Reflections by Jean-Louis Gassée (HP, Apple, Be Inc/BeOS) on the “Decomposition” of Hewlett-Packard | @gassee
The HP 9830A: 15K bytes of ROM, and 3520 bytes of available Read/Write memory (HP Museum)
In an ongoing, currently two-part series, of articles at mondaynote.com, Jean-Louis Gassée is retelling the tale of HP’s perceived PC downfall – what he calls “decomposition” – as seen not from a tech journalists talking points but by an insider, someone with knowledge of arguments as mundane as flooring type and the restaurants employees dined at. Good stuff:
In the mid-70’s things began to change. Apple started in 1976, Microsoft in 1975. They were part of a movement fueled by the advent of affordable 8-bit microprocessors from MOS Technology, Motorola, and, most notably, Intel. Ohio Scientific, Victor, Commodore Tandy… dozens of microcomputer companies sprouted in the late-70’s. As noted in the Hewlett-Packard Wikipedia page, Steve Wozniak designed the Apple I while at HP and gave the company first right of refusal. Wozniak said HP turned him down five times…
Indeed, why would HP want a puny, 8-bit, home-brew machine? It already had a “personal computer”, its ultra-sophisticated 9800 line culminated with at 16-bit 9830 with optional modules for terminal emulation and matrix computations and compatibility with hard disks from the company’s minicomputer line. It was clearly superior…but at $10K or more it failed the true PC test: a machine you could lift with you arms, your mind, and your credit card.
We’re left with a mystery: Up through the mid-70’s, HP was unequalled in its creation of a world-class line of desktop and mobile computers, including a Because We Can smartwatch. Then, nothing. Other computer companies caught on quickly: In 1976, Data General saw the tide was turning and rushed their 16-bit microNOVA design down the street to their Sunnyvale factory. Despite not lacking access to money, people or industry connections, HP didn’t see fit to design its own 16-bit microprocessor.
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Stop breadboarding and soldering – start making immediately! Adafruit’s Circuit Playground is jam-packed with LEDs, sensors, buttons, alligator clip pads and more. Build projects with Circuit Playground in a few minutes with the drag-and-drop MakeCode programming site, learn computer science using the CS Discoveries class on code.org, jump into CircuitPython to learn Python and hardware together, TinyGO, or even use the Arduino IDE. Circuit Playground Express is the newest and best Circuit Playground board, with support for CircuitPython, MakeCode, and Arduino. It has a powerful processor, 10 NeoPixels, mini speaker, InfraRed receive and transmit, two buttons, a switch, 14 alligator clip pads, and lots of sensors: capacitive touch, IR proximity, temperature, light, motion and sound. A whole wide world of electronics and coding is waiting for you, and it fits in the palm of your hand.