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The recent death of Digital Equipment Corporation's founder Ken Olsen is a reminder that getting to the top of the tech world isn't easy but staying there is even harder. ZDNet UK's David Meyer takes a look back at 10 firms that were once leaders in the field but let technology pass them by.
Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC)
DEC's PDP-8 may not look so small now, but its relatively compact size made it a bestseller in the mid-1960s — the company sold 50,000 of its 'minicomputer', which was a record-breaker at the time. DEC became the largest private employer in the state of Massachusetts.
In the late 1970s, the company's VAX-11 32-bit minicomputer served as a rival to IBM's mainframes. However, a decade later saw the rise of the 32-bit microcomputer, and Digital's products lost their cachet. Its 1998 merger with Compaq was the biggest in the history of the IT industry. Four years later, Compaq itself merged with HP, leaving the DEC/Digital brand as little more than a memory.
Sperry was founded in 1910 as a manufacturer of navigational equipment. It later diversified into military aircraft components, including the ball turret guns used on World War II bombers. After the war, it turned its attention to computers.
The company bought typewriter-maker Remington Rand, which had previously picked up the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation (EMCC) — founded by the Eniac inventors — in 1955. What was by then known as Sperry Rand went on develop EMCC's successful Universal Automatic Computer (Univac) series of mainframes and peripherals — including the Sperry Univac 1100/80 Computer, pictured above — which remained an industry mainstay for decades.
In 1986, Sperry Corporation merged with its competitor Burroughs Corporation to become Unisys, which now provides services rather than making machines. Non-computing divisions of Sperry, which produced such diverse items as electric razors and manure spreaders, were sold off. The only former Sperry division to retain that name is Sperry Marine, which — in a neat piece of symmetry — makes navigation equipment.
Photo credit: Erick M Griffin