I have fond memories of the PDP11 minicomputer from my days as an undergraduate in the 1980s. So I was sad to hear about the death of Ken Olsen, the founder of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), the company that made the machine. In a society awash with iPads, smartphones and other miniature computing devices it is easy to forget the role that DEC’s minicomputers had in the history of the industry. They provided a bridge between the room-sized mainframes of the 1960s and the invention of the PC, and helped train a generation of undergraduates and researchers.
It was the PC that was DEC’s downfall and unfortunately Olsen is mostly remembered for his failure to spot the evolution of smaller computers beneath DEC’s feet. I however will remember Olsen with gratitude for the hours of pleasure in the computer room at Leeds University, learning to code in ‘C’, and occasionally being distracted by the flash of my mate Punkah’s orange cagoule as we sent each other messages on the computer’s rudimentary email system. Just because we could.