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September 19th, 2017

Max’s View

Silicon Cowboys
****
Ten thousand years ago, man developed written language. Written language allowed for the advancement of technology, the growth of cities, and the creation of lasting civilizations.

Five hundred years ago, a German invented the printing press. Suddenly, Western Europeans became the most educated and the most intellectually rebellious people in world history. Within a generation, another German guy permanently destroyed the hegemony of the Roman Catholic Church.

Forty years ago, nobody had a computer in their home, on their desk at work, or in their pocket. Now we all do. The universal availability of personal computers is as revolutionary to human communication as the invention of the printing press and the written word itself.

“Silicon Cowboys” tells the scintillating story of some American underdogs who spearheaded the computer revolution.

In 1982, three nerdy friends quit their jobs at Texas Instruments and in order to start a company of their own. They almost opened a Mexican restaurant (seriously), but they ultimately decided to build a factory in Houston and produce computers. They called the company Compaq.

At the dawn of the PC era, there were several companies selling home computers. The problem was, the companies were all separate from each other and it was hard for a new user to decide which PC universe to dive into.

Compaq’s brilliant innovation was to make its computers completely compatible with IBM. Now, if a consumer already owned a bunch of IBM software and had learned how to use it, he could buy a Compaq for his next device and feel right at home.

It sounds simple, but this nifty little change started a chain reaction, transforming PCs from a niche product into the machines that run our lives.

Compaq also made its first computer portable. Granted, the Compaq Portable weighed 28 pounds. But it had a durable plastic shell and a leather strap so that business people could take it to and from the office.

Those three Texas pals Đ who almost opened a Mexican restaurant Đ had started a chain reaction that would end with half the human race carrying little computers in their pocket at all times.

The most entertaining part of this thoroughly entertaining documentary is when we see how savvy Compaq was at marketing.

So, it’s 1983. You’re selling a $3000 luxury product aimed at the 30-something nerds who can afford it. Who is the perfect pitchman?

Two words: John. Cleese.

The 70-minute film does not skimp on the footage of John Cleese’s charmingly irreverent ad campaign that transformed Compaq from underdog outsider to Wall Street mega-titan.

“Silicon Valley” is a joyous little film that celebrates an American company that made a billion dollars, gave hundreds of Texans solid factory jobs, and changed the world forever.

For the record, I am not saying that the computer revolution was a good thing. I saw “Terminator.” And I don’t like how addicted I am to my iPhone. But the revolution is here, it’s irreversible, and it’s as important to human history as the Printing Press. “Silicon Cowboys” is an interesting story about the guys who did it.

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