IEEE Annals of the History of Computing Volume 19 Number 1 -- Reviews
Original Publication Date: 1997-Jan-01
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-07
Software Patent Institute
PEGGY KIDWELL: AUTHOR [+2]
AbstractThe Reviews Department includes reviews of publications, films, audio and video tapes, and exhibits relating to the history of computing. Full-length studies of technical, economic, business, and institutional aspects or other works of interest to Annals readers are briefly noted, with appropriate bibliographic information.
THIS DOCUMENT IS AN APPROXIMATE REPRESENTATION OF THE ORIGINAL.
Copyright ©; 1997 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
PEGGY KIDWELL, EDITOR
The Reviews Department includes reviews of publications, films, audio and video tapes, and exhibits relating to the history of computing. Full-length studies of technical, economic, business, and institutional aspects or other works of interest to Annals readers are briefly noted, with appropriate bibliographic information.
Colleagues are encouraged to recommend works they wish to review and to suggest titles to the Reviews Editor.
Homer R. Oldfield, King of the Seven Dwarfs, General Electric's Ambiguous Challenge to the Computer Industry, Los Alamitos, Calif.: IEEE CS Press, 1996, ISBN 0-8186-73834, $22.00, xiv + 252 pp.
The General Electric Company (GE) slid tentatively and reluctantly into the commercial computer business in 1956, with a contract to construct a guaranteed operating version of Stanford Research Institute's special-purpose computer system, Electronic Recording Machine Accounting (ERMA), for the Bank of America From this, GE stumbled cautiously to the creation of a one of more-or-less upward compatible general-purpose computers in spite of its own top management's doubt and disapproval. After a decade, GE seemed to be well on the way to second place, ahead of the other aspirants in the hapless group of minor computer firms mocked by the press as "The Seven Dwarfs." In particular, GE had pioneered in time-sharing and multiprocessing and as a consequence was threatening IBM's dominance of the large computer business. In 1970, to the astonishment of many, GE dumped computer development and sold out to Honeywell. At the time, the GE Information Systems Group had 25,000 employees and $1.5 billion in installed equipment. This is Oldfield's version of the story.
He was in at the beginning. In his first 108 pages, Oldfield tells how he initiated and managed the ERMA project, made the successful delivery of the first model, and along the way founded the GE Computer Department. This part ends in 1958, when he voluntarily left. Oldfield reconstructed the rest of the GE computer story on the basis of interviews and correspondence with the GE employees, chiefly engineers and marketers, at his middle-management level who were there after he left.
The tale is lively and detailed and moves quickly. It is replete with names, personal facts, and invented conversations. Oldfield, a hardware-engineer-turned-manager, concentrates on the development of hardware, the making of sales, and GE headquarters' convoluted attempts to solve all problems by repeatedly reorganizing and installing new professional managers drawn from other departments. They had no understanding of computers or the computer business and were committed only to short-term financial success. The powerful chiefs at 570 Lexington Avenue in New York and the...