Great Technology Companies of Western Civilization: Why Did They Disappear?

Digital Equipment Corporation, known as DEC; Peoplesoft; Sun; and now VMware all have something dark in common. At one point, they were all great American companies leading the path toward innovation in the Six Cities of Silicon Valley. They were magnificent leaders in computing innovation, each at different stages of the evolution of Silicon Valley-based technology.

They were each dominant leaders in their narrow fields and provided historical innovations of great value to the burgeoning maturity of American industry and the culture of Western civilization.

But ultimately, they all failed.


Each of these great companies has its own sad story, which includes the lack of strategic commitment of the founders as well as the shareholders and a board of directors when they individually disappeared into the proverbial foggy ether over San Francisco Bay. The detestable hubris of self-important corporate leaders who deviated from the core competencies of these giants of origination to numerous and often frivolous projects that resulted in the diminishment of the ability of each of these colossuses to self-sustain is also a miserable commonality. But in truth, the darkest corners of capitalism wiped these historic icons from the face of American industry.

The House of Medici inspired the notion of “free enterprise” after the 14th century Plague of Death by using micro-finance, which would offer 20th century economists Nobel Prizes. But many centuries later, Karl Marx published the three volumes of Das Kapital starting in 1867 and defined modern “capitalism.” I paraphrase this as, “Those who control the capital control everything.” Capitalism fuels the industry of the contemporary world, but its dark twin can, and often does, consume all it produces.


Free enterprise encourages accomplishment as well as profit. Free enterprise emblazons the mind and spirit of the intrepid to boldly accomplish anything and everything, which often results in the release of genius fashioning an explosion of material, artistic, and social expansions that have created the wealth seen within the last 650 years. Free enterprise encourages the creation of companies such as DEC, Sun, Peoplesoft, and VMware.

It also urges great minds to work with entities that sometimes focus purely on profit.

NASA comes to mind. It is the individual’s choice as to what direction to take, and the outcomes are often astounding. Capital infuses the lifeblood into all these endeavors but, in a rare moment of clarity, Marx suggested that it can ultimately consume those same success stories in a frenzy of self-enrichment.

Not that any of this is necessarily illegal or should be. The manipulation of markets and financial systems often leads to monopolization, and the unnatural consumption of everything in the path of the resulting predatory behemoth constitutes a violation of all sensible laws of commerce, but that is not being alleged now.


Instead, a much darker corner of the capitalist narrative is constantly hard at work, eliminating the enriching beauty of some of humanity’s most significant corporate accomplishments and depriving the future of all that might have been. The darkness is that it’s all perfectly legal, socially acceptable, and, in fact, tremendously profitable, and it should be. The true cost to mankind will never be known.


What would have come from DEC if it were allowed to thrive? VMs? Many consider the operating system DEC built to be the greatest the world has ever seen. Would Peoplesoft have challenged SAP with tremendously innovative application software rather than becoming one of a bundle of hundreds of lesser products? What would have been the next step for the creators of the Java language and minicomputers that for so long powered Wall Street? And what will ultimately become possibly the most important software innovation outside of the relational database itself? vSphere?

There are now, and will forever be, many opinions as to what caused the downfall of these four great colossal American giants of invention. Each of these perspectives will contain elements of fact. But the ultimate truth that no one will have a legitimate perspective on is this: What has the future lost?

What next humanity-changing innovation will fail to emerge from the morning mist of the Santa Clara Valley now that these and other idols of innovation have been monetized to the point of disintegration?


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