20 August 2013

Twang My Wang

Joe Nocera is generally an astute fellow, but his memory of, or research about, the world of IT is faulty. Today he looks to Wang as an earlier manifestation of all that ails BlackBerry.
He and his company stubbornly clung to the notion that the main thing people wanted from their computers was word processing...

Well, guess what? If you were around back then, or know someone who was, MultiMate (a "clone" of Wang's WP system, but standalone for the PC) and Lotus 1-2-3 were the impetus for the rise of the PC. The killer apps. Once NetWare got going, other LANs followed, and the networked PC became the reality. It was, and still is, the mantra of the PC world: "The three most important apps for the PC are word processing, spreadsheets, and word processing." Wang was right, but Wang, the company, was too expensive compared to networked PCs running MultiMate and 1-2-3. It didn't even require Windows to put the end to Wang.

Wang, along with Data General, subject of "The Soul of a New Machine" and a host of other mini-makers were mostly caught out by the transition from low level cpu design, using discrete logic parts on boards, to chips built with LSI, then VLSI, and whatever SI they call it these days. In other words, Wang, et al, were killed by the tsunami of good-enough commodity cpu and TCP/IP, as embodied by the Intel chip. And so it goes today.

The only real similarity betwixt what happened to Wang and BlackBerry is the level of specialization in their products. With the rise of the networked PC, even general purpose minis went down. A special purpose machine for word processing didn't stand much chance. If memory serves, and Wiki says so, too Wang did make some general purpose machines, even kind of big ones. But all people remember is the Word Processor. With BlackBerry, Apple turned the cellphone into a general purpose toy. The fact that corporations have chosen to take chances with less secure networking (hello, NSA!)? Who knows how that will end up. On the other hand, Mussolini had a prescription for governance where corporations and The State are (co?)equal partners.

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