Snopes on Ken Olsen

From: Vintage Computer Festival <>
Date: Tue Sep 21 22:05:51 2004

On Tue, 21 Sep 2004, Teo Zenios wrote:

> Video games came out after thousands upon thousands of machines were sold
> and people wanted something to do on them after the initial novelty wore
> off. Did the advertisements for the first computers show people playing
> games on them, or were they hyping the office apps? I wouldn't call the
> Atari 2600's from the 1970's a computer.

>From the beginning, one of the driving forces for having a computer was to
play games. A big reason for the techies and nerds was so they could do
programming without being constrained by time limits. And what did they
programs? GAMES!

> > This is silly and specious. There were PLENTY of uses for a computer in
> > the home back in the 1970s: word processing is just one obvious
> > application. You are over-looking the thousands of unique uses people
> > found for computers at a personal level.
> People didn't program word processors, others did and then sold those
> packages. Just about everyone I knew had a typewriter in the 70's and not a
> home computer. It wasnt untill the C64 in the 80's along with Atari 800s,
> Sinclair and other 8 bit machines that personal computers were sold in the
> millions and had enough memory and storage to be usefull word processors.

The Apple ][ was doing all this by the late 1970s. So were many other
computers on the market at the time. The user base was limited and the
applications were certainly crude, especially compared to today's
standards, but people did use these things in the home, and the trend was
obviously towards more penetration into the home market for these sorts of

If we go back to the original argument by Ken Olsen, which is that there's
no reason to have computers in the home, Ken was not only completely
wrong, but disastrously wrong, as history has proven.

> > That may be, but it didn't stop millions of computers being sold to home
> > users throughout the 1980s. Regardless of what the market was then
> > compared to now (which is a useless comparison) the fact is that people
> > bought computers for the home and used them, whether it was for games or
> > not. And guess what? I'd guess that the same percentage of people who
> > buy computers for their home today as did in the 1980s do so for playing
> > games.
> Why is that a useless comparison (80's to today)? The average user changes

Because today the applications are obvious and evolved, and then there's
the Internet. Back in the 1970s and early 1980s people bought computers
for the home because they heard they could do all sorts of nifty things
with them, and the kids could use them to play games. And people did.

You were comparing the market in the late 1970s to the market of today and
saying this is evidence that computers had no use in the home, which is
just plain wrong. How many cars were sold in the late 1800s and how do
those sales numbers compare to today? Furthermore, what does that say
about how useful or useless cars were for individuals back then?

> alot from the kid who got a computer for gaming and some school papers to
> now where the whole family (grandparents also) uses one for work, games,
> multimedia, and communication. I was just trying to show how things evolved
> beyond what somebody in the 70's thaught the personal computer would be.

But computers back then were also targeted at the whole family for pretty
much all the applications that we use them for today. Look at any early
Apple ad, for example, and you'll see every member of the family
represented with an application mentioned for each one (from the obvious
to the sexist, i.e. "Mom can save her recipes!").

> The user base has steadily increased because of the software makers and
> their ability to come up with new uses for the home computer, along with
> pricing and technology that makes the equipment more powerful and cheaper at
> the same time. Was it obvious to IBM that their first PC would sell in the
> millions? Even if some people had an idea the personal computer would be a
> hit I don't think they ever dreamed of what they would look like in the
> later 20th century.

It was clearly not obvious to IBM that they would be selling in the
millions, but it was clear that there was a market, which is all that
mattered. As it were, they sold around 35,000 PC's by the end of 1981,
five times their expectations. So by 1981, only four years after Ken made
his comment, it became very obvious that computers had a huge future. But
even before then, sales for personal computers were skyrocketing. IBM
only came into the picture after it was obvious they were missing the

Ken was obviously, plainly, painfully, and as I said before, disastrously
wrong. DEC is gone, Apple is not.

Sellam Ismail                                        Vintage Computer Festival
International Man of Intrigue and Danger      
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Received on Tue Sep 21 2004 - 22:05:51 BST

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