Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Sic Transit Gloria: Ken Olsen

Back in the day (whoops, did I use that already) Once the Digital Equipment Corporation was high in the sky.  I remember using the DEC All-in-one system to communicate with Kansas City, writing requirements and discussing schedules.  This was the mid-80's. In DC we had started our word processing with the IBM Magnetic Tape/Selectric Typewriter, changed to the CRT-based Lexitrons, briefly to Wang, and then to the DEC terminals with their email, wordprocessing and rudimentary spreadsheet package.  (The spreadsheet was an attempt to compete with Lotus 123--I remember using it for some computations, maybe on wheat allotment in the runup to the 1986 farm bill.) 

Anyhow, it was on the DEC that I first learned the golden rule of email: black and white type does not convey your meaning, particularly when you're joking, sarcastic or whatever.  (Early days of smileys.)   All this reminiscing is triggered by the death of Ken Olsen, one of the cofounders of DEC.

It's a cautionary tale, matched in later days by the AOL/TimeWarner saga, Alta Vista, and maybe Yahoo, and Ebay.  Who knows the future?

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