Digital Equipment Corporation

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Digital Equipment Corporation
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{{short description|U.S. computer manufacturer 1957-1998}}{{distinguish|Digital Research|Western Digital}}

Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC {{IPAc-en|d|É›|k}}), using the trademark Digital, was a major American company in the computer industry from the 1950s to the 1990s.DEC was a leading vendor of computer systems, including computers, software, and peripherals. Their PDP and successor VAX products were the most successful of all minicomputers in terms of sales.DEC was acquired in June 1998 by Compaq in what was at that time the largest merger in the history of the computer industry. At the time, Compaq was focused on the enterprise market and had recently purchased several other large vendors. DEC was a major player overseas where Compaq had less presence. However, Compaq had little idea what to do with its acquisitions,WEB, Dell topples Compaq in U.S. market share,weblink "What was left was a stalled engine with a very expensive head count." "Buying Digital played into Eckhard's fantasy, but it's turning out to be a beast that's consuming the company," said one former executive who left before the acquisition. COMPAQ MESSAGE BOARD - MSG: 9675868 >URL=HTTP://WWW.SILICONINVESTOR.COM/READMSG.ASPX?MSGID=9675868, and soon found itself in financial difficulty of its own. The company subsequently merged with Hewlett-Packard (HP) in May 2002. {{As of|2007}}, PDP-11, VAX, and AlphaServer systems were still produced under the HP name.


From 1957 until 1992, DEC's headquarters were located in a former wool mill in Maynard, Massachusetts (since renamed Clock Tower Place, and now home to many companies). DEC was acquired in June 1998 by Compaq for $9.6 Billion dollars.Compaq to buy DEC . Retrieved on 2019-07-28. Compaq failed to adequately cope with their acquisitions in the late 90s and then merged with Hewlett-Packard (HP) in May 2002. Some parts of DEC were sold to other companies in order to help fund the mergers; notably the compiler business and the Hudson, Massachusetts facility, were sold to Intel. Initially focusing on the small end of the computer market allowed DEC to grow without its potential competitors making serious efforts to compete with them. Their PDP series of machines became popular in the 1960s, especially the PDP-8, widely considered to be the first successful minicomputer. Looking to simplify and update their line, DEC replaced most of their smaller machines with the PDP-11 in 1970, eventually selling over 600,000 units and cementing DEC's position in the industry.Originally designed as a follow-on to the PDP-11, DEC's VAX-11 series was the first widely used 32-bit minicomputer, sometimes referred to as "superminis". These systems were able to compete in many roles with larger mainframe computers, such as the IBM System/370. The VAX was a best-seller, with over 400,000 sold, and its sales through the 1980s propelled the company into the second largest computer company in the industry. At its peak, DEC was the second largest employer in Massachusetts, second only to the Massachusetts State Government.The rapid rise of the business microcomputer in the late 1980s, and especially the introduction of powerful 32-bit systems in the 1990s, quickly eroded the value of DEC's systems. DEC's last major attempt to find a space in the rapidly changing market was the DEC Alpha 64-bit RISC instruction set architecture. DEC initially started work on Alpha as a way to re-implement their VAX series, but also employed it in a range of high-performance workstations. Although the Alpha processor family met both of these goals, and, for most of its lifetime, was the fastest processor family on the market, extremely high asking pricesAlpha: The History in Facts and Comments - The Collapse of DEC {{Webarchive|url= |date=2012-06-29 }}. Retrieved on 2013-07-17.{{better source|date=April 2013}} were outsold by lower priced x86 chips from Intel and clones such as AMD.DEC was acquired in June 1998 by Compaq, in what was at that time the largest merger in the history of the computer industry.WEB, Schultz, Randy, Compaq to buy DEC,weblink CNN Money, 19 June 2017, At the time, Compaq was focused on the enterprise market and had recently purchased several other large vendors. DEC was a major player overseas where Compaq had less presence. However, Compaq had little idea what to do with its acquisitions, and soon found itself in financial difficulty of its own. The company subsequently merged with Hewlett-Packard (HP) in May 2002. {{As of|2007}}, some of DEC's product lines were still produced under the HP name.


File:DEC VAXstation 4000 96 OpenVMS 6.1.jpeg|thumb|right|DEC VAXstationVAXstationBeyond DECsystem-10/20, PDP, VAX and Alpha, DEC was well respected for its communication subsystem designs, such as Ethernet, DNA (DIGITAL Network Architecture: predominantly DECnet products), DSA (Digital Storage Architecture: disks/tapes/controllers), and its "dumb terminal" subsystems including VT100 and DECserver products.For in-depth articles regarding DEC technologies, refer to the archived Digital Technical Journal


DEC's Research Laboratories (or Research Labs, as they were commonly known) conducted DEC's corporate research. Some of them were operated by Compaq and are still operated by Hewlett-Packard. The laboratories were: Some of the former employees of DEC's Research Labs or DEC's R&D in general include: Some of the former employees of Digital Equipment Corp who were responsible for developing Alpha and StrongARM: Some of the work of the Research Labs was published in the Digital Technical Journal,Digital Technical Journal â€“ Online Issues which was in published from 1985 until 1998.At least some of the research reports are available online at, in the subdirectories WRL, SRC, NSL, CRL, PRL (see Research section). Verified July 2006

Accomplishments and legacy

DEC supported the ANSI standards, especially the ASCII character set, which survives in Unicode and the ISO 8859 character set family. DEC's own Multinational Character Set also had a large influence on ISO 8859-1 (Latin-1) and, by extension, Unicode.


  • The first versions of the C language and the Unix operating system ran on DEC's PDP series of computers (first on a PDP-7, then the PDP-11's), which were among the first commercially viable minicomputers, although for several years DEC itself did not encourage the use of Unix.
  • DEC produced widely used and influential interactive operating systems, including OS-8, TOPS-10, TOPS-20, RSTS/E, RSX-11, RT-11, and OpenVMS. PDP computers, in particular the PDP-11 model, inspired a generation of programmers and software developers. Some PDP-11 systems more than 25 years old (software and hardware) are still being used to control and monitor factories, transportation systems and nuclear plants. DEC was an early champion of time-sharing systems.
  • The command-line interfaces found in DEC's systems, eventually codified as DCL, would look familiar to any user of modern microcomputer CLIs; those used in earlier systems, such as CTSS, IBM's JCL, or Univac's time-sharing systems, would look utterly alien. Many features of the CP/M and MS-DOS CLI show a recognizable family resemblance to DEC's OSes, including command names such as DIR and HELP and the "name-dot-extension" file naming conventions.
  • Notes-11 and its follow-on product, {{anchor|VAX_Notes}}VAX Notes, were two of the first examples of online collaboration software, a category that has become to be known as groupware. Len Kawell, one of the original Notes-11 developers later joined Lotus Development Corporation and contributed to their Lotus Notes product.
  • The MUMPS programming language, with its built-in database, was developed on the PDP-7, 9, and 15 series machines. MUMPS is still widely used in medical informations systems, such as those provide by Meditech and Epic Systems.


  • VAX and MicroVAX computers (very widespread in the 1980s) running VMS formed one of the most important proprietary networks, DECnet, which linked business and research facilities. The DECnet protocols formed one of the first peer-to-peer networking standards, with DECnet phase I being released in the mid-1970s. Email, file sharing, and distributed collaborative projects existed within the company long before their value was recognized in the market.
  • The LA36 and LA120 dot matrix printers became industry standards and may have hastened the demise of the Teletype Corporation.
  • The VT100 computer terminal became the industry standard, implementing a useful subset of the ANSI X3.64 standard, and even today terminal emulators such as HyperTerminal, PuTTY and Xterm still emulate a VT100 (or its more capable successor, the VT220).



  • Digital Federal Credit Union (DCU) is a credit union which was chartered in 1979 for employees of DEC. Today its field of membership is open to existing family members, over 900 different sponsors, several communities in Massachusetts and several organizations. DCU has over 700 sponsors, including the companies that acquired pieces of DEC.
  • Matrix management

User organizations

(File:DECUS-logo.svg|thumb|DECUS - LogoDigital Equipment CorporationUsers Society)Originally the users' group was called DECUS (Digital Equipment Computer User Society) during the 1960s to 1990s. When Compaq acquired DEC in 1998, the users group was renamed CUO, the Compaq Users' Organisation. When HP acquired Compaq in 2002, CUO became HP-Interex, although there are still DECUS groups in several countries. In the United States, the organization is represented by the Encompass organization; currently Connect.

{{visible anchor|Small Computer Handbook}}

Several editions of the Small Computer Handbook were published by DEC, giving information about their PDP line of computers. The editions were:
  • Small Computer Handbook (1973)WEB

, Small Computer Handbook (1973),
  • pdp8/e, pdp8/m & pdp8/f, Small Computer HandbookWEB

, pdp8/e, pdp8/m & pdp8/f, small computer handbook

Web sites with photos of their covers include:




  • (Present), "Digital Equipment Corporation: Nineteen Fifty-Seven to the Present", DEC Press, 1978
  • BOOK, David Donald Miller, Open Vms Operating System Concepts,weblink 1997, Elsevier, 978-1-55558-157-2,
  • BOOK, Alan R. Earls, Digital Equipment Corporation, 2004-06-30, Arcadia Publishing, 978-0-7385-3587-6,
  • BOOK, Edgar H Schein, with P. DeLisi, P. Kampas, M. Sonduck, DEC is dead, long live DEC, 2003-07-01, Berrett-Koehler Pub, 978-1-57675-225-8,
  • BOOK, Jamie Parker Pearson, Digital at work: snapshots from the first thirty-five years, September 1992, Digital Press, 1-55558-092-0,
  • BOOK, Glenn & George Harrar Rifkin, George Harrar, The Ultimate Entrepreneur: The Story of Ken Olsen and Digital Equipment Corporation, 1988, McGraw-Hill/Contemporary, 978-0-8092-4559-8, registration,weblink
  • BOOK, C. Gordon Bell, J. Craig Mudge, John E. McNamara, Digital Equipment Corporation, Computer engineering: A DEC view of hardware systems design, 1978, 0-932376-00-2, registration,weblink

External links

{{DEC hardware}}{{DEC operating systems}}{{DEC video terminals}}{{Hard disk drive manufacturers}}

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