Saturday, 13 June 2015

How Compaq, rather than Apple, changed the world

Today when you browse the pages of an online PC retailer for a new laptop it's pretty much a given that you get a free copy of Windows and it runs all the software you would expect. Unless you are one of the two percent of geeks that goes and installs Linux or a brand concious Apple buyer (five percent) you PC is compatible with a huge library of software that works 'out of the box'.

This wasn't always so. Back in 1981 when the IBM PC was launched every PC ran a different operating system and software releases had to be customised to work with everyone. The IBM PC, because it was made by IBM, became the business users choice and they locked up the market. However in rushing to make the PC they used off the shelf hardware that could easily be built by other people. So the issue became whether anyone could take advantage of the sudden market created for common software.

In Texas a group of former TI (Texas Instruments) engineers felt that they could build a new class of PC - the portable. However they realised that they had to make it 100% IBM compatible and it had to run all IBM software without them ending up in court for copyright infringement.

What they came up with was the Compaq portable. Yes it looked like someone's old suitcase but back in 1982 the only viable portable was something like the Osborne I that could not run any IBM software.

Compaq took the decision to manufacture in the USA and not the far east. To rely on innovation and quality to sell a deliberately expensive product. 

The Compaq Portable was also a proof concept PC that pushed other manufacturers towards the IBM compatible world that was the mainstay of technology for 25 years. 

The PC compatible market made computing affordable for 100s of millions of people and businesses throughout the planet. In a world where we are conditioned to think that Google and Apple created innovation you need to be prompted to remember that the devices a billion people use everyday were actually part of an innovation at Compaq in 1982.

Compaq was bought out by HP and was absorbed by a corporate giant. The brand name was the only thing left after a while but you can read about Compaq in Rod Canion's Book called 'Open' available in a lot of places including Amazon;Open - How Compaq ended IBMs domination and helped invent modern computing