The Silent Passing of One of Our Industry Pioneers – Andrew Kay

Founder of Kaypro Passes Away at the Age of 95

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This past week’s headlines were filled with the hacking of celebrity iCloud accounts, an upcoming IPO of Alibaba, a security breach at Home Depot, and protests on Net neutrality, however other than a couple local San Diego newspaper obituaries in the Union-Tribune and Times of San Diego, the passing of Kaypro founder, Andrew Kay, for the most part went unnoticed in our industry.

For those wondering what the heck a Kaypro computer is, Andrew Kay’s “Kaypro Computer” was one of the first “portable personal computers” on the market back in the early 1980s. It was the predecessor to tablets and laptops we have today, it even preceded the sewing machine sized Compaq Portable computer that many attribute to the earliest portables personal computer.

Although the Kaypro II computer of 1982 was preceded still by the Spring/1981 release of the Osborne portable computer, the Kaypro II had a 9” screen compared to the super tiny 5” screen of the Osborne, and by the time the Kaypro II came out, the CP/M operating system was better supported with business application software like Wordstar and PerfectCalc that provided Kaypro a leading edge competitive advantage in the early personal computer marketplace.

It wasn’t until early 1983 that Compaq released their first Compaq Portable computer, and priced at $2995 compared to the Kaypro at $1,595, while Compaq ran MS-DOS that all of the new IBM Personal Computers were running, back in 1983, users of IBM Personal Computers were also running WordStar and Visicalc, so a $2,995 Compaq computer running WordStar vs a $1,595 Kaypro computer running WordStar still gave Kaypro a significant advantage in early personal computing.

However by late 1983, MS-DOS based computers, with the vast corporate adoption of software programs like Word Perfect and Lotus 1-2-3 quickly made MS-DOS based computers the defacto standard for personal computing, and thus CP/M-based systems like the Osborne computer and the Kaypro computer days were numbered in the marketplace. Osborne Computer filed for bankruptcy before 1983 was up, Kaypro held out longer and even released a series of MS-DOS based systems in the mid-1980s including systems based on more advanced 80286 and 80386 processors. Kaypro filed for bankruptcy in 1990 and while it had a round of restructuring and re-emerging through the 1990s, it never made a mark as it had done in the early 80’s.

I had an opportunity to meet Andy Kay a couple times during the early days of the 1980s back when early pioneers like Bill Gates (Microsoft), Ray Noorda (Novell), Rod Canion (Compaq) roamed the halls of the Convention Center during the annual Comdex Computer show in Las Vegas.

Andy had a vision that “computing” was personal and portable over THREE DECADES before the release of the first iPad tablets. At a time when just a few years before the release of the Kaypro II, a “computer” filled an entire room and was managed by dozens of specialists, Andy put a computer together that anyone with a couple thousand dollars could buy and carry with them between home and work. We attribute visionary status to the likes of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg, but the week passes with a scant mention of Andrew Kay’s contribution to our industry. So with this blog post, I thank and I recognize all that Mr Kay did for our industry and the amazing vision he had in an era of Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) monitor screens, 64-kilobytes of memory, and floppy diskette technology!

Although beyond a tribute here to Mr Kay for all he did for our industry, also a reminder of how quickly even back then that the “latest in technology” quickly gets replaced by something new and better, and unless you evolve what you do, you can quickly be made obsolete and go bankrupt or be out of a job.

We think that “the cloud” has created a special velocity in innovation that is changing our industry more rapidly than ever before, but when you think of what’s new and truly unique and innovative in Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, DropBox, or the like in the past 5-yrs, while as a category “cloud computing” is a major shift from “on-premise computing” of the past, the cloud solutions themselves are for the most part similar to what was offered by these organizations a half a decade ago.

What caused the drastic changes in 1983/1984, and what has effectively been the catalyst of change in our industry every decade has been driven by “apps”. In the early 1980s, no one said the CP/M operating system was bad and that MS-DOS was good, it was just that “killer apps” based on MS-DOS like Word Perfect and Lotus 1-2-3 drove users to MS-DOS based systems because those systems ran those apps. In the early 1990s, Novell ruled the networking world, but within a couple years Microsoft Windows Server completely replaced Novell because of a crucial killer app called Microsoft Exchange email that every enterprise began to use. In the early 2000s, all apps were in-house server based, however by the latest 2000s, cloud based applications like Facebook, Box, Google, and Salesforce emerged.

Today, the shift in the industry is around the solidification of key applications that will fundamentally change the way we do business. We know in 5-yrs from now we won’t be building datacenters, upgrading software, even using cloud-based applications the same way as we’ve done in the previous 5-yrs. It’s yet to be determined what our future will be, but relating it back to Andy Kay, Kaypro, and the early days of our industry is that our industry is EVER EVOLVING! It’s not really evolving faster today than it did 30 or 40 years ago, but what is factual is to survive in this industry, you NEED to keep evolving and changing!

CP/M was replaced by MS-DOS, 9” CRTs were replaced by LCD flat panel screens, Novell NetWare was replaced by Microsoft Windows Server, on-premise datacenter based applications are being replaced by cloud-based SaaS applications, static desktops have been replaced by laptops, tablets, and mobile phones. Change is in the DNA of our industry, and nothing indicates that industry changes will stop any time soon.

So in closing, as I recognize and reflect on what Andy Kay did for our industry, I am reminded that change happens, we need to adapt to the changes, and a mere 5-10 years in our industry makes a huge difference in what was top of the industry to what will replace and become the new norm in what we’ll do in just a few years time.

This story, "The Silent Passing of One of Our Industry Pioneers – Andrew Kay" was originally published by Network World.

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