S01 E05
31 May 2021/01:06:01

Silicon Cowboys

Oxide and Friends Twitter Space: May 31, 2021

Silicon Cowboys
We’ve been holding a Twitter Space weekly on Mondays at 5p for about an hour. In addition to Bryan Cantrill and Adam Leventhal, speakers included Steve Tuck, Tom Lyon, Dan Cross, and others. The recording is here.
(Did we miss your name and/or get it wrong? Drop a PR!)
Some of the topics we hit on, in the order that we hit them:
[@1:25](https://youtu.be/faY7kWHQuNE?t=85) Bryan: Have you listened to the Reply All episode “Is the Facebook Microphone On?”
The truth is actually scarier, Facebook doesn’t need the mic to be on … to read your mind.
Silicon Cowboys
[@2:46](https://youtu.be/faY7kWHQuNE?t=166) The 2016 documentary “Silicon Cowboys” follows the rise of the Compaq computer company. (IMDb) (Watch the trailer ~3mins)
I was trying to watch “Halt and Catch Fire” with my kid … and there’s a lot of spontaneous sex breaking out…Fastest to one billion in revenue… fastest to Fortune 500… a meteoric rise
Open by Canion
[@7:05](https://youtu.be/faY7kWHQuNE?t=425) The 2013 book “Open” by Rod Canion (cofounder and CEO of Compaq): “How Compaq Ended IBM’s PC Domination and Helped Invent Modern Computing.”
[@10:02](https://youtu.be/faY7kWHQuNE?t=602) Steve: Ben Rosen was the venture capitalist who wrote the first check to Compaq, really got them off the ground. On the board for 20 years.
Their timing was right. The way they did the company was right. And they executed really really well.To go from zero to 50 thousand units, of almost anything, in the time span they did, is incredible.
[@14:40](https://youtu.be/faY7kWHQuNE?t=880) Tom: The thing that really put them on the map was having the portable when nobody else did. And being 100% compatible.
Those portables were barely luggable, they were huge!Back in a time when there was no network. Being able to pick up your computer and take it to a place, was your network.
[@16:47](https://youtu.be/faY7kWHQuNE?t=1007) Steve: A big catalyst for their success was the channel. People were able to pick it up and go, they didn’t need special training.
[@19:25](https://youtu.be/faY7kWHQuNE?t=1165) Dad used to bring home the luggable so I could play Space Invaders, and he would work on spreadsheets.
Portable before Compaq
[@20:49](https://youtu.be/faY7kWHQuNE?t=1249) There were portable solutions before Compaq, but for timesharing.
You had the T.I. Silent 700, in the 70’s, you could tote that home and plug it into the modem.
Osborne Effect
[@22:41](https://youtu.be/faY7kWHQuNE?t=1361) Tom: They killed their company with the famous Osborne Effect
Bryan and Steve (clearly excited): What was the Osborne Effect!?
 Tom: Pre-announcing the next machine.Telling customers: man, if you love the Osborne 1, just wait till the Osborne 2… So they did!
[@24:40](https://youtu.be/faY7kWHQuNE?t=1480) Bryan: Something I found surprising about the history of Compaq was the different organizational approach that they had.
Early on, before even thinking about what to go do, they were talking about the kind of company they wanted to build.
PBS Silicon Valley
[@26:14](https://youtu.be/faY7kWHQuNE?t=1574) The 2013 PBS documentary “Silicon Valley” tells the story of Fairchild Semiconductor. (Watch chapter one ~17mins)
[@28:14](https://youtu.be/faY7kWHQuNE?t=1694) We ask people, when they apply to Oxide, when they’ve been most unhappy in their careers. And it all boils down to people not feeling listened to, not having agency.
IBM’s role
[@29:41](https://youtu.be/faY7kWHQuNE?t=1781) How much of Compaq’s success is just pure mis-execution from IBM? IBM inadvertently creates this pseudo open architecture, and makes exactly the wrong move in trying to reproprietarize it with the PS/2 and Micro Channel architecture; which is an absolute disaster.
In many ways the story of Compaq is as much the story of the failed PS/2.It was such a mis-execution to do this analysis on the market and say: we need to grab our existing customers and lock them in, before they slip through our fingers, and in doing so, just hasten their departure.
 And Compaq was in the right spot to pick up the pieces.
MCA (Micro Channel architecture), ISA, EISA
[@33:22](https://youtu.be/faY7kWHQuNE?t=2002) We were ripping out a bunch of ISA and EISA drivers..
I am a sacrificial sheep, I can’t possibly go. You are a sacrificial lamb.The machines themselves are anemic, if you want any functionality you go to a third party..
There were magazines filled with advice on which sound-generating card you should buy.
[@37:00](https://youtu.be/faY7kWHQuNE?t=2220) Driver for Token Ring.
[@40:20](https://youtu.be/faY7kWHQuNE?t=2420) Speaking of Intel, a big part of the Compaq story is what happens with the 386.
IBM clearly thought Intel would never give some clone manufacturer the first rights to the 386.They went from fast follower to innovator.
OS/2 supported both 16 bit (for the 286) and 32 bit.
[@42:07](https://youtu.be/faY7kWHQuNE?t=2527) One of the headwinds working against IBM was that all the software companies wanted to see more competition in hardware vendors; they wanted to see the clones become real companies.
Certainly Microsoft aided the rise of Compaq, no question. Compaq turned Microsoft into a real believer.
80’s Ads
[@43:11](https://youtu.be/faY7kWHQuNE?t=2591) I loved the 80’s ads.
John Cleese: Compaq Portable vs a Fish ~2mins
Cleese: I suppose the fish could give you a mega-bite! (laughs hysterically)Cleese: The Compaq Portable 2 however can run all IBM’s most popular software, 30% faster than IBM can!
(dryly) HA HA HA
Bryan: Absolutely no joke, I knew Charlie Chaplin first through the IBM PC ads. I didn’t even know they were making a reference!
IBM Charlie Chaplin ads compilation ~9mins. (Aside: these are new to me. For me it painted the computers as accessible/approachable, something anyone could do; even a clumsy Mr. Bean character)
You guys need to stop mocking the Chaplin ads. They were marketing gold and as a 5 year old watching bunny rabbit ear TV seeing those ads in the middle of Scooby Doo, I was begging my parents for an IBM PC!
[@47:10](https://youtu.be/faY7kWHQuNE?t=2830) Adam: My parents got a free Mac Plus when they opened a bank account! I know it’s crazy anachronistic.
Adam: In ’86 we had a Commodore 64 and then upgraded to a Mac Plus.
Bryan: That’s a big upgrade! Adam: It was incredible.
With the banner program, you could print “Happy Birthday”, and probably other messages, but it never came up..
Compaq and iPhone?
[@50:59](https://youtu.be/faY7kWHQuNE?t=3059) Book and documentary ask: What if Compaq had made the iPhone?
I think it cheapens the whole thing. No one should feel an obligation to claim their role in history by connecting themselves to the iPhone. The iPhone is not the pinnacle of human history.Just take your wins, and there are many of them. But, the time that they were dominant, that’s the story.
Decline and Acquisition
[@53:24](https://youtu.be/faY7kWHQuNE?t=3204) The movie ends when Canion is fired, by Rosen, which is pretty amazing.
To be fair, DEC killed DEC.
I feel like the later history of Compaq is this sugar high of sales continuing to spike, but then ultimately it’s the ruin of the company. The company ceased to be an innovator.
Compaq systems, at this point, were very expensive. And this was part of the controversy of Rod getting run out, was not wanting to go down market.
[@59:51](https://youtu.be/faY7kWHQuNE?t=3591) Speaking of HPE (Hewlett Packard Enterprise) and Compaq, they just relocated their headquarters to Huston.
I feel like HP hasn’t been a Silicon Valley company in a long long time.This was like the animals walking upright, where Compaq became a lot like IBM in a lot of their sales tactics.
Something Ventured
[@1:02:41](https://youtu.be/faY7kWHQuNE?t=3761) The 2011 documentary “Something Ventured” investigates the emergence of American venture capitalism. (Watch the trailer ~2mins) (Watch the documentary ~85mins)
A 7 million dollar iceberg sitting in the datacenter, this Tandem. They were so reliant on it, they had another shrink wrapped just sitting on the datacenter floor, in the event that the first one ever went out.Jimmy Treybig is a super interesting character. Very iconoclastic engineer.I didn’t realize that Tandem made KP. If it weren’t for Tandem, Kleiner Perkins wouldn’t have risen as a VC firm. They went all-in on Tandem, and Tandem had an outsized result.
Our next Twitter space will be on Monday at 5p Pacific Time. Join us; we always love to hear from new speakers!