Living It

16 December 2005

There’s a Slashdot pointer to an Ars Technica history of the most popular computers in the personal computer industry.

As someone who built a large computer dealership, then helped build one of the largest PC distributors in the country, there’s a lot to recall about the greatest days of the industry. We sold to commercial users of personal computers. Most often we were talking to people who were looking for alternatives to stand-alone word processing systems and better terminals to the “mainframe.”

Clearly, there was a consumer and hobbyist demand that sustained the market for small, personal computers in the earliest days. Yet, the industry was built by sales to those with volume requirements for PC’s. There were some tricky periods within certain eras. Difficult to imagine today are the moments when it wasn’t completely clear that AT&T or Texas Instruments would ultimately give way to IBM’s clout. Would Compaq or Corona prevail or would both fall by the wayside?

Faced with buying inventory, training field engineers, stocking replacement parts and selecting software, the choices of brand were anything but trivial. Our dealership launched in 1981. I sold in 1990 and helped build one of the big distributors. By 1994, it was obvious that consolidation would bring about some huge reversals of fortune. I left the PC distribution industry and largely observed the implosion from afar.

Organizations built around names like Computerland, Entre, Inacom, MicroAge and others began to fold in the face of slow shifts from their controlled (franchise) distribution models to the wide open distribution models being pursued by Ingram Micro, Tech Data and (ultimately) the major manufacturers.

In those years, owning computer inventory was like owning heads of lettuce. One day it had value. The next day it looked a little brown around the edges. By the next day it was beginning to smell. What a great place to learn high-speed logistics, sophisticated inventory control and zero-stock distribution models. Some got it. Many did not.

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