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DEC Introduces Personal Computers

by Richard Seltzer,, from DECWORLD the company newspaper, June 1982


On may 10, 1982, DEC announced three enw series of personal computers -- the DECmate II, the Rainbow 100 and the Professinoal. Providing professional quality computing at very low cost, these machines represent both the continuation of DEC's strengths and the start of a new era in the comapny's history.


According to Ken Olsen, president, "These new personal computers are the most exciting and signficant products DEC has produced to date. We believe they set new and higher standards for personal computing and will have a profound impact ont he way people will use computers in the future.



"When we started DEC," he explains, "we believed that a comuter should be inexpensive and comapct and fast enough that the user could interact with it. That was a radical idea at the time. Our first comptuer wasn't very small and wasn't very cheap -- it sold for $120,0000 -- but compared to the million-dollar mainframe comptuers that were available back in 1959,the PDP-1 ws a personal computer, the very first of its kind.


"Then came the PDP-9 (1965) and PDP-11 (1970) families. We did interactive computing, played a key role in the development of timesharing, put computing capabilities on the desk, within the hands of the individual. We didn't call it personal computing back then. We called it interactive, distributed processing, but the ideas behind thsese machines were the same as those that the personal computers of today are propagating.


"From the beginning, our strategy as a company was to start with industrial quality and lower the price while maintaining the quality adn service and providing every feature that we knew people would want and need. So what we have done with these new products is  really a continuation of DEC's strengths."


The newly designed personal computers, each with black and white video display monitor, keyboard and system box (containing the central processor, main memory and disk unit) range in basic entry-level price from $3500 to $5000.  These systems support a wide range of computing activitiese from widely-used programs available off-the-shelf in cmoputer stores to sophisticated word processing, video color graphics, advanced communications and the ability to perform several tasks at the same time.


All three machines were designed for people who need computers as tools to help them with their work but who do not have the time or inclination to become computer experts -- hence the term "personal" comptuer.  The main interest of these people is the task they want to do -- such as, writing or accoutning or engineering work or running a business or an office -- rather than the computer itself. They want systems that are easy to udnerstand and easy to use, powerful enough to get the job done, reliable and easily serviced so they can be depended on, and designed so someone can work with them comfortably for eight hours or more a day.


Three kinds of customers


Each of these machines meets the needs of a different kind of customer, explains Andy Knowles, vice president, group manager.  "First there's the person who wants a personal comptuer for his or her own work, who wants to do some word processing, some spread sheet analysis some trend analysis, some calcuations, perhaps some financial planning. Such a person would probably choose the Rainbow 100, which cna use a wide variety of programs that run on either 8-bit or 16-bit CP/M (TM) operating systems and are now readily available in computer stores.


"The DECmate II is designed for the person who wants to manage an office or small business,w ho wants to share files and ocmmunicate with other peopel at work, who wants to do serious word and list and business data processing.


"The Professional series represents the next generation of personal computing, easy to use, with graphics, multi-tasking communccations, and a powerful new operating system. It includes all the featurese that people will want int he future to interconnect to the world and take advantage of the computing services and capabiliteis that will soon be avaialble.


"In other words, Rainbow 100 is for the individual, DECmate II for managing the ofice, and the Professioina is to interconnect with the whole world of computing.


"On the one hand," notes Andy, "these products will be used in alrge quantities at the personal level in Fortune 1000 companies. Our traditional customers need and ahve been waiting for such computers. On the other hand, about half the anticipated custoemrs will be new to DEC, requiring us to develop new methods of marketing, distribution and service to reach them and meet their needs."


The three new computers share the same video monitor, keyboard and system box, and also use the same power supply, floppy disk drive and other components. The use of common components makes it possible to take full advantage of the economies of volume manufacturing -- reducing the number of separate items that need to be made and kept in inventory.


Computer stores also stand to save on inventory, explains Avram Miller, program maanger for the Professional series. "They can buy computers in modules liek stereo components -- stocking monitors, keyboard, boxes, floppies, and software that thecustomer selects and puts together as a system. In fact, these small systems never come together in Manufacturing, only in the customer's office."


Changing the ways DEC does business


Thyese new personal computers -- by challenges they created in Engineerng, manufacuring, Custoemr SErvices, Mrketing and Sales -- are leading to important changes in the ways DEC does business.  According to Ken Olsen, "There is more fun int he business today than at any time in history. We can get more done, more quickly, and influence things faster than at any toehr time."


Referring to the development effort, ken said, "They did a magnificent job on this. From an organization point of view it should be a model."


Each product had a focused team that was totally responsible for the complete system product -- including both hardware and software -- frmo its inception through develoment and shipment.  The program managers -- Avram Miller for the Professional series, Barry Folsom for the Rainbow 100, and Dick Loveland for the DECmate II -- led teams that included people responsible for hardware development, software development, manufacturing, Customer Services, and marketing, as well as such support functionas as Personnel and Finance. The members of a team were phycially located in the same area so they could easily communicate with one antoher adn share common concerns.


According to Bill Avery, manager, Terminals and Workstations Engineerng, "To compete int he fast-changing low-end market, you have to move very quickly in turning ideas into products. The challenge to all of these teams was to achieve quality products in a very short time. The goals and accountability fo all team members were celaer from the start."  privacy statement