about business / Avram's Past

Digital Equipment Movie about the Professional Computer Series, 1983


In 1979, my wife and I  decided to leave Israel where we had been living for five years with our three children.  My specialty was computer in medicine (in particular at that time, the use of computers in Cardiology).  I felt very confined professionally and felt that I should either focus on medicine (either research or administration) or work for a computer company.  Once I formulated the issue like that the decision was simple.  I could never give up computers.  So while a choice to stay in medicine meant going back to Europe, the decision to go into computers meant a return to my home country, the United States.  First of course, I had to get a job.

That turned out to be pretty easy although there were some issues which I reported here.  I had consulted on an off for Digital Equipment Corp.  I ended up there and within six months, I was responsible for the hardware engineering of the low end computers.  Most of the products where small computers sold as components but I also had a few “systems” that were being done for various product lines.  One was Decmate at word processor (competing with Wang). And other who’s name escapes me now, was a small computer used by a small business product line.  I loved developing stand alone complete systems.  In Israel and I had developed a single patient monitoring computer called SOLO (Single Online Observer).  So I was pretty excited about this type of computer.  About after my joining in the July 1979, I got a call from Gordon Bell who ran engineering that I was requested to attend a meeting with Ken Olsen,the CEO.  his brother Stan, one of the key VPs (the meeting was at Stan’s house), Gordon and a few others.  It was a very interesting and it turns out, very t important meeting.  I will not go into it here but the results was that I was given a mandate to develop a family of personal computer.  At first, I named it KO (for Knock Out although some noticed a similarity with Ken Olsen’s name). Later we changed the name to CT (for Computing Terminal).  It was an amazing computer for the time and I am very proud of it.  Here are some of the features (remember  kiddies, it was the early 80s):

digital-professsional-300-series

1) Bit map graphics
2) Real time O/S with multi tasking
3) Customer installable options
4) Telephone management system (could make and receive calls and digitize voice_
5)Ethernet LAN options (first PC with this)
5) 5 Meg 5 1/2 Winchester hard drive (yes megs not gigs)
6) First PC that could stand on its side
7) Double sided Floppy disc drive
8) Most importantly application compatible with the 32 bit VAX line

Well it turned out that this venture totally failed and for a number of reasons.  key amongst these was that along the way, Ken decided that IBM and Apple were not enough competition so when Barry Folsom proposed using building something close to the IBM PC but using much of the packaging of the Professional, Ken went for it and the Rainbow was born  Then Dick Loveland said he could use the same stuff but with a PDP eight and come out with a Decmate (word processor) replacement.  Ken thought thought this was fantastic.  Three different computers all using common parts and in his mind, doing different things.  Well the customers could just choose.  And as I am quoted in The Ultimate Entrepreneur. “they did.  They chose IBM”.  Could things have turned out different for Digital.  I think so.  Maybe if Barry and I had been able to work better together  (Decmate was just stupid) we could have come up with  a Pro that was positioned for the Digital customer bases and a Rainbow that was targeted at small business a individuals.  But it was not to be.

Anyway, during the last year or so of the project and my last year at Digital, Mark Porat made a movie that dealt primarily with the development of the Professional.  It was funded for the 25 anniversary of the Company but it never saw the light of day. I and a few others were able to get copies before the film was killed.    It is pretty silly and I am  bit embarrassed by it now but  it is also interesting I think.  I just put it up on the net here. Enjoy!

8 thoughts on “Digital Equipment Movie about the Professional Computer Series, 1983

  1. Good thing that door closed and opened the rest! Like this crazy guy on the elephant chapter!

    Want some snow??? Come on out!

    OXOX

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  2. Heard your podcast on The HTGuys and when I read the you worked, in the dark ages, on medical computing, I wanted to pass on an Idea who’s time may have come. With all of the current emphasis on medical care and digital medical record systems, imagine a triage system that was assisted by a patients complete medical records and AI digital medical diagnostic assistance from the cloud. This might be deliverable on an iPhone.

    Got 2 years on you and worked with the original PC AT.

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