The crazy computer biz exposed: PC Roadkill by
by Alan Zisman
(c) 1997. First
published in Toronto Computes,
"PC Roadkill" by Michael Hyman, IDG Books, ISDN
Computer books have proven quite a lucrative field for publishers...
computers, software, and the Internet have all mystified enough people
that books purporting to explain enough to get users up and running
enjoyed a wide popularity. Books for self-diagnosed computer 'dummies'
and 'idiots' boast, like burger chains, of millions sold.
But there haven't been too many books going beyond the
and looking at the industry itself. Billionaire Bill Gates has proved a
popular topic, with several biographies along with his own musings,
Road Ahead'. And a few years ago, mystery InfoWorld columnist Robert X.
Cringely gave us "Accidental Empires", an amusing insiders account on
the 'boys from Silicon Valley' created an industry.
Michael Hyman's "PC Roadkill" picks off where
"Accidental Empires" left
off. It's shorter on the history, but much heavier on the anecdotes,
as it claims on the cover, 'Twisted Tales from Silicon Valley'.
Author Hyman was on the scene for many of these tales;
he's been on
the inside of several of the companies that have led the computer
including arch-rivals Borland and Microsoft-he has the t-shirts to
it.. "PC Roadkill" gives us the benefit of many years spent listening
to the Silicon Valley equivalent of water-cooler gossip (probably talk
at the organic juice bar).
The book loosely follows the cycle of a company or
walking in the door for a hiring interview (complete with a collection
of self-portraits on visitors' badges), to job interview stories
with a set of unconventional questions asked potential programmers. The
often stressful task of creating a product is humanized with a
of tension-relieving pranks and nerd humor. We go to trade show
such as Borland's 1984 Comdex Toga Party, crashed by a horde of 2,000
for a glance of Borland's Phillipe Kahn in a bedsheet.
As our product gets closer to completion, we find
secret product code
names, including a list of the top 10 great code names, a collection of
'stupid code name tricks', and code names that resulted in lawsuits,
as Apple code-naming the then-secret PowerMac project 'Sagan'. When
Carl Sagan sued, Apple changed the code to 'BHA', purportedly for Butt
And as the product is late, we get vaporware...
strategies for postponing
responsibility, and confounding competitors. Finally, the product is
complete with Easter Eggs-secret key combinations for everything from
for Windows to Wolfenstein 3D. And of course, bugs... (No, we really
to do that!) Of course, bugs get us calls to technical support, which
us 'tales from the front line'.
And more and more-marketing stories-where to product
names come from,
the best and worst of slogans, ads, t-shirts, coffee mugs, and finally,
a section for the lawyers-scams, suits and countersuits. Strategies to
evade bankruptcy, like the hard drive company that tried to fool
with a warehouse full of cartons stuffed with bricks.
Not quite a history, but full of the tales from behind
the scenes that
prove that all is not just business in the computer business.