Accidental Empires

Accidental Empires is another book kindly borrowed to me by Etienne. It’s a fascinating narrative of the predominantly-California-based computer industry during the 70s and 80s by Robert X. Cringely (a pen name for former InfoWorld journalist Mark Stephens).

Throughout the book, Cringely makes a whole host of characterisations about the big players in the computer industry. IBM, the company which was simply too large to adapt to the changing industry, was on an inevitable course of decline. Microsoft was, at heart, a software factory devoid of innovation, where decisions were made at the top and merely implemented by the programmers. Apple, led by Jobs, went all out on quality products but, in reality, never really had a grasp on finances and descended into complete chaos after Jobs’ exile.

For a book that is older than I am, it strikes me how little change there has been to the big players in the industry since the book was written. Putting technology advances aside, given how competitive the market in the 80s is portrayed, it surprises me a little how Microsoft and Apple have remained the two largest competing platforms ever since, and still display similar behaviour. I suspect that many of Cringely’s characterisations still ring true to this day.

It is with complete coincidence that I finish reading this book just as the Cringely decides, twenty-two years since first publication, to begin a series on his blog publishing the book part-by-part, discussing the background of the book and some of the things which have changed since.