[TUHS] Why did PDPs become so popular?

Paul Winalski paul.winalski at gmail.com
Thu Dec 28 10:07:21 AEST 2017


On 12/27/17, Kevin Bowling <kevin.bowling at kev009.com> wrote:
> I understand IBM systems history a lot better, but it looks
> simplistically to me that, in business terms, DEC created or became
> the brand leader for a net new market for minicomputers rather than
> competing against the establish(ed, ing) market of large systems.

By the mid 1960s IBM had established a huge market presence and took
advantage of it to reap large profit margins by not passing along the
ever-decreasing manufacturing costs (corollary of Moore's law) to its
customers.  DEC, Data General, etc. were willing to accept lower
profit margins.  This allowed them to sell into new markets (e.g.,
small research groups) that IBM had priced themselves out of, and from
that base to make inroads into the general business marketplace.

>  I'm
> sure their marketers worked very hard to differentiate the systems
> from large systems, precisely because they didn't want to compete with
> anyone.

Not really, in my experience and from my perspective both as a DEC
customer and as a DEC development engineer.  DEC's original customer
base were experienced research engineers and scientists who knew what
they wanted and didn't have to be sold to.  Ken Olsen grew up simply
taking customer orders, and he never understood or really supported
marketing.  Lack of marketing skill eventually caught up to DEC by the
late 1980s and was a principal reason for its downfall.

In the days of the PDP-11 and VAX, DEC also didn't provide the level
of customer service, support, and hand-holding that IBM did (this was
part of the reason why IBM systems were so expensive).  Among IBM
customers the saying was, "minicomputers aren't sold, they're
abandoned".  When our VAX arrived in 1978, we were appalled at DEC's
inability to send on-site customer engineers to help us with software
problems.

Someone (Scott McNealy?) once said to survive a computer company has
to be prepared to eat its own children.  That is, to accept the
faster, lower cost technology as it comes along and not to try to
protect high profit margins on the older technology.  Minicomputers
ate the floor out from under mainframes, and IBM lost market dominance
by attempting to protect the mainframe cost structure.  PCs did the
same thing to minicomputers in the early 1990s, and DEC repeated IBM's
mistake by trying to defend against PCs instead of embracing them.

-Paul W.


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