Considering what now passes for state of the art in computer technology, the original PDP from Digital Equipment Corp. was not much to look at. But this 12-bit computer, introduced in 1959, was nonetheless a proverbial game-changer.
Ken Olsen, who was then working at MIT, had come up with a huge technical advantage over IBM, whose mainframes then dominated the computer market. Unlike Big Blue's machines, the PDP was interactive, which meant that it would interact with users when they fed programming instructions with holes punched into paper. OK, user friendly, it was not. Still, it was a leap over the static, batch processing model then dominating the scene where programming meant feeding in a punch card and then waiting around for the eventual result. It's hard not to underscore the significance of this product approach as it signaled a major shift in the philosophy of computer design.
The founding of DEC was an East Coast variant of the West Coast success story of Hewlett-Packard. The company began in 1957 when Ken Olsen, Harlan Anderson, and Stan Olsen got started with an initial capital investment of $70,000 and set up shopt in a corner of a mill complex in the Boston suburb of Maynard, Massachusetts.
On Monday, Feb. 7, Olsen passed away at the age of 84. You can read more about his life here.