Cringely's Computer Chronicles Robert X. Cringely Looks at Silicon
By: John Shepler
Robert X. Cringely writes what will be tomorrow's history.
He's a journalist immersed in the accelerated world of computers
and high technology in Silicon Valley. It's a business in a time
warp, where garages transform into empires and hobbyists change
the world. If there is a battle raging for who will dominate
the Internet, the personal computer, and even the information
age, then Robert X. Cringely is the premier war correspondent.
I first became familiar with his work when a colleague recommended
"Accidental Empires, How the Boys of Silicon Valley Make
Their Millions, Battle Foreign Competition, and Still Can't Get
a Date." It's the inside scoop on Bill Gates, Steve Jobs,
Steve Wozniak, Scott McNealy, Mitch Kapor, Gary Kildall and a
host of others who created the computer industry as we know it
Accidental it was. Look at billions of dollars
spent on personal computers and software, the way you can walk
into a discount store and buy a system ready to go and more powerful
than anything the government had a generation ago, and you might
think this was all the result of organized research and painstaking
Almost nothing that we take for granted, the hardware, the
software, the big names, nothing was preordained or even worked
out on paper. It pretty much happened along the way. Robert X.
Cringely was there to watch it, write about it and perhaps even
influence it a bit himself. He was Apple Computer employee number
12 and claims to have helped Steve Jobs clean out the garage
where the Apple empire began. He sneaked around the back alleys
of Silicon Valley computer companies with budding entrepreneurs,
diving through dumpsters to find the parts for their next important
project. All the time, he was collecting the scoop on what was
developing just out of the limelight.
Robert X. Cringely wrote it all up in 1992. Bill Gates didn't
invent MS-DOS. He sold the idea to IBM and then went and bought
the software from a Seattle entrepreneur who was converting someone
else's 8 bit operating system to run with the new 8086 processor.
Steve Wozniak was an undistinguisted Hewlett-Packard engineer
without a college degree. He invented the Apple computer to impress
his friends in the Homebrew Computer Club. A friend of Wozniak
who worked part time in a video game company sold his wheels,
a VW Microbus, and helped make copies of the computer board that
they could sell from his parents' garage...the one Cringely got
involved with cleaning out. Today the iMac computer from Apple
is one of the hottest selling products you'll find, and Apple
is flying high with none other than founder Steve Jobs back in
Robert X. Cringely made his own name writing an influential
weekly column in a top computer trade publication, InfoWorld,
from 1987 to 1995. There is some controversy on who made the
name, as InfoWorld claims that Mark C. Stephens simply used their
moniker on his "Notes From the Field" column. When
he left the publication in 1995, they hired another columnist
whom they called Robert X. Cringely as well.
But "the one true Cringely", as he calls himself,
got the rights to continue using the name and has moved on to
PBS to continue his writing and expand into video reporting.
His latest production is appropriately titled "Nerds 2.0.1:
A Brief History of the Internet." It's a fascinating three
hour documentary that shows how college students become billionaires
and create the world of cyberspace out of, well, garages. In
fact, the group that created the Excite search engine have a
new multi-million dollar corporate palace with a conference room
that looks just like the garage they started in six years ago.
Cringely has video from then and now and, yes, they seem like
pretty much the same guys...just in more upscale accommodations
Robert X. Cringely has also produced and starred in "Triumph
of the Nerds", which is a similar documentary about the
history of the PC industry, "Digital TV: A Cringely Crash
Course", all about the coming technology of wide screen
digital TV, and something called "Plane Crazy." In
"Plane Crazy," he got the idea that airplanes take
a ridiculous amount of time to design and manufacture and that
he could personally reset the standard from a couple of years
down to no more than 30 days. His bungling attempt would be hilarious
if it wasn't so pitiful, but in the end the one true Cringely
does indeed triumph and takes to the sky in a biplane he helped
build...in a month.
You've gotta love this guy, character that he is. He sticks
pins in the overinflated egos and overhyped products of the industry
giants, and he celebrates the lesser known geeks and nerds who
create the real value in the products from their cubicles and
dorm rooms. He is a champion of the individual. He's there in
print, on the web and on television proving that, even today,
each of us has within ourselves the power to change the world.
Books of Interest:
Accidental Empires Revisited: How the Boys of Silicon Valley
Make Their Millions, Battle Foreign Competition and Still Can't
Get Date by Robert X. Cringely. An updated version of the
classic book on the history and unlikely heros of the personal
Also visit these related
- The official website of Robert X. Cringely with his blog posts, bio, and a wealth of other interesting information.