Ken Olsen

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.

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2 Responses to “Ken Olsen”

  1. Raza Rizvi Says:

    That was the TOPS-10 or TOPS-20 operating system I think, and I also used TOPS-10 at Newcastle Uni in the holidays. Good but not as brilliant as VMS which I really loved as a way of learning proper system management.

    Nice one Ken.

  2. David Anderson Says:

    I have even fonder memories of the DEC range of computers. I started using them (PDP8) when I worked at British Aerospace.
    This was round about 1969. The big advantage was that they supplied free of charge a vast quantity of manuals and this enabled an easy introduction to mini computers use. Our use was mainly in connecting data logging equipment and one of their strengths was in the wide variety of plug-in modules. I have fond memories of bashing away on teletype machines. Eventually at Birmingham University I worked for a time with the PDP 11 which was heavily used by students for Unix programming.
    I ended up as Operations Manager for a large DEC 20 machine which provided a terminal service for many departments across the campus.

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