Days of our Lives!

November 18, 2007

Book Review: In Search of Stupidity – Merrill R.Chapman

Filed under: Books,Tech — Santhosh @ 10:19 PM
Author: Merrill R.Chapman
Genre: Non-Fiction, Computers, History
About: Among a lot of other things, stories about and around
MITS and Altair, IBM and the first PC, the spreadsheet intro, VisiCalc, Apple, Macintosh, CP/M, the BIOS fiascos of Apple and IBM (my favourite story of the book), small office/home office (SOHO) markets, Digital Research’s Gary Kildall’s arrogance, Micro-Soft to Microsoft, industry standards, IBM – PC, Microsoft deal for DOS, PC Junior, subtractive marketing, MicroPro’s WordStar and WordStar2000, positioning, pricing, reluctance to embrace GUI, IBM’s OS/2 fiasco, “Presentation Manager” GUI, Branding – Intel Inside campaign, Bunny People, “pentium can’t count” fiasco, Motorola’s “Digital DNA” program, intel – 8086 -> 286 -> 386 -> 486, rise of google, privacy issues, Novell, NetWare, IPX vs TCP/IP, Mormonism and coffee, “Noorda’s Nightmare.”, killing off an ecosystem (applications, utilities that come up for your software), Microsoft – fear uncertainty and doubt (FUD) tactics, PowerPoint acquisition, Clippy the Office Assistant, Gates vs US DOJ, IE vs Netscape, Larry Ellison’s infamous “It’s not enough we (Oracle) win, everyone else must lose.”, open source vs proprietary, piracy, “open source paradox”, music piracy, role of software like the development of MP3 compression in music piracy,, Napster, how Sony’s rootkit backfired on them, Windows Product Activation(WPA), Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) program, a chapter on analysis of the previous 12 chapters and one with ideas, advice, and list of don’ts.
I couldn’t walk past a book with a title like this, could I? Written in response to In Search of Excellence, this book is an excellent read for anyone in the computer industry and interested in the history behind behind how some companies became icons overnight and how some others screwed their own markets. The book starts from the halcyon days of the late 1970s and comes on toward the first decade of this millennium. Along the way we get a history lesson on the computer industry, from the genesis days when everyone knew everyone to the boom days of multi-billion contracts. We also get a feel of the way different companies were perceived by the public at different times, the aura that surrounded some (IBM in particular), the mess that various companies brought themselves into, eccentric characters who helped shape the course of history, snippets and two-way accounts of various stories, and lots and lots of absolutely hilarious accounts of decisions made by companies.
Examples include:
* How Atari threw away the lead in the home computer market with the 1982 release of E.T, the worst game in computing history.
* MicroPro’s corporate suicide in positioning products by offering near identical products, the ultra-successful Wordstar awaiting an update and Wordstar 2000. The resultant efforts to differentiate the two, and the uncertainty created in the buying public, resulted in MicroPro ceding leadership in the word processing market to Microsoft Word, and ultimately, in the company’s demise.
* How Apple spent millions in lawsuits against piracy when teir BIOS got copied. And how IBM thought they could learn from Apple and released their BIOS specifications under the idea that now nobody could develop a BIOS with the same specifications without getting sued out of earth. But IBM realised a bit too late that there was no way they could prove that the companies coming up with the same BIOS in their systems had actually read IBM’s specifications.
* How Ed Esber, CEO of one-time database giant Ashton-Tate and makers of dBASE, try to ruin an ecosystem and so ruined his own company. dBASE had become the outright leader because of a third-party dBASE development community who took the functionally-powerfull but usability-deficient dBASE and created applications that people could actually operate. Ed decided only Ashton-Tate had the rights to do anything related to dBASE and brought out his cannons and threatened to sue anyone who developed applications on dBASE.
* How IBM created the PC industry and then, when the entire world was waiting with bated breath on the next move of GOD, did nothing.
* How the CEO of Borland, Philippe Kahn, sanctioned a new $120 million office building and began churning out $300,000 jazz CDs featuring himself on saxophone.
* How Marc Andreesen (founder and CEO of Netscape) taunted Microsoft into taking him on in a browser war, and so lead to Netscape’s annihilation and sell-out to AOL.

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