Now that they've bought Digital, Compaq is one of the
largest computer manufacturers, rivaling even IBM. (Even
though their products are notoriously incompatible with
many PC standards, especially regarding video cards.)
Where did they get their start? Producing solid luggables
like this one. It's your standard XT clone. It has a nice
large, clear amber screen. The ports and power hook-ups
hide behind sliding panels on the sides. One of the nicer
luggable designs, on par with the TRS-80
The 'sewing machine' was the very first Compaq
computer.When this machine came out, there were no
clones. An IBM compatible had the three magic letters
on the case. Period. Part of the reason was that IBM
had published the source code for their BIOS so that
they could claim that anyone who brought out their
own BIOS had infringed on IBM's copyrights and would
have to stop.
Since IBM's Acorn (the code name for the PC) team
had sourced off-the-shelf parts for the PC to keep
costs down and time-to-production to a minimum,
theoretically anybody else could duplicate IBM's
hardware and bring out their own pc. Except for the
BIOS problem, without which you could not be
guaranteed 100% compatibility.
Just try to tell a hacker that he can't possibly
do something. IBM should have know better. The guys
from Phoenix used two sets of programmers -- one who
had access to IBM's source code and another who could
be proven in court to be source code virgins. The
first group made a list of everything the BIOS did
for a specific set of inputs, but carefully avoided
any mention of the original code.
The second group then took all those notes and
wrote their own BIOS that performed exactly the same
as IBM's, but completely from scratch without any
possible contamination from IBM. They then offered
their BIOS up for sale, and Compaq was the first
company to bring out a 100% compatible IBM clone. The
'luggable', as it was sometimes called, was the first
IBM clone that could run 100% of the software that
you could run on an IBM-branded pc. It was the
beginning of the end of IBM's hardware monopoly and
the start of a multi-billion dollar industry.
Bob Cringely's "Accidental Empires"
tells a story of how the president of Compaq sold the
idea of the Portable while it was balanced on the
toilet in his hotel room bathroom, because that was
the only room that had an AC outlet.....