When you think of leaders in the computing industry, your first thoughts probably turn to companies like Apple, Microsoft, and IBM. But flash back a few decades, and the leaders of those companies all would’ve gladly bowed down to Digital Equipment Corporation, or DEC, who began paving the way for everyone starting in 1957.
DEC identified a demand for more affordable and high-performing computing systems that could be used in scientific research and other technological settings. DEC introduced a mid-range computing solution, the minicomputer, at a time when the alternative was too bulky and costly for most people.
In addition to its extensive lines of minicomputers, it also became involved with software as well as the internet (in the very, very early days of the internet).
So, what happened to DEC? Why did all the success and industry dominance they had for roughly three decades just suddenly slip away? Most argue that it was a failure of the company’s leadership to adapt to the changing direction that computing began to take in the late 1980s.
In order to understand how DEC eventually lost it all, it’s important to take a look back at how it all began and why such a monumental shift in the computing industry could’ve been missed by such a critical leader in the space.
The Impressive (and Tragic) History of DEC in Computing
DEC’s story begins in 1957 with two men at MITwho had a theory and an idea for a business. It ends in roughly 1998 with the selling of the company to Compaq. Here is DEC’s journey.
While working together in the Lincoln Laboratory at MIT, Ken Olsen and Harlan Anderson came up with the idea for DEC. They took notice of how popular the interactive computing machines were with students who visited the lab, as opposed to the batch processing machines that users couldn’t input data into or use for real-time feedback.
Olsen and Anderson also knew that these interactive machines could be made and sold cheaper, which would be another major draw for researchers and scientists who were craving the technology.
After creating their original business plan, Olsen and Anderson were advised to shift the focus of their company from one around “computers” to instead one focused on “equipment.” There were just too many concerns from investors about the future of computing, and so that’s what they did. The plan for Digital Equipment Corporation was finalized and they received $70,000 to launch their new company.
In sticking with the theme of keeping expenses light (not only for customers but for the company as well), they set up shop in an old wool mill in Maynard, MA.
The first product DEC created and sold was its Digital Laboratory Module. Staying true to its business plan, the initial product lines DEC focused on were modules, or electronic components, that were mounted to circuit boards.By the end of that year, DEC sold $94,000 worth of its first product.
DEC began selling its first computer at the end of 1960. But it was aware of people’s reluctance to invest in “computer” technology at the time, so it named the computer a “programmable data processor”, or PDP. The first iteration of this product line (PDP-1) sold for $120,000 that year.
Throughout the remainder of the decade, DEC created over a dozen PDP variants.
DEC began the process of creating “new” models of the PDP that could be sold for much less than the original. For example, the PDP-4 was similar in most ways to the PDP-1, but it was slower and packaged differently, which is what enabled DEC to sell it for $65,000.
While continuing to release new PDPs into the market, DEC also charged forward in its delivery of new modules. The Flip Chip came out in 1964 and was meant to convert the PDP-4 to the PDP-7. Many of its subsequent module releases served a similar purpose: helping users convert their old computers to upgraded versions.
It was in this year when DEC released the PDP-8, which is widely recognized as the first successful commercial minicomputer. Part of this is due to the improvements made to this model, but a large reason for its commercial success was the price tag of $18,500 and the 50,000 customers they sold it to.
In the interim, DEC came up with a revamped version of their PDP line and released the PDP-11 minicomputer. Not only did it bring major upgraded features to their computing machines, it also was easier to use. By the time it stopped selling it in the 1990s, DEC sold over 600,000 of them, making it one of the most popular minicomputers ever.
In addition, the design of the computer, as well as its operating system, turned out to be immensely popular with other computing companies, that eventually ended up using it as inspiration for their own work.
DEC made its first move into the European market in 1971, setting up manufacturing in Ireland.
DEC became recognized as a Fortune 500 company.
After widespread success with its PDP-11, DEC made the move into high-end computers and launched the Virtual Address eXtension, or VAX. This new 32-bit minicomputer (or supermini) line aimed to provide users with a wide array of computing resources that would be more affordable, powerful, and smaller than what companies like IBM could offer at the time.
The Rainbow 100 was created and was DEC’s first attempt to enter the personal computing space.
DEC continued to stay busy during this time, regularly putting out new models of the VAX. The VAX 8600 came out in 1984 and became an instant bestseller.
DEC registered dec.com.
DEC was recognized as one of the premier leaders in computing when it was named the second largest computer company, just behind IBM. At the time, it had generated over $11 billion in revenue and had over 120,000 employees.
DEC reported its first quarterly loss.
DEC reported its first annual loss.
Founder Ken Olsen retired.
DEC released Alpha AXP, which was a 64-bit microprocessor created to solve the overly complicated circuit designs of its VAX computers and to ultimately speed up processing times.
DEC launched AltaVista, one of the first ever search engines for the Internet. It became incredibly popular with users. During the first day of its launch, AltaVista received 300,000 visits. Two years later, it received 80 million hits every day.
Although AltaVista persisted long past the end or, more accurately, the acquisition of DEC, it was eventually sold to Yahoo in 2003. By the time 2013 rolled around, it was gone.
Other computer companies began to make moves for the flailing DEC. Intel was the first to step in when it purchased DEC’s microprocessor plant in Hudson. But even that $1.5 billion wasn’t enough to save the company.
The official end of DEC as a standalone company came in 1998 when it was acquired by Compaq for $9.6 billion. Unfortunately, Compaq didn’t know what to do with DEC’s overseas business, and so it was inevitable that neither DEC nor Compaq would exist for much longer. That day came in 2002 when Hewlett-Packard acquired Compaq.
What Is the Lesson Here?
It’s been many decades since the world was first introduced to DEC, and tech history buffs still enjoy talking about it.
Why? First, because it left such a lasting imprint on computing as we continue to know it, whether it was its contributions to computers, software, microchips, or even the internet itself.
Second, because there is an important lesson here that every computer company should carefully study if they don’t want to fall victim to the same fate.
In a Quora thread that asked the question “Why did Digital Equipment Corporation fail?” it was interesting to see so many previous DEC employees and members of the MIT community speak up about what they noted during their tenure there. Almost unanimously, they supported the theory—also commonly held by experts—that the failure of the company ultimately fell to the leaders who were unable to foresee what was coming in personal computing and were not able to take decisive or quick enough action in time to save the company.
Perhaps the saddest thing about this is that DEC had long been considered the “best” and the inspiratioan for what so many after them set out to do. It’s not like it hadn’t made an attempt at personal computing when they released their Rainbow 100. So, how did it fail to see that the future of the mid-market minicomputer was waning and that a full shift over to personal computers was needed in order to ensure the company’s longevity?
According to Clayton Christensen, a professor at Harvard Business School, it wasn’t a lack of trying that took down DEC. It was the inflexibility of the business model they had so long relied upon:
“Digital Equipment Corp. had microprocessor technology, but its business model could not profitably sell a computer for less than $50,000. The technology trapped in a high-cost business model had no impact on the world, and in fact, the world ultimately killed Digital. But IBM Corp., with the very same processors at its disposal, set up a different business model in Florida that could make money at a $2,000 price point and 20% gross margins—and changed the world.”
Regardless of why it happened or how the leadership behind DEC allowed it to happen, the legacy of this company will live on as it was willing to step up and introduce affordable and powerful computing solutions during a time when others were too afraid to.
“Digital Equipment Corp. had microprocessor technology, but its business model could not profitably sell a computer for less than $50,000. The technology trapped in a high-cost business model had no impact on the world, and in fact, the world ultimately killed Digital.What happened to DEC Digital Equipment Corporation? ›
But Digital failed to adapt successfully after the personal computer eroded its minicomputer market. Eventually, Compaq Computer bought DEC in 1998, and then Hewlett-Packard later acquired Compaq.What happened to DEC VAX? ›
Digital Equipment Corporation.
|Assabet Woolen Mill, former headquarters of Digital Equipment Corporation from 1957 to 1992|
|Fate||Acquired by Compaq, after divestiture of major assets.|
Digital Equipment CorporationWhat is the biggest digital company in the world? ›
1. Accenture Interactive, New York.
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Pronounced deck, and short for Digital Equipment Corporation, one of leading producers of workstations, servers, and high-end PCs.Is the digital revolution ending? ›
Ironically, amid all this transformation the digital revolution itself is ending. Over the next decade, new computing architectures will move to the fore and advancements in areas like synthetic biology and materials science will reshape entire fields, such as healthcare, energy and manufacturing.Who owns Digital Storm? ›
Harjit Chana, CEO of Digital Storm, echoed his competitors, saying the strength of small companies is due in no small part to their premium appeal.What is full form of VAX? ›
In Digital Equipment Corporation. In 1978 Digital introduced the VAX (Virtual Address eXtension) computer, arguably the most successful minicomputer in history.
VMS Software, Inc. has ported OpenVMS to x86. Reliability has been the strong suit of OpenVMS for over 40 years. There are still VAX systems in the field running VMS being used to control company operations.What is VAX in computer language? ›
VAX (an acronym for Virtual Address eXtension) is a series of computers featuring a 32-bit instruction set architecture (ISA) and virtual memory that was developed and sold by Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) in the late 20th century.Where is DEC based? ›
Dec lives in the Grove Park area, located in the borough of Hounslow. According to Rightmove's latest estimates, the average property price in this region fetches a staggering £864,000, though the Saturday Night Takeaway presenters both enjoy much more expensive homes.What is the full form of DEC in computer? ›
Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC)Which computer can be used where there is no electricity? ›
Answer: Non-electric computers. Explanation: A mechanical computer is built from mechanical components such as levers and gears, rather than electronic components.Which company has the best technology in the world? ›
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Types of Digital Risk
We can classify digital risks as cybersecurity risk, workforce risk, compliance risk, third-party risk, automation risk, resiliency risk, and data privacy risk. Moreover, these risks are not found in one single industry. For example, they can be seen from healthcare to financial services.
Phishing, malware and online pop-ups: 8 major technology security risks for your business
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Definition: Diplôme d'études collégiales (DEC) in French. An academic credential issued by the Quebec government for training acquired in pre-university programs and technical programs.What does Dec mean in texting? ›
"Demember" is the most common definition for DEC on Snapchat, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok.What does Dec mean in advertising? ›
Daily Effective Circulation (D.E.C.) is the average number of passers-by or persons (18+ years) in cars or other vehicles, that could potentially be exposed to an advertising display or billboard for either 12 hours (unilluminated – 6:00am to 6:00pm) or 18 hours (illuminated – 6:00am to 12:00 midnight) on an average ...Are we still in the digital age? ›
The industrial revolution brought us to the industrial age, which eventually led to the digital revolution and the current information age we are now in.What is the future of digital? ›
Artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly becoming one of the most important technologies shaping the future of digital transformation. By harnessing the computing power of the cloud, AI is able to scale quickly and efficiently, making it a critical tool for businesses looking to stay ahead of the curve.Is the world becoming digital? ›
Our world today is undeniably digital. New technologies – from social media and GPS systems to artificial intelligence and digital twins – make the planet we inhabit unrecognisable from even 20 years ago. If you're feeling queasy at the speed of change, hold tight. It's only going to get faster.How much does digital storm cost? ›
The Digital Storm Triton is a midrange gaming laptop that performs very much like systems that cost hundreds of dollars more. It concedes a few points to pricier rivals, but is still a good choice at under $1,700.How long does it take for Digital Storm to process? ›
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Estimate is 10-15 business days for it to ship after payment is processed.What is the name of India's vaccine? ›
COVAXIN®, India's indigenous COVID-19 vaccine by Bharat Biotech is developed in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) - National Institute of Virology (NIV).
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- 1.1 Alternative forms.
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The VAX-11 is a discontinued family of 32-bit superminicomputers, running the Virtual Address eXtension (VAX) instruction set architecture (ISA), developed and manufactured by Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). Development began in 1976.What is short for vaccination? ›
VAX | definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary.What ISA VAX server? ›
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Fourth Generation Of Computers
Therefore they were also known as the microprocessors. Intel was the first company to develop a microprocessor. The first “personal computer” or PC developed by IBM, belonged to this generation.
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You can Use a Laptop without the Battery
There is no reason why a laptop wouldn't work just fine without its battery, as long as you take a few aspects into account. First of all, make sure you're using the original power adapter that came with the laptop.
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Once a titan of American industry, in November 2021, GE announced that in order to survive after pouring billions of dollars into its unsuccessful digital strategy, it would split into 3 separate companies: GE Aviation, GE Power and GE Healthcare.What company no longer exists? ›
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Digital UK, jointly owned by BBC, ITV and Channel 4, acts as a coordinating body for UK multiplex licensees, and leads the operations and strategy of Freeview, the UK's biggest TV platform.
Make data move, not people.
The first advantage of the digital public services is in terms of cost and efficiency. When well implemented, digital services facilitate a small and efficient government. That was Estonia's starting point when it launched the digitization of its government.
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Digital transformation initiatives don't need thousands of people. They need a small team with very little time and very little money. Even worse, GE Digital was saddled with a quarterly P&L, which oriented its business around short-term revenue growth rather than long-term strategic objectives.Is GE going to recover? ›
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Contact your state's Department of State.
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On 27 March 2002, ITV Digital was placed in administration as it was unable to pay the full amount due to the Football League. Later, as chances of its survival remained bleak, the Football League sued Carlton and Granada, claiming that the firms had breached their contract in failing to deliver the guaranteed income.Who owns digital space? ›
Digital Space (the “Company”), a leading Secure, Connected Cloud MSP, today announced that it is to be acquired by Graphite Capital ('Graphite') from Horizon Capital ('Horizon'), which has owned the Company since February 2017.Who owns Monster digital? ›
General Public Ownership
The general public holds a substantial 73.96% stake in MSDI, making it a highly popular stock among retail investors.
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Estonia is often called the most digitally advanced nation in the world, and for good reason: you can do almost everything you need to do online, without hassle. Every citizen in Estonia is given a digital identity.