Digital Equipment Corporation
IndustryComputer hardware
Computer software
Computer services
Founded1957; 65 years ago (1957)
FounderKen Olsen
Harlan Anderson
Defunct1998; 24 years ago (1998)
FateAcquired by Compaq, after divestiture of major assets.
SuccessorCompaq
(1998–2002)
Hewlett-Packard
(2002–2015)
HP Inc. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise
(2015–present)
HeadquartersMaynard, Massachusetts, United States
Key people
Ken Olsen (founder, president, and chairman)
C. Gordon Bell (VP Engineering, 1972–83)
ProductsPDP minicomputers
VAX minicomputers
Alpha servers and workstations
DECnet
VT100 terminal
LAT and Terminal server
StrongARM microprocessors
Digital Linear Tape
Number of employees
over 140,000 (1987)

Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC /dɛk/), using the trademark Digital, was a major American company in the computer industry from the 1960s to the 1990s. The company was co-founded by Ken Olsen and Harlan Anderson in 1957. Olsen was president until forced to resign in 1992, after the company had gone into precipitous decline.

Although the company produced many different product lines over its history, it is best known for the work in the minicomputer market starting in the mid-1960s. The company produced a series of machines known as the PDP line, with the PDP-8 and PDP-11 being among the most successful minis in history. Their success was only surpassed by another DEC product, the late-1970s VAX "supermini" systems that were designed to replace the PDP-11. Although a number of competitors had successfully competed with Digital through the 1970s, the VAX cemented the company's place as a leading vendor in the computer space.

As microcomputers improved in the late 1980s, especially with the introduction of RISC-based workstation machines, the performance niche of the minicomputer was rapidly eroded. By the early 1990s, the company was in turmoil as their mini sales collapsed and their attempts to address this by entering the high-end market with machines like the VAX 9000 were market failures. After several attempts to enter the workstation and file server market, the DEC Alpha product line began to make successful inroads in the mid-1990s, but was too late to save the company.

DEC was acquired in June 1998 by Compaq in what was at that time the largest merger in the history of the computer industry. During the purchase, some parts of DEC were sold to other companies; the compiler business and the Hudson, Massachusetts facility, were sold to Intel. At the time, Compaq was focused on the enterprise market and had recently purchased several other large vendors. DEC was a major player overseas where Compaq had less presence. However, Compaq had little idea what to do with its acquisitions,[1][2] and soon found itself in financial difficulty of its own. The company subsequently merged with Hewlett-Packard (HP) in May 2002.

As of 2012,[needs update] decades-old hardware (including PDP-11, VAX, and AlphaServer) is being emulated to allow legacy software to run on modern hardware; funding for this is planned to last at least until 2030.[3]

History

Main article: History of Digital Equipment Corporation

Original Digital Equipment Corporation logo designed by Elliot Hendrickson in 1957,[4] used from 1957 to 1993
Original Digital Equipment Corporation logo designed by Elliot Hendrickson in 1957,[4] used from 1957 to 1993

From 1957 until 1992, DEC's headquarters were located in a former wool mill in Maynard, Massachusetts. The headquarters buildings were vacated in 1993, renamed Clock Tower Place,[5] and subsequently redeveloped as Mill & Main Place, a 1.1 million square foot facility for offices and light industry.[6]

Initially focusing on the small end of the computer market allowed DEC to grow without its potential competitors making serious efforts to compete with them. Their PDP series of machines became popular in the 1960s, especially the PDP-8, widely considered to be the first successful minicomputer. Looking to simplify and update their line, DEC replaced most of their smaller machines with the PDP-11 in 1970, the year they became the third largest computer manufacturer after IBM and the UNIVAC Division of Sperry Rand.[7] The rising corporation eventually sold over 600,000 PDP-11s.

Originally designed as a follow-on to the PDP-11, DEC's VAX-11 series was the first widely used 32-bit minicomputer, sometimes referred to as "superminis". These systems were able to compete in many roles with larger mainframe computers, such as the IBM System/370. The VAX was a best-seller, with over 400,000 sold, and its sales through the 1980s propelled DEC to become the second largest computer company in the industry. At its peak, it was the second largest employer in Massachusetts, after the state government.

The rapid rise of the business microcomputer in the late 1980s, and especially the introduction of powerful 32-bit systems in the 1990s, quickly eroded the value of DEC's systems. DEC's last major attempt to find a space in the rapidly changing market was the DEC Alpha 64-bit RISC instruction set architecture. DEC initially started work on Alpha as a way to re-implement their VAX series, but also employed it in a range of high-performance workstations. Although the Alpha processor family met both of these goals, and, for most of its lifetime, was the fastest processor family on the market, extremely high asking prices[8][better source needed] were outsold by lower priced workstation chips from Intel and IBM/Motorola.

DEC was acquired in June 1998 by Compaq, in what was at that time the largest merger in the history of the computer industry.[9] At the time, Compaq was focused on the enterprise market and had recently purchased several other large vendors. DEC was a major player overseas where Compaq had less presence. However, Compaq had little idea what to do with its acquisitions, and soon found itself in financial difficulty of its own. The company subsequently merged with Hewlett-Packard (HP) in May 2002.[10][11]

Products

DEC VAXstation

Beyond DECsystem-10/20, PDP, VAX and Alpha, DEC was known for its work in communication subsystem designs, such as Ethernet, DNA (DIGITAL Network Architecture: predominantly DECnet products), DSA (Digital Storage Architecture: disks/tapes/controllers), and its "dumb terminal" subsystems including VT100 and DECserver products.[12]

Research

DEC's Research Laboratories (or Research Labs, as they were commonly known) conducted DEC's corporate research. Some of them were continued in operation by Compaq and are still operated by Hewlett-Packard. The laboratories were:

Some of the former employees of DEC's Research Labs or DEC's R&D in general include:

Some of the former employees of Digital Equipment Corp were responsible for developing DEC Alpha and StrongARM:

Some of the work of the Research Labs was published in the Digital Technical Journal,[14] which was in published from 1985 until 1998.[15]

Accomplishments and legacy

DEC supported the ANSI standards, especially the ASCII character set, which survives in Unicode and the ISO 8859 character set family. DEC's own Multinational Character Set also had a large influence on ISO 8859-1 (Latin-1) and, by extension, Unicode.

Software

Hardware

Networking

Corporate

User organizations

DECUS - LogoDigital Equipment CorporationUsers Society
DECUS - Logo
Digital Equipment Corporation
Users Society

Originally the users' group was called DECUS (Digital Equipment Computer User Society) during the 1960s to 1990s. When Compaq acquired DEC in 1998, the users group was renamed CUO, the Compaq Users' Organisation. When HP acquired Compaq in 2002, CUO became HP-Interex, although there are still DECUS groups in several countries. In the United States, the organization is represented by the Encompass organization; currently Connect.[citation needed]

Small Computer Handbook

Several editions of the Small Computer Handbook were published by DEC, giving information about their PDP line of computers. The editions were:

Web sites with photos of their covers include:

Notes

  1. ^ "Dell topples Compaq in U.S. market share".
  2. ^ "What was left was a stalled engine with a very expensive head count." "Buying Digital played into Eckhard's fantasy, but it's turning out to be a beast that's consuming the company," said one former executive who left before the acquisition."Compaq Message Board - Msg: 9675868".
  3. ^ Benj Edwards (February 19, 2012). "If it aint broke don't fix it: Ancient Computers in Use Today". PC World.
  4. ^ Batchelder, Ned (December 16, 2007). "Ancient history: the Digital logo".
  5. ^ "Mill & Main Place Development Project". TownOfMaynard-MA.gov.
  6. ^ "Multi-million dollar capital improvements completed on Mill & Main". August 6, 2018.
  7. ^ Campbell-Kelly, Martin; Aspray, William (2013). Computer: A History of the Information Machine. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press. 62%. ISBN 978-0813345901.
  8. ^ "Alpha: The History in Facts and Comments - The Collapse of DEC". Alasir.com. Archived from the original on June 29, 2012. Retrieved July 17, 2013.
  9. ^ Schultz, Randy. "Compaq to buy DEC". CNN Money. Retrieved June 19, 2017.
  10. ^ Street Journal, Nikhil Deogun, Gary McWilliams and Molly WilliamsStaff Reporters of The Wall (September 4, 2001). "Hewlett-Packard Agrees to Acquire Compaq Computer in Stock Swap". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved February 18, 2021.
  11. ^ "HP-Compaq merger completed - May. 3, 2002". money.cnn.com. Retrieved February 18, 2021.
  12. ^ For in-depth articles regarding DEC technologies, refer to the archived Digital Technical Journal
  13. ^ Gettys, James; Karlton, Philip L.; McGregor, Scott (December 10, 1990). "The X Window System, Version 11" (PDF). Digital Equipment Corporation and Silicon Graphics Computer Systems. p. 36. Retrieved July 2, 2020.
  14. ^ "Digital Technical Journal – Online Issues".
  15. ^ At least some of the research reports are available online at ftp.digital.com "Unknown". Archived from the original on February 2, 1999. Retrieved January 10, 2020., in the subdirectories WRL, SRC, NSL, CRL, PRL (see Research section). Verified July 2006
  16. ^ Edwards, Benji (March 8, 2010). "[Retro Scan of the Week] The DEC Rainbow 100". Vintage Computing and Gaming. Retrieved October 23, 2021.
  17. ^ Compaq was actively participating during the period 1994–99 into the Linux development Archived 2014-08-12 at the Wayback Machine, verified July 2014
  18. ^ Red Hat and Compaq Announce Port of Red Hat Linux 7.2 to Compaq's Alpha Processors (8 January 2002) Archived 12 August 2014 at the Wayback Machine, verified July 2014
  19. ^ "dec.com". gordonbell.azurewebsites.net. Retrieved February 18, 2021.
  20. ^ "LISTSERV 16.5 - Archives - Error". listserv.buffalo.edu. Retrieved February 18, 2021.
  21. ^ List of assigned /8 IPv4 address blocks
  22. ^ "Small Computer Handbook (1973)".
  23. ^ "PDP8/e, PDP8/m & PDP8/f, Small Computer handbook (1973)". Amazon.
  24. ^ "Small Computer Handbook (1970 edition)" (PDF).

References

Further reading