Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Extravagant new HQ's for Apple, Amazon, and Facebook

Great story with appropriate tone.

Thinking about the old Bell Laboratories building in Holmdel, New Jersey, I found this blog and wrote this comment:

The transistor was invented before the Saarinen Bell Labs building was built.  What was the real accomplishment?  Start with what was the result of building this building: the destruction of the world's most innovative company.  But in between lies the story.  The most technically significant development to come from Bell Labs after the transistor was the Unix operating system.  This was not the management's plan, instead it was developed by long haired renegades, in an unused office, in their spare time.  But Bell Labs realized before long (though perhaps still too long) this was hot stuff.  At first (and actually, most importantly) it was released to universities and other research institutions.  But the old AT&T knew that computers were the future, and they wanted to own it, and they thought they had the key, so they voluntarily split the company up in the famous Consent Decree, spinning off the actually profitable bits and keeping The Future, Bell Labs and Unix, for themselves.  Only once again, The Future didn't quite work out as planned, AT&T's Unix PC's were dogs, and amidst the success of IBM, Microsoft, and Apple, the whole effort was quickly abandoned.  Now, Unix is still at the heart of many of the most important computers, including Macs, and was the technical inspiration for all the rest.  So the the unplanned work that came from this building has made the world infinitely richer.  But it made the company no profit, the very name AT&T was sold to one of the spin-offs, the Labs were sold to a foreign competitor, and now vacant, ready to be razed.  Next story: Xerox PARC.

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