Remembering the Future: Interviews from PCW


Remembering the Future: Interviews from Personal Computer World

Edited by Wendy M. Grossman
Published January 1997 by Springer Verlag


The early days
The PC generation
The suits
Cops and robbers
Research and the future


Computers do not change the most fundamental parts of life: humans are born, they live, and they die. But in the years since World War II, computers have come to mediate almost every part of that process, from the processors embedded in medical equipment to the computerisation of even traditional crafts like sail-making.

It was when I was listening to Dennis Hayes, the man who gave the standard set of modem commands his name, talk about the three hours it used to take to configure a modem the size of a shoebox by moving tiny, little jumpers that it occurred to me that in these interviews we were recording history that would otherwise be lost. The computer industry moves so fast that almost no one has time to write anything down -- just about the only things that get published are instructions for using products, promotional material, or, in the case of egregious successes (Microsoft) or outstanding failures (IBM), business analyses. Simon Rockman, who commissioned most of these interviews, had the same reaction when he read the Hayes piece, and thatís how the notion of a book was conceived. It was Nick Beard (robots), though, who interested Springer Verlag in the idea.

Rereading these interviews has been intriguing. Itís surprising to see that only five years ago even top people (Michael Dell) were uncertain about the eventual success of Microsoft Windows, and to rediscover the world before computing standards that led British manufacturers such as Apricot (Peter Horne) and Acorn (Hermann Hauser) to grossly underestimate the importance of the standard-setting IBM PC. The ebb and flow of this volatile and unevenly maturing industry bears a lesson for every arrogant company which thinks success today means success tomorrow. Or even country: charted in these pieces is the early lead Britain had and lost in computing, which survives only in a few pockets here and there. History does not have to be only written by the winners.

As this book goes to press, yet another major computer company struggles to hold onto yesterdayís market share: Novell. The Utah-based networking leader swallowed WordPerfect (a DOS winner but Windows loser) at a gulp in 1994, and also acquired a spreadsheet (Quattro Pro) and database (Paradox) from Borland, itself falling from black balance sheets at the time. Less than a year and a half later, with Microsoft claiming 90 percent of the office suites market, Novell put those applications up for sale to concentrate on retaining its dominance in networking, where itís facing ever-increasing competition. Meanwhile, a host of companies, new and old, are panning for gold on the Internet, where the next wave of boom or bust is starting.

The personal fortunes of the interviewees have fluctuated, too: the personality it takes to start up a company and take it through its season of fastest growth is not always the same personality it takes to manage a large company. Some have managed the transition: Michael Dell, Mark Eppley, Gordon Eubanks. Others have moved on, amicably: Mike Markkula, Philippe Kahn. A few have faced dismissal: Jack Schoof. But theyíll all be back. If thereís one truism about the computer industry itís that people donít leave; they just move on to other jobs.

PCW has been around as long as microcomputers; it is the oldest and best-established computer title in Britain. Founded in 1978, before there were PCs or todayís glut of computer magazines, it runs neck and neck with Computer Shopper for the top-selling spot. But whatís special about it is not that it has more editorial pages than any other British magazine (a dubious distinction) but that in this ocean of product reviews and jargon it tries to cover the underlying technology in a broader sense. The series of interviews from which these have been selected is part of that. Originally conceived by Guy Swarbrick and Simon Rockman, the series has gone from one industry name to another since John Diamondís opening tea party with Emma Nicholson, MP.

PCW was one of the first publications that ever paid me to write anything, and itís been a mainstay ever since; thanks to its staff for that, and for commissioning these interviews and assisting with providing the raw materials for the book. The magazine would, however, never have heard of me if it hadnít been for Nick Beard (again), who in the summer of 1990 planted my name on several editorsí desks at VNU, or for Carol Hemsley, who made sure they remembered it afterwards. Thanks are also owed to my friends Mike Cogan and Maren Cooke, who provided the chauffeuring and accommodation that made several of these interviews possible. To the various unnamable folks I claim as family for their encouragement and support: you know who you are.

Wendy M. Grossman, November, 1995


Prepare yourself for a book which is the result of self-indulgence: my self indulgence. While the other boys in 5K at my school might have wanted to meet Kevin Keegan when he played for Liverpool or Adam Ant when he played the Forum, I wanted to meet Sir Clive Sinclair and Chuck Peddle. I was a pretty sad kid. But I knew what I wanted.

PCW is the best place in the world to work if you like computer hardware. You get the latest, most exotic equipment to play with, often months before it hits the shops, and the manufacturers even pretend not to mind if you break it.

Sometimes, to break the monotony of playing with yet another fastest-ever PC or high-resolution colour printer, the computer companies will buy you lunch in the kinds of restaurants where you are disappointed if at least one of the other diners hasnít won a Oscar. Eventually you get blasť and start turning down boat trips on a fjord and odd days on the West Coast (Monterey not Morecambe).

But these are all things you can have with enough money. Getting to meet the major personalities in the computer industry is harder. And Iíve done it. Iíve met many impressive people and always enjoyed interviewing them.

It wasnít long after I joined PCW in 1990 that I met Sir Clive Sinclair, my first interview. What the interview here doesnít record is that he showed me a prototype PC, something very similar to a Hewlett-Packard Omnibook, a PC successor to the Z88. Unfortunately he became too interested in electric bicycles for the computer to appear.

My second hero was bagged a lot later. Chuck Peddle was the inventor of the 6502, the Commodore PET and the Sirius 1. He was in London to promote his new company, but I was more interested in the past and the distant future. He promised a machine, codenamed ďThe ChunkĒ which could reconfigure itself to emulate a number of different platforms. Both this computer and Sinclairís prototype are futures which never happened. Mostly, though, these interviews are about the past: how the greats of the computer industry have earned their success, power and influence.

Weíve always been hard-nosed about PCW interviews. Weíve never submitted questions in advance or allowed anyone outside the PCW office to "check the facts" by reading the copy before it goes to press (and we have refused interviews where this was a prerequisite). The first people outside the PCW office to see an interview are usually PCW subscribers.

Unfortunately, I wasnít very good at interviewing people. I enjoyed meeting them and asking interesting questions, but when it came to turning their thoughts into the high-quality prose that is the stock in trade of PCW I failed to measure up. You wonít have noticed this because anything which wasnít up to scratch has been rewritten and turned into sparkling copy by Lauraine Lee and her wordsmiths on the PCW production desk. Lauraine has been with PCW since the days when 16K RAM packs wobbled and a monitor was something you used for entering hexadecimal.

The pictures have also helped to make the PCW interviews special. Most of them have been shot by Jon Millar, a man who isnít scared of getting some of the richest men in the world to sit on the carpet or hang in unusual positions from staircases. His banter has livened up the interviewing almost as much as his shots have livened the pages.

The greatest influence on the interviews, though, is Wendy Grossman who, being much better than I was at interviewing, writing the interviews up and getting them in on time, has been responsible for most of the interviews in this book and it is Wendy who has compiled and edited the interviews you see here. She has been incredibly patient waiting by her letterbox for the book contract long after Iíd given up hope and the result is a good overview of the people who made the UK microcomputer industry over the last decade with some pointers to the future.

Weíve not yet interviewed everyone I want, Iíd still like to meet Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari and as close to the inventor of the video game as we are ever likely to get. And Iíve always wanted a PCW interview with Alan Sugar...but I suspect heíd rather meet Kevin Keegan.

Simon Rockman, November, 1995

The early days

Writer: Wendy M. Grossman
Appeared: May, 1993
Then: founder Acorn, Eo (Active Book)
Now: founder and managing director of ATM

Hermann Hauser: Missing the big time

“If you actually look at the Intel processor architectures before the P5 [now Pentium] -- the 286s, 386s, 486s -- they're some of the worst processor architectures that have ever been around in the history of the industry...they just happen to be incredibly successful because IBM made it a standard.”

  • Writer: Ben Woolley
  • Appeared: September, 1991
  • Then: Founder and managing director, Psion
  • Now: Same

David Potter: State of independence

“...we decided to diversify and put a lot of our development resources into two very new areas for us. One was applications software. The second area was a quite new, radical concept of a handheld computer. That was dreamt up by Charles Davies [a former student of Potterís at Imperial College, hired as Psionís Software Director] and myself in a little Greek restaurant over lunch.”

Writer: Simon Rockman
Appeared: October, 1990
Then: founder of Sinclair Research and the biggest name in early British computing; working on a fold-away bicycle and a laptop for his company, Sinclair Research.
Now: Working on a fold-away bicycle and selling motors for bicycles.

Clive Sinclair: Clive on his bike

“The bicycle is designed to ease the problems of city commuting, while the intelligent wafer is aimed at offering computing power two orders of magnitude greater than we are used to today. Success in either of these projects will restore the great knight to his position of strength. Sir Clive Sinclair will ride again.”

Writer: Simon Rockman
Appeared: July, 1992
Then: founder THSThyme; working on a new type of portable computer
Now: unknown

Chuck Peddle: Walking tall

“But it was Peddleís PET which shaped the future. A 4K machine with a built-in monitor and 300-baud cassette deck, its keyboard owed more to Commodoreís calculator roots than to a Remington. The name was chosen to sound friendly -- a home machine -- and the acronym was stretched to fit (Iím not sure anyone would actually think of it as a Personal Electronic Transactor).”

Writer: Geof Wheelwright
Appeared: February, 1992
Then: CEO, Intel
Now: Same. Published autobiography in 1996.

Andy Grove: Hello, Mr Chips

“We believe that the P5 will re-establish the x86 architecture as a performance architecture, and with it we will offer a future development story that will show a path forward. From a performance point of view, this business of having to choose RISC will go away. It will be killed."

Writer: Geof Wheelwright
Appeared: May, 1991
Then: Founder and CEO, Microsoft.
Now: Same. The richest man in America.

Bill Gates: Perfect vision

“Gates remains approachable and open to new ideas. He doesnít suffer fools gladly, though -- these transcripts donít show his response of 'Thatís a stupid question' to one of our queries."

Writer: Simon Rockman
Appeared: June, 1992
Then: Founder, Adobe
Now: same.

Chuck Geschke: An industry type

“Itís sort of frustrating to realise that the computer that sits on my desktop that allows me to author those documents really doesnít help much in terms of allowing me to sift through all the information that appears on my desk.”

Writer: Guy Swarbrick
Appeared: January, 1991
Then: CEO, Seagate
Now: Same, only bigger

Al Shugart: Moving with the times

“With technology growing the way it is, thereíll be enough memory for everybody.”

The PC generation

Writer: Wendy M. Grossman
Appeared: December, 1992
Then: Founder and CEO, Hayes Computer Products
Now: Same, after a period of struggle.

Dennis Hayes: Modem man

“If our next product is really clever, then weíll figure out how to have a modem for all these other people so we can sell it to them, and then we might be able to afford a new oscilloscope, or something that would help us grow the business.”

Writer: Wendy M. Grossman
Appeared: October, 1994
Then: Founder and CEO, Borland
Now: Founder and CEO, Starfish

Philippe Kahn: Back on course

“...most people expect Borland to resume growth and profitability in the next 12 months.”

Writer: Ben Tisdall
Appeared: August, 1993
Then: Founder and CEO, Artisoft
Now: Founder and CEO, NetMedia

Jack Schoof II: Jumping Jack flash

“Iím back in the vision business now.”

Writer: Simon Rockman
Appeared: October, 1991
Then: Founder and CEO, Traveling Software
Now: Same.

Mark Eppley: Travel writer

“We want to think beyond the realms today of just the cable, and then start looking at some other medium in order to allow that extended office in any environment.”

Writer: Geof Wheelwright
Appeared: November, 1991
Then: CEO, Symantec
Now: Same.

Gordon Eubanks: Bankable asset

“Whatever you do to a product, you are going to leave a lot of room to add value.”

Writer: Wendy M. Grossman
Appeared: January, 1993
Then: managing director, Apricot
Now: same.

Peter Horne: For Peteís sake

“The fact is that the usefulness of computing has not been as great as everybody thought it should be.”

Writer: Wendy M. Grossman
Appeared: May, 1992
Then: Founder and CEO, Dolch Computers
Now: same.

Volker Dolch: Dolch vita

“In the early days of my career, I wanted to invent new things, and I actually did. I wanted to invent new science and new physical laws and that kind of thing. At a later stage of my career, I wanted to make money. I donít know exactly where the transition came, but it came gradually.”

Writer: Wendy M. Grossman
Appeared: April, 1992
Then: Founder and board member at Apple, Founder and CEO Echelon
Now: Founder and CEO Echelon

AC Mike Markkula: Neurons from outer space

“The compelling thing for starting Echelon was, Iím getting a chance to start a new industry. I consider myself unbelievably fortunate to find another chance to do that.”

Writer: Ben Woolley
Appeared: December, 1990
Then: Founder and CEO Dell Computers
Now: same, but bigger.

Michael Dell: The American dream

“Certainly Windows, OS/2 and UNIX have bright futures too, but thereís such a huge installed base of DOS. Never in the history of the transistor has there been such a event as the Intel microprocessor and DOS. I think that momentum is not just going to click off.”

The suits

Writer: Ben Woolley
Appeared: April, 1991
Then: Newly appointed CEO at Apple UK
Now: Vice-President and general manager at Apple for UK, Ireland, and South Africa

Mike Newton: Voyage of discovery/h4>
“Apple -- and who can blame it? -- has been press-ganged by its own success into signing up. Its days of buccaneering across the high seas of strange thought are just a fond memory.”

Writer: Wendy M. Grossman
Appeared: November, 1992
Then: head of IBM UK's personal computers division
Now: left managing directorship of Cellnet February 1997

Howard Ford: Howardís way

“I am totally responsible for everything that the PC business does. So if it does well, thereís only one person to say ĎWell doneí to, but also thereís only one person to blame.”

Writer: Wendy M. Grossman
Appeared: February, 1993
Then: managing director, Borland UK.
Now: Rikke Helms-Wienszezack, general manager of IBM Software products for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA)

Rikke Helms: At the Helms

“I use my very tough way of dealing with things, you know, decision, decision, decision. Thatís how I cope with a stress situation. I might one day crack and fall apart -- nobody knows -- but thatís how I deal with those things, and those are my strengths.”

Writer: Wendy M. Grossman
Appeared: September, 1992
Then: managing director, Microsoft UK
Now: same

David Svendson: Playing to win

“Itís being number one, being the best, doing the best job, satisfying the customer the best, making the best spreadsheet and the best word processor, and making the best job of integrating all that -- but not winning. Because winning then goes into tactical battles, unfair tactics and so on, and we absolutely donít do that.”

Writer: Wendy M. Grossman
Appeared: August, 1992
Then: managing director, Lotus UK
Now: general manager for central Europe, Lotus

Dieter Giesbrecht: Looking after number one

“I inherited a position where Lotus is number one, and I want to keep that, but thatís a tough challenge. But Iím prepared to take that on, and I have a very motivated team here to do that.”

Writer: David Brake
Appeared: September, 1993
Then: vice-president computer products division at AMD
Now: vice-president, AMD's embedded products division

Robert McConnell: Chipping away

“We think a reasonable objective is to have 20 to 25 percent market share -- at least by the end of 1994."

Writer: George Cole
Appeared: January, 1994
Then: CEO, Autodesk
Now: same

Carol Bartz: Success story

“Regardless of how much a product seems to be successful, there has got to be a better one that gives it a run for its money. And if you donít do it, somebody else clearly will.”

Writer: Wendy M. Grossman
Appeared: February, 1995
Then: senior vice-president at Lotus
Now: same, only different

June Rokoff: The new Lotus position

“Itís tougher for a woman to have a tough stance. If you were to check me out, you wouldnít mostly hear people saying Iron Lady -- it was the comment of a day five years ago."

Cops and Robbers

Writer: Wendy M. Grossman
Appeared: March, 1991
Then: Author of newly released book, Spectacular Computer Crimes and director National Center for Computer Crime Data
Now: same

JJ Buck BloomBecker: Crime of the century/h4>
“One of the things computers and communications are doing is making us rethink how we value and protect information, and to some extent the old rules are being challenged.”

Writer: Wendy M. Grossman
Appeared: June, 1993
Then: founder and head, computer crime unit
Now: private consultant

John Austen (Computer Crime Unit): Hacked off

“I donít think of them as hackers, I think of them as criminals. This is known to be a criminal act now. These are not people who are doing it as a pastime; they are people who are deliberately flouting the law.”

Writer: Wendy M. Grossman
Appeared: August, 1991
Then: Executive Director, Federation Against Software Theft
Now: Retired

Bob Hay: Policing the system

“The medium is so copiable. If I had designed something specifically to ensure that it was something that could be abused very easily, I would probably have come up with what weíve got.”

Writer: John Diamond
Appeared: September, 1990
Then: Conservative MP for Torridge and West Devon
Now: Liberal Democrat (crossed over 1995)

Emma Nicholson, MP: The perils of Emma

“The reason hackers donít like the new law is that hacking makes their world more exciting. It gives them power over other people, and thatís what I donít like. I am a root and branch democrat, and I think people should have power over their own lives.”

Writer: Sara Gordon
Appeared: July, 1993
Then: world's leading virus writer
Now: retired

Inside the mind of Dark Avenger

“...I had heard about viruses and wanted to know about them, but nobody around me could tell me anything. So I decided to write my own one. I put some code inside it that intentionally destroys data, and I am sorry for it. I started working on it in September 1988.”

Research and the future

Writer: Wendy M. Grossman
Appeared: December, 1993
Then: former NSF staffer who wrote some of the checks that funded the beginnings of the Internet; head of the supercomputing center at the University of Kentucky at Lexington
Now: same

John Connolly: Man in a million

“It [the Internet] wasnít my idea. I gave some money to some people who had good ideas. I just wrote the cheques.”

Writer: Geof Wheelwright
Appeared: January, 1993
Then: Developer of Windows NT
Now: same

David Cutler (Microsoft): Rock steady

“I am glad to see IBM out of it. I canít remember any IBM ideas we ever incorporated [into NT].”

Writer: Wendy M. Grossman
Appeared: November, 1991
Then: vice-president in charge of IBM's Research division
Now: personal assistant to IBM CEO Lou Gerstner

James McGroddy: Out of the Big Blue

“If youíre working on things that are headed for the market, youíd better work out how to get them there, like strawberries, before they rot, or stop working on that because itís not going to take us anywhere, itís just going to frustrate us, and weíll wind up with a prototype thatís no use.”

Writer: Ian Burley
Appeared: February, 1992
Then: head of Olivetti Research Lab, Cambridge
Now: same

Andy Hopper: Olivetti reveals Pandoraís Box

“Once a research project here stops being reasonably difficult, itís time to pass it on to somebody else to develop. Then we can turn our attention to the next cerebral exercise.”

Writer: Wendy M. Grossman
Appeared: January, 1994
Then: Hermann Hauser predicting a $1 billion Cambridge start-up by 2005
Now: getting close in 1997

The Cambridge connection

“Hermann Hauser has a startling prediction: in the next ten years Cambridge will produce a billion-dollar technology company. In 1985, when everyone was writing about the Cambridge Phenomenon, that suggestion would have been unsurprising; now, Hauser thinks itís more likely even while some of the rest of the world has concluded Cambridge is dead.”

Writer: Wendy M. Grossman
Appeared: January, 1992
Then: processing images from unmanned space missions
Now: Mars Pathfinder

JPL: Pics in space

“We go far away on vacation to take pictures.”

Writer: Wendy M. Grossman
Appeared: March, 1993
Then: animation director at Industrial Light & Magic
Now: same

Steve Williams: Taking effect

“Williams grew up with computers -- his father worked for IBM, and Williams says they had a computer at home from the time he was two years old -- but his real interest is animation. He realised this young: he was in eighth grade (about 14) when he caught himself noticing how people moved when they danced.”

Writer: Nick Beard
Appeared: February, 1992
Then: slow progress in making industrial robots for specific tasks
Now: same -- but new field opening up for intelligent software agents

The Robots are Coming -- Very Slowly

“Few of these things [robots at the Science Museum exhibition] could have a domestic role -- unless you are prepared to order your home with the precision of a Japanese car manufacturing production line. (Also, oddly, the demonstrations were not continuous. Do state-of-the-art robots need 15-minute tea breaks? Have they found so militant a shop steward already?)”


Nick Beard (Robots) is a physician with an MSc in software engineering; he has worked in Big Six consulting firms and was responsible for installing an advanced hospital information system at HCI in Scotland. He has been a PCW columnist since 1990.

David Brake (Robert McConnell) joined PCW in 1991 as a staff writer, and served first as news editor and finally as editor of the net-oriented Cutting Edge section; he left in 1995 to become Net Editor at New Scientist.

Ian Burley (Andy Hopper) has been a freelance technology writer for 11 years, specialising in computing and communications topics.

George Cole (Carol Bartz) is a freelance technology writer and a regular contributor to the Times and the Financial Times.

John Diamond (Emma Nicholson) is a freelance writer; he is a columnist for the Times and presenter of Radio 5ís Stop Press.

Sara Gordon (The Dark Avenger) is a security analyst whose work in anti-virus research has been profiled in publications including the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal Europe.

Wendy M. Grossman is a freelance writer based in London; she writes often for the Telegraph, among many others, and is chief sysop of CompuServe's Fleet Street Forum for UK media.

Lauraine Lee is production editor of PCW; the headlines (now chapter titles) and original editing are largely her work.

Simon Rockman (Clive Sinclair, Chuck Peddle, Mark Eppley, Chuck Geschke) was first features editor and then deputy editor at PCW from 1990 to 1995; he is also publisher of What Mobile?, which he founded in 1993.

Guy Swarbrick (Al Shugart) was editor of PCW from 1990 to 1992, when he moved on to Dell UK and then to Microsoft, where he is business development manager for mobile computing.

Ben Tisdall (Jack Schoof) is editor of PCW and former editor of Personal Computer Magazine and What Micro?

Geof Wheelwright (Bill Gates, Andy Grove, David Cutler, Gordon Eubanks) is a freelance writer and author based in Vancouver; he is a regular contributor to the Sunday Times and the Financial Times; he served briefly as editor of PCW in 1990.

Benjamin Woolley (Michael Dell, David Potter, Mike Newton) is author of Virtual Worlds and presenter of The Net, BBC Televisionís series on computing and the digital age.


You can find copies of Remembering the Future on the Web at Computer Literacy, Amazon, Blackwell's, and the Internet Bookshop, or from Springer directly at Springer or at its Web site -- follow the links to computer science before you try to search for the book. In London, your best bet is the PC Bookshop on Sicilian Avenue, in Holborn. An interview with the author (editor) is at the Beatrice Web site.

This page maintained by Wendy M. Grossman