The moving finger writes, and, having writ, moves on

So Silicon Graphics is sold for a song. Who knew it still existed?

There was a time when it was one of the stars of the technology world, making high-powered workstations that competed with DEC, Apollo and Sun. Compaq bought DEC, and then was bought by HP. HP also bought Apollo. Sun looks like being consumed by IBM. Proprietary, expensive workstations stopped being a big deal a long, long time ago, replaced by commodity Linux boxes.

One of the sadder demonstrations I recall seeing was at Silicon Graphics in the late ’90s. SGI was a member of the World Economic Forum and on one of my swings through the Valley I was given a demonstration of the power of their computers. At their campus — which is now Google’s home — they had a special room to show off their stuff. I remember an elaborate computer-generated simulation of racing cars and rollercoasters, which was designed to make viewers as queasy as being in the real thing. It did, and I’m sure it took a staggering amount of computer power in those days.

But it seemed largely irrelevant even then: of use for Hollywood special effects and a handful of other specialized applications. I thought it was a dead end, a party trick when so many of SGI’s neighbors were intent on taking over the world. So it proved.

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