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DEC Is Dead, Long Live DEC: The Lasting Legacy of Digital Equipment Corporation Hardcover – June, 2003

3.8 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Edgar H. Schein is currently Sloan Fellows Professor of Management Emeritus at the Sloan School. He is also the Founding Editor of Reflections, the Journal of the Society for Organizational Learning devoted to connecting academics, consultants, and practitioners around the issues of knowledge creation, dissemination and utilization.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 317 pages
  • Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers; 1 edition (June 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1576752259
  • ISBN-13: 978-1576752258
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,614,677 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
MIT Sloan School of Management Professor Edgar Schein does a marvelous job telling the story of the rise and fall of Digital Equipment Corporation, the former #2 computer maker in the world behind IBM. The business reasons behind DEC's economic failure have been widely reported (missing the advent of the PC, having too many projects going at once, failure to market products effectively, etc.) However, the big question to be answered is why did these failures occur? To quote one passage, "Why did an organization that was wildly successful for thirty-five years, filled with intelligent, articulate powerful engineers and managers, fail to act effectively to deal with problems that were highly visible to everyone, both inside and outside the organization?"
Schein looks at DEC's failure through the lens of its corporate culture, and how it prohibited their executives from making the decisions, and taking the actions necessary to survive. Fans of Ed Schein will know his famous "Three Cultures of Management" paper, in which he describes the "Executive", "Line Manager" and "Engineering" cultures, all of which must exist and be balanced against one another for an organization to survive. Schein argues that DEC was dominated by the engineering culture, which valued innovation and "elegant" design, over profits and operational efficiency. This engineering culture dominated even the top levels of DEC, where proposals to build PCs out of off the shelf parts that were readily available in the marketplace, were shot down because the machines were thought to be junk compared to the ones DEC could build themselves.
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Format: Hardcover
Many discussions and articles that chronicle the rise and fall of Digital simplify the failure to either "The president [Ken Olsen] blew it," or "They missed the PC revolution," or some combination of both. This book shows how the culture that so successfully nourished creativity and genius in the company's nascent days brought chaos, confusion, and internecine warfare in later days when the larger company faced a host of competitors and needed to efficiently produce commodity items. I think that the authors go a little too lightly on the role of (mis)management in Digital's failure, but they do a good job of bringing to light many other aspects of Digital's problematic history. The authors seem a bit full of themselves at times, but they have a compelling and sobering story to tell.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I recommend this book to anyone who is familiar with DEC or wishes to understand its enduring legacies. It is also a useful case study on who a company that was doing so well could ultimately fail; are Microsoft and IBM really immune from this fate?

I used DEC equipment during its heyday from the late 1970's throughout the 1980s. What I value most is how the technical experiences I recall from that time were given depth. The author's narrative binds together a collection of internal memos and personal recollections of many of those who were working at DEC when many of its fateful decisions were made. In general, responsibility for the ultimate failure of DEC to survive as a company is laid with the senior management, in particular with CEO Ken Olsen. The same attributes that made DEC great and innovative were the ones that lead to its downfall. Alas, DEC is not dead but lives on in all the innovations it introduced.

I would like liked to have seen some more details on the technical innovations and more exposure to the myths and legends that many of us were weaned on. But that was not the main thesis of the book so it's not a deficiency per se.

Though written in a straightforward and matter of fact way with little flourish, I was engrossed and quickly polished it off. This book needed to be written.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a some times draggy book but does explain the factors that led to DEC's demise. The balkanization into fiefdoms is well explained. We had VAX 3100 workstations and VAX 3800 computers. They worked great but by the mid '80s were underpowered. A new RFP was issued and DEC bid the 8600; great but overkill. I wound up working on the GE Aerospace Division Terminal Working Group (we were responsible for promoting new technologies as well as evaluating which to adopt). The VT180/278 basically shoved a Z80 with CPM or added PDP8, not a good try. None of the DEC attempts at a PC were cost effective or viable. Although Health Kit sold a kit version of the PDP11 at a reasonable price--if you didn't need software. Then in the '90 they came out with a version of VMS for the Intel 486 with full functionality. We ordered 20,000 copies with a follow on of up to 1M copies. We were told that we could not get it as Ken Olsen torpedoed the project. That could have saved DEC. We were not the only customer with strong interest and I would estimate that DEC could have sold several 50M copies.

Aside from the odd omissions by the author (DEC's PDP10/20 large scale computers are barely mentioned) and no mention of VMS on the VAX this is a great book and research resource on DEC. As for why the VMS on Intel was torpedoed it's not clear but Ken may have gotten the blame for what others did. Certainly it was a disruptive technology that would have killed off most of DEC's computer lines fairly quickly. But DEC could have supplanted MS!

DEC pioneered a lot of things that have led to the cloud computing today.
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