[PW] Kenneth Olsen Computer Quote (Quotation Query #745)

Ivan Van Laningham ivanlan9 at gmail.com
Sun May 8 11:49:50 PDT 2016

Oh, my.

I spent a good part of the 80s working on DEC Vax 11/780s (actually, a 782
dual-processor unit).  For at least half that, we had it installed in a big
room without a raised floor, which meant we had cables as thick as your
forearm running all over the concrete slab.  It was air-conditioned, and we
had a halon system, but that was about the extent of the creature comfort
level.  Noisy as hell.

The reason I bring this up is because at about the same time, which was
during the last days of the arpa-net and the early days of what grew into
the internet, I was following some computer usenet group, and ran across
some guy who had an 11/782 in his garage somewhere.  It ate vast amounts of
power, but since he was working for DEC at the time (IIRC) and they paid
the power bill, he was able to work from home rather a lot.  Something the
rest of us peons had to do through modems (max 9600 baud).

It would seem disingenous, at best, for Olson to have made such a comment,
especially as late as 1977, when he had a scientist working for him who had
a monster like this in his garage.  I've heard it myself, but I never did
put much credence in it.

Bill Gates's oft-cited remark about no one ever needing more than 640k
memory, however, I believed for years.  That, too, is untrue:


On Sun, May 8, 2016 at 12:13 PM, John Sleasman <johnsleasman at gmail.com>

> While not fully referenced, the Snopes article on this cites DEC sources
> and quotations/paraphrases of Olson's related comments to the effect that
> there was a context of not needing "computers" in the sense of old style
> mainframes:
> http://www.snopes.com/quotes/kenolsen.asp
> "[That interpretation of my comment] is, of course, ridiculous because the
> business we were in was making PCs, and almost from the start I had them at
> home and my wife played Scrabble with time-sharing machines, and my
> sixth-grade son was networking the MIT computers and the DEC computers
> together, hopefully without doing mischief, using the computers I had at
> home. Home computers were a natural continuum of the "personal computers"
> that people had at work, in the laboratory, in the military."
> On 05/08/2016 11:53 AM, Shapiro, Fred wrote:
>> Kenneth H. Olsen of the DEC Corporation is often credited with saying
>> something like "There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in
>> his home" in a speech to the World Future Society in Boston in 1977.  Often
>> it is said that Olsen was quoted to this effect in Time Magazine in 1977.
>> I can find no contemporaneous or near-contemporaneous documentation for
>> Olsen having said this in 1977, nor have I found it quoted anywhere near
>> 1977 in Time Magazine.  I would welcome any pre-1984 documentation for the
>> quote, or any solid leads to verification of the quote.
>> Fred Shapiro
>> _______________________________________________
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Ivan Van Laningham
God N Locomotive Works
Army Signal Corps:  Cu Chi, Class of '70
Author:  Teach Yourself Python in 24 Hours

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