Rod Canion with Brian McCullough

Edit­ed Con­tent

The orig­i­nal audio con­tained some unnec­es­sary and uncom­fort­able paus­es, so I took the lib­er­ty of trim­ming it down a bit. The above play­er will play the new file, but the orig­i­nal is avail­able from the source, if you’d pre­fer.

If you’ve ever found this industry’s his­to­ry intrigu­ing, you’ve like­ly heard Bri­an McCullough’s superb Inter­net His­to­ry Pod­cast before, and it’s obvi­ous to you how invalu­able an inter­view episode with Compaq’s Biggest Boy would be for a head start on digest­ing the sto­ry. In accor­dance with Halt and Catch Fire’s pilot release in 2014, the broad-shoul­dered sol­dier of open com­put­ing appeared to have been on a mini media tour (even though he open­ly admit­ted he’d yet to actu­al­ly watch it.) [His last remark — “maybe even as excit­ing as the real thing” — may sound like sil­ly Dork Rod con­jec­ture, but the show wasn’t near­ly as engag­ing because they had(?) to remove the com­pat­i­bil­i­ty com­po­nent, which is the meat of the whole thing.] McCul­lough is usu­al­ly ace at this stuff, but he sounds a bit shaky in this one, though nobody should blame him — I cer­tain­ly would be, too. Rod Canion’s accent (BIOS=buy-OSS) and gen­er­al inten­si­ty must make for one hell of a pres­ence, even over the phone. 2014 was a long time ago.

McCullough’s own sum­ma­ry of the con­ver­sa­tion is so thor­ough (he was writ­ing a book,) there’s only a sin­gle pos­si­ble addi­tion.

There’s a cer­tain risk­tak­ing gene that runs through a lot of Tex­ans.”

There’s no oth­er way to say it: I believe in Texas. Specif­i­cal­ly, Hous­ton. DJ Screw, UGK, Z-Ro, Trae, Fat Pat, etc.- these I adopt­ed as reli­gion, years ago. From my per­spec­tive, Rod Canion’s ball­sy, loy­al Hous­to­ni­an­ism hus­tle makes per­fect sense. Yes, I’m afraid you’ve basi­cal­ly stum­bled into my pas­sion­ate cause to unite two Hous­ton icons.


Rod Canion

CEO, Co-Founder

A soft-spo­ken Tex­an whose boy­hood spent tin­ker­ing with hot rods led him to study engi­neer­ing, Can­ion received his master’s degree in elec­tri­cal engi­neer­ing with an empha­sis in com­put­er sci­ence in 1968, and he imme­di­ate­ly began work­ing for Dal­las-based elec­tron­ics titan Texas Instru­ments (TI).” — “Joseph R. ‘Rod’ Can­ion,” — Entre­pre­neur

Behold the Compaq Comeback

This evening, a pack­age is sched­uled to arrive upon my doorstep con­tain­ing a Com­paq Portable Plus lug­gable com­put­er from 1983 which I have fan­ta­sized about buy­ing for far too many years. Despite liv­ing in the midst of per­haps the worst pos­si­ble finan­cial sit­u­a­tion to spend $139.99 out­right on a rel­ic of com­put­ing, I final­ly just bought one any­way last Thurs­day because I’m absolute­ly fed up with life with­out the mag­ic I remem­ber feel­ing from com­put­ers. Yes, I am hav­ing a mid-life crises and The Machine is just a phys­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tion of one of my favorite sto­ries, but I expect it will pro­vide some­thing irre­place­able for me and at least one piece of enter­tain­ment for just about any­body: I’m going to start a pho­to­series of myself using the 26-lb., suit­case-like, and utter­ly time-dis­placed Portable Plus in dif­fer­ent cof­fee shops through­out Port­land

There’s also poten­tial oppor­tu­ni­ty (or neces­si­ty) for me to make use of my lim­it­ed knowl­edge of hard­ware elec­tron­ics. I’ve nev­er been very com­fort­able with open­ly using the term “hob­by,” but I ful­ly intend to savor, doc­u­ment, and pre­serve every pos­si­ble detail of my expe­ri­ence, so we’re going to behave as if the tales of com­put­er his­to­ry are pre­cious to a ded­i­cat­ed audi­ence besides myself, and that I am there­by and here­after bind­ing myself to an impor­tant duty of dis­cov­ery, cura­tion, and pre­sen­ta­tion expressed through mul­ti­me­dia of the high­est pos­si­ble cal­iber.

In oth­er words, I’m pret­ty sure I’ve just begun a vin­tage com­put­ing blog. Before we go any fur­ther, then, let’s dis­pense with the oblig­a­tory arrange­ments.

Why Compaq?

Put sim­ply, Com­paq was punk as fuck. Three dorky Tex­an techn­odads pre­med­i­tat­ed their leave of fair, secure jobs in the indus­try in order to bet every­thing on the promise of a sin­gle unde­ni­ably pro-user ide­al to dis­rupt its dom­i­nant monop­o­lis­tic supervil­lian. Unlike any of the count­less oth­er sto­ries from the infor­ma­tion age with the very same intro­duc­tion, theirs was imme­di­ate­ly pro­pelled into stratos­pher­ic, record-break­ing suc­cess — from cof­fee table sketch­es in the waste­lands of sub­ur­ban Hous­ton nights to one bil­lion dol­lars in less than five years, prov­ing that it was pos­si­ble to win huge in tech by com­mit­ting sin­cere­ly to lib­er­at­ing the con­sumer and man­i­fest­ing the ulti­mate per­for­mance of the under­dog com­plex Amer­i­can busi­ness has ever wit­nessed. 

Those of us who’ve main­tained some curi­ous orbit of tech­nol­o­gy have recent­ly entered a rec­on­cil­la­to­ry process as the world has become all at once inti­mate­ly famil­iar with our col­lec­tive pur­suits’ true con­se­quences. Nev­er has it been more appro­pri­ate to reflect on the whole­some brava­do of the only Amer­i­can com­put­er com­pa­ny to build a bil­lion-dol­lar busi­ness atop the sole mantra of user lib­er­a­tion. At a glance one might assume that AMC’s attempt to repro­duce Mad Men’s for­mu­la with a sto­ry set in Compaq’s ori­gin in a series that’s sup­pos­ed­ly attract­ed a fair num­ber of Net­flix­ers called Halt and Catch Fire in con­junc­tion with the 2016 doc­u­men­tary Sil­i­con Cow­boys have suf­fi­cient­ly remind­ed Amer­i­ca of to whom it real­ly owes its priv­i­leged tech indus­try. How­ev­er, a Twit­ter search for “Com­paq” turns up vir­tu­al­ly noth­ing of con­se­quence, and — on the oth­er cul­tur­al spec­trum — I’ve yet to see a sin­gle well-doc­u­ment­ed col­lec­tion of Com­paq hard­ware, and I’m unsat­is­fied.  

Like it not, you’re com­ing with me on a safari back through two full nos­tal­gic cycles to redis­cov­er our won­der and excite­ment about tech­nol­o­gy because I miss it des­per­ate­ly and I know you do too. We’re going to find some­thing mar­velous.

I believe com­put­ers can be mag­ic again.

I believe in Com­paq.

Motherboard Explores Desktop Publishing History

It’s exceed­ing­ly rare for New Media to write in any depth about the his­to­ry of com­put­ing — espe­cial­ly a Vice prop­er­ty — so com­ing across this excel­lent retelling of the com­pelling his­to­ry of The Print Shop was an espe­cial­ly pleas­ant sur­prise.

Much of the soft­ware we use today bor­rows look-and-feel ele­ments from oth­er pieces of software—and that could have led to some uncom­fort­able legal deci­sions that hurt the broad­er soft­ware indus­try, par­tic­u­lar­ly with open-source soft­ware clones.

I’ve spent the past month or so entire­ly fas­ci­nat­ed by the his­to­ry of soft­ware in explor­ing Win­World­PC by way of vir­tu­al machin­ing. I haven’t writ­ten about it yet because, frankly, I have not even begun to be able to focus on a sin­gle sto­ry — I’ve sim­ply been gob­bling up an intox­i­cat­ing, seem­ing­ly-end­less sea of .iso and .ima files. That said, you can expect lots of screen caps and misty-eyed soft­ware mono­logues very soon. For the moment, I’d like to give in to the num­ber one angst one accrues tour­ing a grave­yard of quaint, gen­uine­ly-unique ideas and shit a bit on Microsoft’s co-founder and CEO.

The After Dark 2.0 install screen. I could write 500 words just about this lit­tle utility’s trea­sure trove of gen­uine­ly-taste­ful screen­savers. Yes, it’s pos­si­ble.

I can’t quite think of anoth­er indi­vid­ual from the his­to­ry of com­put­ing (or any oth­er intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty indus­try for that mat­ter) who’s reached Bill Gates’ lev­el of anti-com­pet­i­tive mania. From this spe­cif­ic era in the ear­ly 90s, Win­dows 3.1′s final gen­er­a­tion of word proces­sors all includ­ed addon con­ver­sion soft­ware to help users make ‘the switch’ from the oth­er — per­haps con­sti­tut­ing the pet­ti­est nerd Beef ever thrown.

It’s hard to imag­ine com­pe­ti­tion for office soft­ware at all in 2018, yet Microsoft Office con­tin­ues to be a “huge old bitch.” I know it seems like there could hard­ly be any­thing pet­ti­er, but take a moment to reflect on its role in the past twen­ty years of your life: what if Microsoft had nev­er bro­ken com­pe­ti­tion laws for two straight decades exist­ed in its cur­rent form? What if there were still no few­er than 5 soft­ware com­pa­nies per any tech­nol­o­gy prod­uct cat­e­go­ry, push­ing the bound­aries of inno­va­tion in order to stay ahead? I’ve just tried Ami Pro for the first time, and it’s already made appar­ent that Lotus’ engi­neers were think­ing more about UX in the devel­op­ment of this sin­gle ver­sion than all of Microsoft’s cumu­la­tive think­ing since its god­damned incep­tion.

A reminder: we don’t have to set­tle for shit­ty prod­ucts just because they’re the stan­dard.

(Also, my Com­paq Portable Plus is sched­uled to arrive on Fri­day and I am expe­ri­enc­ing actu­al gid­di­ness for the first time in years. Many pho­tos incom­ing.)