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Garage Startup Develops "Personal Computer" 80

Hugh Pickens writes "In the summer of 1980, MIT graduates Donald Faber and Peter Haberle moved into an empty two-car garage and started work building the first-ever 'personal home computer.' Now almost 30 years later, what began as a humble two-man operation has since grown into an even more humble, even more cramped computer company, based out of an even smaller single-car garage. According to Faber and Haberle, a lot has changed since Xalaga was first founded. What was once a struggling $7,500-a-year business with only a dozen or so paying customers is now a desperate $6,400-a-year business with only a half dozen or so paying customers. Faber, who turned down a promising position with GE in order to start Xalaga, a decision he now says he regrets each and every waking day, told reporters that he knew almost immediately that his company had something not-at-all special on its hands. 'We sold only one computer that first year, then the following year it was three computers, then suddenly 10 computers, then just as suddenly five computers, then back down to three computers again, and finally only one or two machines every other year for pretty much the next decade,' said Faber, standing up from the plastic milk crate that now serves as his desk. 'Had someone told us when we first started that we'd be here today, operating out of a much smaller, somehow less expensive garage, we probably would have laughed right in their face.'"
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Garage Startup Develops "Personal Computer"

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  • Re:What (Score:3, Interesting)

    by zero_out ( 1705074 ) on Thursday April 01, 2010 @05:06PM (#31702966)
    It's still funnier than the majority of the 'jokes' posted today. We always hear about the small companies that took a change, started from humble beginnings, and became a smashing success. How often do we hear about the failed ones that never get off the ground? It's comedy worthy of Brits.
  • by Bigjeff5 ( 1143585 ) on Thursday April 01, 2010 @05:25PM (#31703076)
    You realize 4, 8, 16, 32, etc. were just conventions to make things easier, right? There is nothing that locks you into those patterns, it's just things can be a bitch to manage if you aren't in one.

    There were 24 bit processors, 6 bit bytes, etc. Base 2 is every bit as flexible as base 10, it's just different, and conventions have evolved to make things consistent and easy.

    For example, with a 24 bit processor, you'll want to scale to a 48 bit processor to make backwords compatibility easier. The 8 bit base just fits in very nicely between base 2, octals, hex, and finally decimal. Conversions among these units is much easier working with an 8 bit base than other setups, and so all scaling goes off the 8 bit base.

    None of it was tied to a 4 bit base though, that's just ignorant.
  • by Low Ranked Craig ( 1327799 ) on Thursday April 01, 2010 @05:40PM (#31703162)
    Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter!
  • by Philip K Dickhead ( 906971 ) <> on Thursday April 01, 2010 @05:55PM (#31703260) Journal

    Sure. But breadboarding a computer with 1980 processors (8080, 6502) would have sucked if you picked some funny multiple. How many machines were ever built where you could have 28K? I can't remember one. 1980 you had lots of 16K and 32K and 64K machines, with Zilog Z80's, running CPM. There were a smattering of new, 8088's and the new 68000 was in mini-class workstations - these had, sometimes, a whopping 256Kb!

  • by Quirkz ( 1206400 ) <ross.quirkz@com> on Thursday April 01, 2010 @06:56PM (#31703422) Homepage
    Well, I can tell you about the web design business I started with a couple of friends, where we landed one job, did the site, and the customer kept making changes and never got around to paying us the measly $300 we asked her for. Then I moved to another state and we broke up.

    Or the time I got into the business of a web site that would rate fine restaurants in large cities. We started in Chicago where we lived, and one of the partners insisted on spending $600 on flashy business cards (glossy, with embossed silver ink in the company name--1000 cards for each of the three founders. I used 2 of mine, total. Still have the other 998 because I'm a packrat). Then we stumbled along for a year putting together the site and doing legal stuff, only to realize that not a single restaurant wanted to pay for our services, primarily because no other restaurants were already customers. How do you get customers without having customers? There's probably a good answer, but about that time (2001) Zagat's got a few million in venture capital to go online and do everything we were doing and more. So we closed up shop, settled our bills (of which the business cards represented about 75%), and that was that.

    There's also the web site about nothing that a friend and I started with the idea we'd make a mint selling people themselves (if we're nothing, anything we sell had to come from the visitor, right?), but we got so bogged down in artistic philosophy and bad puns (nothing's better! nothing to lose! much ado about nothing ...) that we never even built the site.

    I also once wrote a novel, which remains unpublished. I think it's a good novel. A distant family connection who works in editing gave it decent marks. Somehow I've never gotten around to polishing it up and actually submitting the darn thing anywhere.

    I worked for some other guys, out of their basement, over the course of a year as they tried to start a "help people build online stores" franchise. The only customer was some neighbors who agreed to try it when we gave them the kit for free, and who then never did a thing with it. Literally zero minutes spent trying to use our stuff. Not that I blame them.

    Same guys hired me to write a book for their online darts store. Book never sold any copies. They had a plan to offer it as a bonus reward for large orders, but then sold the darts store. Come to think of it, that might not be entirely a failure. Except one of the two guys had to give up his part-time basement job and start commuting an hour and a half each way every day, and I'd call that a pretty big disappointment on his part.

    Same guys also had me start another online store. It sold some product, but the credit card fees were so ridiculous after a few months we realized we were actually losing money on every sale, so that had to go.

    Then they started a dog frisbees store. Business was good, but the hosting company was so messed up when we tried to cancel a few other domains they simply canceled everything, and then held the site name hostage for thousands of dollars when we wanted it back.

    Then they tried some other frisbee stores. Despite bountiful volumes of sales, neither they nor the shipper bothered to keep track of actual sales or profits--for a few months they kept all the money that came in, and then the shipper realized he was supposed to be getting reimbursed for the cost of shipping and the original cost of the frisbees he was buying to ship on their behalf. So he started keeping all of the money that came in, to make up for back payments, trying to calculate what was owed by weighing the stack of printed invoices and guessing at the number of pieces of paper and the average sales value. Last I heard, it had been 3 years, and they still hadn't gotten back up to even.

    ... so, uh, yeah. I think that's why we don't hear about most of those failed business stories.

... though his invention worked superbly -- his theory was a crock of sewage from beginning to end. -- Vernor Vinge, "The Peace War"