The Tragic Tale Of DEC, The Computing Giant That Died Too Soon - (2023)

When you think of leaders in the computing industry, your first thoughts probably turn to companies like Apple, Microsoft, and IBM. But flash back a few decades, and the leaders of those companies all would’ve gladly bowed down to Digital Equipment Corporation, or DEC, who began paving the way for everyone starting in 1957.

DEC identified a demand for more affordable and high-performing computing systems that could be used in scientific research and other technological settings. DEC introduced a mid-range computing solution, the minicomputer, at a time when the alternative was too bulky and costly for most people.

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In addition to its extensive lines of minicomputers, it also became involved with software as well as the internet (in the very, very early days of the internet).

So, what happened to DEC? Why did all the success and industry dominance they had for roughly three decades just suddenly slip away? Most argue that it was a failure of the company’s leadership to adapt to the changing direction that computing began to take in the late 1980s.

In order to understand how DEC eventually lost it all, it’s important to take a look back at how it all began and why such a monumental shift in the computing industry could’ve been missed by such a critical leader in the space.

The Impressive (and Tragic) History of DEC in Computing

DEC’s story begins in 1957 with two men at MITwho had a theory and an idea for a business. It ends in roughly 1998 with the selling of the company to Compaq. Here is DEC’s journey.

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While working together in the Lincoln Laboratory at MIT, Ken Olsen and Harlan Anderson came up with the idea for DEC. They took notice of how popular the interactive computing machines were with students who visited the lab, as opposed to the batch processing machines that users couldn’t input data into or use for real-time feedback.

Olsen and Anderson also knew that these interactive machines could be made and sold cheaper, which would be another major draw for researchers and scientists who were craving the technology.

After creating their original business plan, Olsen and Anderson were advised to shift the focus of their company from one around “computers” to instead one focused on “equipment.” There were just too many concerns from investors about the future of computing, and so that’s what they did. The plan for Digital Equipment Corporation was finalized and they received $70,000 to launch their new company.

In sticking with the theme of keeping expenses light (not only for customers but for the company as well), they set up shop in an old wool mill in Maynard, MA.


The first product DEC created and sold was its Digital Laboratory Module. Staying true to its business plan, the initial product lines DEC focused on were modules, or electronic components, that were mounted to circuit boards.By the end of that year, DEC sold $94,000 worth of its first product.

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DEC began selling its first computer at the end of 1960. But it was aware of people’s reluctance to invest in “computer” technology at the time, so it named the computer a “programmable data processor”, or PDP. The first iteration of this product line (PDP-1) sold for $120,000 that year.

Throughout the remainder of the decade, DEC created over a dozen PDP variants.


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DEC began the process of creating “new” models of the PDP that could be sold for much less than the original. For example, the PDP-4 was similar in most ways to the PDP-1, but it was slower and packaged differently, which is what enabled DEC to sell it for $65,000.


While continuing to release new PDPs into the market, DEC also charged forward in its delivery of new modules. The Flip Chip came out in 1964 and was meant to convert the PDP-4 to the PDP-7. Many of its subsequent module releases served a similar purpose: helping users convert their old computers to upgraded versions.

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It was in this year when DEC released the PDP-8, which is widely recognized as the first successful commercial minicomputer. Part of this is due to the improvements made to this model, but a large reason for its commercial success was the price tag of $18,500 and the 50,000 customers they sold it to.


In the interim, DEC came up with a revamped version of their PDP line and released the PDP-11 minicomputer. Not only did it bring major upgraded features to their computing machines, it also was easier to use. By the time it stopped selling it in the 1990s, DEC sold over 600,000 of them, making it one of the most popular minicomputers ever.

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In addition, the design of the computer, as well as its operating system, turned out to be immensely popular with other computing companies, that eventually ended up using it as inspiration for their own work.


DEC made its first move into the European market in 1971, setting up manufacturing in Ireland.


DEC became recognized as a Fortune 500 company.


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After widespread success with its PDP-11, DEC made the move into high-end computers and launched the Virtual Address eXtension, or VAX. This new 32-bit minicomputer (or supermini) line aimed to provide users with a wide array of computing resources that would be more affordable, powerful, and smaller than what companies like IBM could offer at the time.


The Rainbow 100 was created and was DEC’s first attempt to enter the personal computing space.


DEC continued to stay busy during this time, regularly putting out new models of the VAX. The VAX 8600 came out in 1984 and became an instant bestseller.

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DEC registered


DEC was recognized as one of the premier leaders in computing when it was named the second largest computer company, just behind IBM. At the time, it had generated over $11 billion in revenue and had over 120,000 employees.


DEC reported its first quarterly loss.


DEC reported its first annual loss.


Founder Ken Olsen retired.


DEC released Alpha AXP, which was a 64-bit microprocessor created to solve the overly complicated circuit designs of its VAX computers and to ultimately speed up processing times.


DEC launched AltaVista, one of the first ever search engines for the Internet. It became incredibly popular with users. During the first day of its launch, AltaVista received 300,000 visits. Two years later, it received 80 million hits every day.

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Although AltaVista persisted long past the end or, more accurately, the acquisition of DEC, it was eventually sold to Yahoo in 2003. By the time 2013 rolled around, it was gone.


Other computer companies began to make moves for the flailing DEC. Intel was the first to step in when it purchased DEC’s microprocessor plant in Hudson. But even that $1.5 billion wasn’t enough to save the company.

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The official end of DEC as a standalone company came in 1998 when it was acquired by Compaq for $9.6 billion. Unfortunately, Compaq didn’t know what to do with DEC’s overseas business, and so it was inevitable that neither DEC nor Compaq would exist for much longer. That day came in 2002 when Hewlett-Packard acquired Compaq.

What Is the Lesson Here?

It’s been many decades since the world was first introduced to DEC, and tech history buffs still enjoy talking about it.

Why? First, because it left such a lasting imprint on computing as we continue to know it, whether it was its contributions to computers, software, microchips, or even the internet itself.

Second, because there is an important lesson here that every computer company should carefully study if they don’t want to fall victim to the same fate.

In a Quora thread that asked the question “Why did Digital Equipment Corporation fail?” it was interesting to see so many previous DEC employees and members of the MIT community speak up about what they noted during their tenure there. Almost unanimously, they supported the theory—also commonly held by experts—that the failure of the company ultimately fell to the leaders who were unable to foresee what was coming in personal computing and were not able to take decisive or quick enough action in time to save the company.

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Perhaps the saddest thing about this is that DEC had long been considered the “best” and the inspiratioan for what so many after them set out to do. It’s not like it hadn’t made an attempt at personal computing when they released their Rainbow 100. So, how did it fail to see that the future of the mid-market minicomputer was waning and that a full shift over to personal computers was needed in order to ensure the company’s longevity?

According to Clayton Christensen, a professor at Harvard Business School, it wasn’t a lack of trying that took down DEC. It was the inflexibility of the business model they had so long relied upon:

“Digital Equipment Corp. had microprocessor technology, but its business model could not profitably sell a computer for less than $50,000. The technology trapped in a high-cost business model had no impact on the world, and in fact, the world ultimately killed Digital. But IBM Corp., with the very same processors at its disposal, set up a different business model in Florida that could make money at a $2,000 price point and 20% gross margins—and changed the world.”

Regardless of why it happened or how the leadership behind DEC allowed it to happen, the legacy of this company will live on as it was willing to step up and introduce affordable and powerful computing solutions during a time when others were too afraid to.

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What happened to DEC Digital Equipment Corporation? ›

But Digital failed to adapt successfully after the personal computer eroded its minicomputer market. Eventually, Compaq Computer bought DEC in 1998, and then Hewlett-Packard later acquired Compaq.

Why did Digital fail? ›

“Digital Equipment Corp. had microprocessor technology, but its business model could not profitably sell a computer for less than $50,000. The technology trapped in a high-cost business model had no impact on the world, and in fact, the world ultimately killed Digital.

What happened to DEC VAX? ›

Their success was only surpassed by another DEC product, the late-1970s VAX "supermini" systems that were designed to replace the PDP-11.
Digital Equipment Corporation.
Assabet Woolen Mill, former headquarters of Digital Equipment Corporation from 1957 to 1992
FateAcquired by Compaq, after divestiture of major assets.
9 more rows

Who bought Digital Equipment Corporation? ›

Digital Equipment Corporation was acquired by Compaq for $9.6B on Jan 26, 1998 .

Who owns DEC? ›

The DEC is governed by a board of trustees made up of the chief executives of our 15 member charities and up to six independent trustees. The board has ultimate responsibility for directing the affairs of the DEC and ensuring that it remains true to its charitable purpose and objectives.

Who owns Digital Storm? ›

Harjit Chana, CEO of Digital Storm, echoed his competitors, saying the strength of small companies is due in no small part to their premium appeal.

Is digital technology making life worse? ›

Social media and mobile devices may lead to psychological and physical issues, such as eyestrain and difficulty focusing on important tasks. They may also contribute to more serious health conditions, such as depression. The overuse of technology may have a more significant impact on developing children and teenagers.

What is the future of digital world? ›

The future of Digital Transformation consists of some crucial aspects. The access to remote operations is expected to be enhanced. The concept of employee well being is expected to become an organisational priority. Digital twin computing capacity may enable predictive analytics.

What is the biggest enemy of digital transformation? ›

Silos and Culture-shock

Perhaps the biggest enemy of a company's digital transformation process is its silos.

Is VAX VMS still used? ›

VMS Software, Inc. has ported OpenVMS to x86. Reliability has been the strong suit of OpenVMS for over 40 years. There are still VAX systems in the field running VMS being used to control company operations.

What is full form of VAX? ›

In Digital Equipment Corporation. In 1978 Digital introduced the VAX (Virtual Address eXtension) computer, arguably the most successful minicomputer in history.

What is VAX in computer language? ›

VAX (an acronym for Virtual Address eXtension) is a series of computers featuring a 32-bit instruction set architecture (ISA) and virtual memory that was developed and sold by Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) in the late 20th century.

How many employees did Digital Equipment Corporation have? ›

Founded in 1957, the company employed more than 120,000 people worldwide at its peak in 1990 and earned more than $14 billion in revenue. It was bought by Compaq Computer Corporation in 1998.

Who invented DEC 10 computer? ›

Working DEC KI-10 System at Living Computers: Museum + Labs
DeveloperDigital Equipment Corporation
Product familyProgrammed Data Processor
TypeMainframe computer
Release date1966
7 more rows

Who Owns Security Equipment Corporation? ›

Larry Nance started the company back in 1975, and now his four children run the company (David, Bob, Aimee and Meaghan). What do your customers like best about you and your products?

How much of DEC donations actually go to charity? ›

The DEC itself spends less than 10% on fundraising and running costs (7.3% on average over the past five years) and all charity partners are committed to using no more than 7% of the funds they receive on any work within the UK to support their response to a disaster.

Is DEC a reputable charity? ›

The DEC is a registered charity (charity no: 1062638) with 15 charity members all with associated disaster relief capabilities such as providing clean water, humanitarian aid and medical care.

How much has DEC raised for Ukraine? ›

Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal raises £350 million

Donations to the appeal are continuing to fund work by DEC charities and their local partners in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries, meeting people's immediate and longer term needs.

How much does Digital Storm pay employees? ›

How much do Digital Storm employees earn on average in the United States? Digital Storm pays an average salary of $3,204,975 and salaries range from a low of $2,793,095 to a high of $3,676,254.

How much does Digital Storm cost? ›

The Digital Storm Triton is a midrange gaming laptop that performs very much like systems that cost hundreds of dollars more. It concedes a few points to pricier rivals, but is still a good choice at under $1,700.

How much RAM do I need for gaming? ›

16GB is the recommended amount of RAM for playing most games and will provide a noticeable increase in performance from 8GB. You will also be able to run applications in the background without affecting gameplay.

What are the dangers of the digital world? ›

However, there are potentially negative effects too. Harmful activities include cyber-bullying and harassment, identity theft, and the possibility of children viewing unsuitable content.

What are the dangers of using digital technology? ›

Phishing, malware and online pop-ups: 8 major technology security risks for your business
  • Phishing. ...
  • Pretexting. ...
  • Malware. ...
  • Online pop-ups. ...
  • Outsourced IT services. ...
  • Wifi and remote work. ...
  • Passwords. ...
  • Old equipment.

What are the disadvantages of going digital? ›

17 Digital Technology Disadvantages
  • Data Security.
  • Crime and Terrorism.
  • Complexity.
  • Privacy Concerns.
  • Social Disconnect.
  • Work Overload.
  • Digital Media Manipulation.
  • Job Insecurity.
5 Jan 2022

How long will digital transformation last? ›

Some companies seem to expect it to happen over the course of a year. In my experience, particularly for larger organisations, closer to five years is more realistic. Even then, the task is never over.”

Do we live in a digital world? ›

Today we live in a digital world, and most of our relationships have moved online to chats, messengers, social media, and many other ways of online communication.

What is a digital giant? ›

Digital Giants are the top revenue-generating companies that use digital technologies to advance business and society in innovative ways.

Can digital transformation replace humans? ›

We should not see automation and digital transformation of industries as a way to replace humans; it is about bringing out the best in humans, in collaboration with machines and algorithms.

Who is most impacted by the digital divide? ›

Who Is Affected by the Digital Divide?
  • School Children. School-age children are affected by the digital divide through the Homework Gap – the gap that occurs when they are assigned homework requiring internet access but don't have home access.
  • Workforce & Employers. ...
  • Health Care Patients. ...
  • Residents.

Who uses VMS? ›

A management services provider or MSP can use a VMS to manage the recruitment process for an organization. An MSP typically attracts, screens, and hires temporary workers. Depending on local labor laws, temporary workers may include 1099 and contract employees.

What is VMS vaccine? ›

VMS allows: Tracking the vaccine movements throughout the supply chain process until it reaches the recipients. Provide traceability based on the serialized number to identify vaccine receiver. Provide vaccination status to authority as a Digital Health Certificate when required.

Is VAX a supercomputer? ›

The VAX 9000 is a discontinued family of Minicomputers developed and manufactured by Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) using custom ECL-based processors implementing the VAX instruction set architecture (ISA). Equipped with optional vector processors, they were marketed into the supercomputer space as well.

How can I get VAX certificate? ›

How to Get a Vax Certificate
  1. For individuals with no data access, you may proceed to your LGU for assistance. Bring your LGU vaccination card and passport or any government-issued ID.
  2. If necessary, you may call 88-7614-88 or email

What type of vaccine is Q Vax? ›

The Q fever vaccine (Q-VAX®) has been licensed for use in Australia since 1989 and has shown to be highly effective in preventing Q fever infection in humans. Since the introduction of the vaccination for high- risk occupations, the rates of Q fever infection have dropped markedly. The vaccine is made in Australia.

What is HB VAX vaccine? ›

H-B-VAX II is a vaccine used to help prevent hepatitis B. The vaccine can be given to newborns, infants, children, teenagers and adults. People who have hepatitis B may not look or feel sick when infected. In fact, a person could be infected by the virus six weeks to six months before symptoms occur.

What is Nexus computer? ›

NEXUS is a general purpose interpretive computer language for the analysis of physiological systems and signals. Sophisticated analyses may be undertaken with minimal programming experience using a powerful set of system and signal analysis techniques embodied in the NEXUS operators.

What type of computer is VAX 11? ›

The VAX-11 is a discontinued family of 32-bit superminicomputers, running the Virtual Address eXtension (VAX) instruction set architecture (ISA), developed and manufactured by Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). Development began in 1976.

What is the full form of PDP 8? ›

Programmed Data Processor (PDP), referred to by some customers, media and authors as "Programmable Data Processor," is a term used by the Digital Equipment Corporation from 1957 to 1990 for several lines of minicomputers.

When did Compaq buy DEC? ›

Compaq to buy DEC - Jan. 26, 1998. NEW YORK (CNNfn) - Compaq Computer Corp., seeking to expand into the lucrative enterprise computing business, agreed Monday to acquire Digital Equipment Corp. in a blockbuster deal worth $9.6 billion.

What happened to Wang Laboratories? ›

Wang Laboratories filed for bankruptcy protection in August 1992. After emerging from bankruptcy, the company changed its name to Wang Global. Wang Global was acquired by Getronics of the Netherlands in 1999, becoming Getronics North America, then was sold to KPN in 2007 and CompuCom in 2008.

Who bought Compaq? ›


When did Compaq buy digital equipment? ›

In June of 1998, Compaq announced a $9.6 billion buyout of Digital Equipment, a major player in the U.S. computer industry since the 1950s. At the time of the deal, it was the largest buyout in the history of the computer business.

Who founded DEC? ›

Digital Equipment Corporation

Who made VAX computers? ›

VAX (an acronym for Virtual Address eXtension) is a series of computers featuring a 32-bit instruction set architecture (ISA) and virtual memory that was developed and sold by Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) in the late 20th century.

Does Wang still exist? ›

Wang Global was acquired by Getronics of The Netherlands in 1999, becoming Getronics North America. After 2008, WANG did no longer exist as a distinct brand or division. We may now assume that there is no WANG equipment in use anymore anywhere in the world. Here are some examples of the logo's from the famous company.

Who is Fred Wang? ›

He began his career at Intuit, serving as the firm's third engineer and first product manager during its early stages of growth. Fred is a member of Adams Street's Growth Equity Investment Committee.

Who bought Wang Labs? ›

Wang Global, the latest incarnation of the former hardware maker, was acquired today by Dutch computer services firm Getronics for about $2 billion. The combined company will ditch the Wang nameplate in favor of Getronics, and will employ more than 33,000, according to chairman and CEO Joseph Tucci.

What killed Compaq? ›

The company was acquired by Hewlett Packard in 2002 for $24.2 billion. Compaq products were rebranded as part of a new range of lower-end HP computers and the Compaq brand was discontinued in 2013.

Are Compaq laptops still made? ›

In 2001 Compaq began merger talks with Hewlett-Packard, which reached fruition in 2002. Although Compaq was no longer an independent company, the Compaq brand continued as a Hewlett-Packard line of personal computers until 2013.

Is Compaq laptop good for programming? ›

This laptop is a fairly-used one, dual core with 4gb ram and 500gb hard disk and can do everything like, gaming, football, programming, coding; it has all subscriptions till infinity for avast and smadav antiviruses, microsoft 2016 fully installed. all broswers fully functional.

Who started Digital Equipment? ›

DEC was founded in 1957 by Ken Olson and Harlan Anderson, engineers who had worked on very early machines at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). They began by building small circuit modules for laboratory use and, in 1961, released their first computer, the PDP-1.

What is digital computer example? ›

In computer science, a digital electronic computer is a computer machine which is both an electronic computer and a digital computer. Examples of a digital electronic computers include the IBM PC, the Apple Macintosh as well as modern smartphones.


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