Back when computers filled whole rooms, Digital Equipment Corporation — or Digital, as they were better known — was one of the world's leading manufacturers of mainframes and minicomputers.
Computer technology was developing rapidly when MIT engineers Ken Olsen and Harlan Anderson had the idea to manufacture and sell small, interactive computers with real-time interaction and graphical output. They dreamed of equipping businesses with a smaller, more affordable and user-friendly computer than the huge mainframes currently available. They started Digital Equipment Corporation in 1957 selling stand-alone computer modules, and began developing computers in the 1960s.
Digital’s first series of computers, the PDP (or "Programmable Data Processor") series, quickly became popular for business use in the 60s. The PDP-8 became the world’s first successful minicomputer, and the PDP-1 is still famous today for being instrumental in the development of early hacker culture.
Sales of Digital’s minicomputers grew the business throughout the next few decades until they peaked in the 1980s. With $14 billion in annual sales, they were the largest computer company in the industry second only to IBM, the largest employer in Massachusetts besides the state government, and ranked among the most profitable companies in the entire United States.
In 1985, Digital became the fifth company ever to register a .com domain name when they purchased dec.com. In 1993 they also registered digital.com, and became the world’s first computer vendor to open a public website on October 1 of that year.
In December of 1995, Digital used the domain to launch one of the Internet’s first comprehensive search engines, AltaVista, at altavista.digital.com. (AltaVista was purchased by Yahoo in 2003 and shut down permanently in 2013.)
The photo above shows an early mainframe computer in action, thanks to this Flickr user.
It was about this time that Digital’s fortunes began to falter.
Though minicomputers made Digital a fortune throughout the 60s and 70s, their popularity didn’t last.
With the invention of increasingly powerful microprocessors, minicomputers gave way to microcomputers in the 1980s, leaving Digital in the dust. New personal computers like the Commodore 64 were smaller, cheaper, and easier for individuals to use without requiring an IT team or huge data centers. The Commodore 64 quickly became the best selling computer of all time, a title it still holds today.
Kenneth Olsen, co-founder of Digital and its CEO from the beginning, believed that personal computers were just a passing fad, mere toys suited for playing games. “The personal computer will fall flat on its face in business,” he famously predicted.
But by the 1990s, almost every minicomputer company that failed to shift into the personal computer business had folded or merged. Digital’s sales began to decline every year, and the company was forced to make its first layoffs in history.
After almost a decade of losing money or barely breaking even, Digital was acquired by Compaq in 1998. At the time, it was the largest merger ever in the industry. But Compaq struggled with the failing company, and soon was in trouble itself, compounded by the dot-com bubble burst in the late 90s. Unable to recover, Compaq was acquired by Hewlett-Packard in 2002.
Along with Digital’s products, HP also acquired the domains dec.com and digital.com.
The Digital brand was retired in the early 2000s, and in 2010, HP started in earnest to try to sell the digital.com domain, including an auction at DomainFest. The reserve (reportedly $1-5 million) was not met.
In 2014, HP put the name up for auction again, receiving rather more interest this time around. The renewed attempts to sell the domain were perhaps connected with their October 2014 announcement that HP will split into two companies by the end of 2015: Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, which will focus on servers, software and cloud technology; and HP Inc., focused on the legacy computers and printers business.
The domain was acquired by London-based web publishing business Quality Nonsense Ltd. The domain was bought for a project scheduled for 2015. Want to be the first to find out what the future holds for this historic domain? Sign up for the newsletter above.
Q: Is the Digital.com domain for sale?
A: We bought the domain to develop, rather than to speculate, and have declined several substantial offers. However, serious offers will receive suitable consideration.
Quality Nonsense Ltd
27 Mortimer Street
London W1T 3BL
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