1058-6180/13/$31.00 © 2013 IEEE
Published by the IEEE Computer Society
From the Editor's Desk
This issue features several articles that discuss different perspectives on evolving computer industry strategies. Specifically, the issue includes a comparison of the innovation strategies by Burroughs and the British Tabulating Machine (BTM) by Jeffrey Yost, two internal perspectives on important elements of IBM's strategy beyond innovation and production of computer hardware by Albert Endres and James W. Cortada, a history of Intel's strategic decisions regarding its position in the emerging microcomputing market from the 1970s by Zbigneiw Stachniak, and Patryk Wasiak's look at marketing strategies in the consumer-focused microcomputer industry of the 1980s.
The cover of this issue of the Annals depicts a Burroughs Datatron 205 computer installation in 1958. A man sits at the console of the ElectroData designed computer and the printer generates a printout. Burroughs had been established as the American Arithmometer Company back in 1886 to produce and sell the adding machine invented by William Seward Burroughs. The company was renamed the Burroughs Adding Machine Company in 1904, and it soon became the biggest adding machine company in America. Burroughs came to produce and sell a wide spectrum of mechanical office machines. In the early 1950s, Burroughs saw declining opportunities in mechanical office machines and growing chances in the emerging computer field. In 1953, it was renamed the Burroughs Corporation and began moving into computer products, initially for banking institutions. An element of this move was Burroughs' acquisition, in 1956, of the ElectroData Corporation in Pasadena, California. ElectroData had built the Datatron 205 and was working on the Datatron 220.
Jeffrey Yost's article “Appropriation and Independence: BTM, Burroughs, and IBM at the Advent of the Computer Industry” highlights the implications of the fact that most analyses of emerging of computer producers are measured against IBM's success. Yost provides a comparison of the innovation strategies by Burroughs and the British Tabulating Machine (BTM). Not only did these long-established business products firms face similar challenges as they sought to enter the new field of digital computing in the 1950s, they initially investigated facing them together through a planned joint venture for computer research and development.
The articles by Albert Endres and James W. Cortada provide internal perspectives on important elements of IBM's strategy beyond innovation and production of computer hardware. Endres' article, “Early Language and Compiler Developments at IBM Europe: A Personal Retrospection,” tells the story of IBM's innovation in programming languages from the late 1950s through the 1960s. He focuses on developments at IBM's laboratory in Böblingen near Stuttgart in West Germany and his and his colleagues' contribution to the development of compilers to the two “universal” programming languages, Algol and PL/1. IBM is well known for its contributions to the development of Fortran, 1
and Endres story reminds us that IBM's strategy had a significantly wider scope in software development. In addition, his story opens a window to an important story of IBM's distribution of innovation and production across several European countries in the 1950s and 1960s, including its laboratories and innovation departments in Böblingen, Hursley (England), La Guarde (France), Lidingö (Sweden), and Uithoorn (the Netherlands). One reason for this distribution involves the problems of operating an international business in the 1930s and 1940s, with complete government control of trade. Endres story suggests another reason: IBM catered to national diversity through the support of several programming languages.
James Cortada's article, “‘Carrying a Bag’: Memoirs of an IBM Salesman, 1974–1981,” provides a detailed story of the sales profession within IBM. Several historians have discussed the crucial role of IBM's salesmen in explaining the company's dynamics. 2
Several Danish salespeople have personally told me that salesmen at competing companies often envied IBM salesmen's ability to “sell sand in the Sahara.” Cortada's memoirs cover his time as an IBM salesman, from 1974 to 1981. This was a golden age for account management and sales of IBM System/360 mainframe computers and their immediate successors. Cortada provides unique insights into the operations and culture of IBM's sales history.
“‘This Is Not a Computer’: Negotiating the Microprocessor” by Zbigneiw Stachniak addresses the 1971 dilemma at Intel about whether it should venture into computer production in addition to producing semiconductors. Intel had been established only three years earlier, in 1968. The key people within company discussed whether it should pursue the Intel 4004 μ-Computer as a computer or a component. The discussion reflected a strategic decision regarding Intel's position in the emerging microcomputing market that it helped to create. This history offers a glimpse at how open the possibilities in the computer industry were at that time and how fundamental the change to microelectronics was. Recently, the Annals
published a special issue and several articles on this transition. 3
This topic offers possibilities for much additional research.
Finally, Patryk Wasiak's article, “Computer Dealer Demos: Selling Home Computers with Bouncing Balls and Animated Logos,” looks at marketing strategies in the consumer-focused microcomputer industry of the 1980s. He discusses the practices of making and using computer dealer demos. Such audio-visual presentations were used to impress trade show audiences and customers in retail stores. Dealer demos had a significant impact on shaping the cultural image of the home computer. Often such presentations intended to provide an emotional rather than rational influence on potential customers.