Just before the very successful San Diego meeting of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the Olsen boys and girls celebrated across town with a huge meeting of the Digital Equipment Corp. User Society (Decus). The ACM special interest committee on minis made a pitch, and I had a small social involvement besides, so I met a few of the organizers.
DEC is powerful, in its rather reluctant way. It doesn't loom over its user community nearly so balefully as IBM, partly because it ran for so many years on what I call "crate" policy: buy a crate of DEC gear, open the crate yourself - congratulations, your're in computing!
But certainly it towers over its competitors, able and vigorous thourgh many of them are. DEC makes good stuff. A far larger percentage of its customers would say DEC gear is best, than of IBM customers, IBM users talk about service, attentive salesmen, Sharel Guide and vast mounds of free software - not hardware preeminence. You hear that from customers of Burroughs, the secret computer manufacturer, or Univac. And in the mini world you hear it from lots of DEC users. Especially vis a vis IBM small machines: System/7 and minimum System/3.
Confortable in their hardware expertise, in reasonably good tune with the mini part of Decus, the Maynard crew have made a very important marketing decision: to design, manufacture, sell and support a Million-dollar machine, Decsystem-10. No crate policy! A separate branch of Decus, meeting concurrently in San Diego, has already grown up; sistems software proliferates at the usual horrendous pace; IBM has lost a few sales.
I think this is unfortunate for the entire world computer user community. One reason I've harped on again and again last year: the efficiencies forced on the mini user by limited peripherals, small memories and curtailed instruction sets has been good for us all - good for mini people, good for their employers' pocketbooks, and exemplary for wasteful OS/VS suckers from here to Zambia.
The force of this example is seriosly diminished when the major mini company puts out a big machine loaded down with all the crappy IBM-type systems software, all the unnecessary variety of peripherals, all the virtual vices. Already we see major attempts by the users and the DEC software people on the mini side to squeeze Cobols and mini operating systems on to the DEC minicomputers. Along with a great deal of wasteful add-on core, some extra disk drives, and so on - naturally.!
Besides, the decision threatens DEC's prosperity, and its survival. I protested the venture to Ken himself, and the General Doriot, when I first heard of it. "Stay out of IBM territory", I
said. "By the time they proliferate naturally into your mini area, you'II be so strong they won't hurt you much, System/2 or whatever. But draw their fire early, unnecessarily, with the 10, which threatens their main line and they'll squash you flat. Not by undercutting the 10, you understand but by bringing out an IBM PDP-S and PDP-11."
We all need minis if only as an example. And we all need DEC; even its competitors need DEC. Stick to minis, Ken: nice, small, clean, simple ones. You'll grow, you'll prosper; you'll show the Big Boys how. Be a counterforce, not an also-ran!
Editorial Direktor der Computerworld