfortunately he was not very press-friendly, and I wasn't able to speak to him. And after one particular story, my interview hopes were dashed for good.

Remember the DEC Rainbow? It was almost PC-compatible, but ran a proprietary version of MS-DOS that doomed it to failure. I had a couple, and even with what I think was an 8086 processor, it was faster than most Windows machines today. Character mode will do that.

I confirmed that DEC was about to kill the Rainbow and broke the story. DEC stock fell more than a billion dollars in a single day. Of course what goes down must come up, and the stock came back just fine.

Later I learned that DEC was replacing the Rainbow with a machine designed to be both a standalone PC and an adjunct to VAXes. The VAXmate was the first PC I know that had built-in Ethernet. I don't think DEC was happy that I pre-announced their computer, but the fallout was better than the first story I broke.

Much later when Olsen founded Advanced Modular Solutions, which built highly reliable and expandable PC-based systems, I was finally able to interview him. He was gracious and impressive.

We'll miss you Ken. Do you have any Ken Olsen memories, or are there other tech leaders you miss? Send your thoughts to dbarney@1105media.com.

Posted by Doug Barney on 02/09/2011 at 1:18 PM


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