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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Just the facts, ma'am, November 11, 2013
This review is from: Open: How Compaq Ended IBM's PC Domination and Helped Invent Modern Computing (Hardcover)
Co-founder, CEO, and author Rod Canion does an excellent job laying out the chronology of Compaq, starting with the founding of the company and the key decisions: to build a portable PC, to focus (maniacally) on IBM PC compatibility, to focus on high-performance (and luxury pricing), to ship an 80286 machine that was more compatible with the original (8088) IBM PC than IBM's 80286 machine, to ship an 80386 PC before IBM did, to band together with other PC "clone" makers to announce the EISA bus in response to the IBM MicroChannel bus, and the decision to simultaneously launch both an 80486 desktop PC and the dual-processor SystemPro server that had more power at much lower cost than competing "minicomputer" offerings from IBM and HP. These were gutsy -- and winning -- decisions.

I worked at Microsoft as a software engineer and engineering leader from 1985 to 1999. And for my first 11 years I worked on operating systems: OS/2 (nee MT-DOS), MS-DOS, and Windows. So this book was a trip down memory lane for me. I never met Mr. Canion, but I was always impressed by the people and products of Compaq. Under Canion's leadership, Compaq designed and built the fastest, most reliable (and most expensive) PCs. I still remember fondly getting my first 80386 machine -- a Compaq 386/20e.

The writing style is crisp, functional, and (mostly) devoid of self-aggrandizing praise. I quite enjoyed the book.

But I only gave it four stars because the story is incomplete. It seems improbable that in his nine years at the helm of Compaq, there weren't at least a few major mistakes. Yet Compaq goes from success to success. Canion stress how important the culture and the team are, yet he never dives into any nitty-gritty details about how a single individual or small group of individuals achieved some amazing feat. On the other hand, there must have been a few senior individuals who didn't pan out, but in his telling, every person they hired was outstanding and never made any mistakes.

In his telling, there was little uncertainty. The Compaq "Process" was a methodical way to evaluate situations and arrive at a solution by consensus. There seemed to be little conflict, little agonizing, and no second guessing in any of the major decisions that were made on his watch.

Most puzzling is the end of the book, where he simply leaves Compaq at the end of 1991: "Parting was bittersweet." But according to contemporary accounts, he was fired by chairman Ben Rosen:

"Compaq Chairman Benjamin J. Rosen, a venture capitalist who funded Compaq in its early years, said the board believed that Pfeiffer, a 50-year-old German national who has been running day-to-day operations since earlier this year, was the better man to execute the low-cost strategy."
(See [...]

In focusing so narrowly on his thesis that Compaq laid the groundwork for the "open source" movement of the Internet era -- which I found quite plausible -- Canion missed a golden opportunity to explore why the founding team was unable to adapt to the changing nature of the PC business. That story would have been useful to growing companies everywhere.
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