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Cardiff Electric

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Cardiff Electric is a fictional computer software company in Halt and Catch Fire, located in Texas during the early 1980s.

History

Background

John Bosworth, senior vice president when the show begins, states in one of the first two episodes that he has been with the company for 22 years. That means the company has been around since at least the early 1960s. Nathan Cardiff founded the company, and is still in a leadership role during the show. Even so, John is handling a lot of the personnel matters, the company finances, and the day-to-day operations.

Season 1

It is clear in the first episode, that John Bosworth and Nathan Cardiff have an old-school approach to business. When the company begins to lose business accounts rapidly in the second episode, John Bosworth doesn't want a younger employee's approach because he says it's all about maintaining established relationships.

Prior to John Bosworth hiring Joe MacMillan, the company was selling computer software. This is shown when Joe and Gordon Clark meet with some executives to try to sell them company products.

Joe MacMillan has a vision to enter the company in the PC race and forces this to happen when he convinces Gordon to help him reverse engineer an IBM personal computer. This is actually illegal unless an outsider with no prior knowledge of Cardiff Electric PC reverse engineering works in a controlled environment, away from the engineer who was already working for the company. Joe recruits Cameron Howe, a college student, to be the engineer with no prior knowledge who will work in the "controlled environment." Joe later reveals that he notified IBM about him and Gordon reverse engineering the IBM PC. This causes collaborative efforts between John, Gordon, Joe, the attorney for Cardiff, and other employees to "keep their story straight" as IBM executives and IBM attorneys interview them.

Cardiff Electric passes the initial test with IBM and leaves, but soon recruits companies holding business accounts with Cardiff and its employees (which Joe refers to as "being raided"). He tries to help, but John wants to handle the situation with old-school business approaches. In addition, John and Nathan Cardiff view Joe as a threat and takes his way of forcing them in to the PC race personally. John blames Joe for endangering the company and tells him he will cost people jobs.

Work in Progress

Season 2

To be Added

Halt and Catch Fire - Fact or Fiction?

Compaq-founders

Compaq founders Rod Canion, Jim Harris and Bill Murto with the Flagship Product

Napkins-compaq-100272993-orig

Napkin containing design for the first COMPAQ

Actually, it did happen and it WAS revolutionary - Osborne, Kaypro, Otrona, Dynalogic Hyperion were all in the "luggable" [1] market, but only COMPAQ survived because the others often failed to reliably run certain IBM PC software/hardware because they were proprietary designs implementing a subset of the IBM PC. [2]

Similarities and Differences

Cardiff Electric closely resembles the emergence, and timing, of COMPAQ Computer corporation. I expect the producers of HACF went to extreme lengths to prevent the obvious connection from being the subject of a lawsuit, but the facts remain.

  1. Similar - Both Companies are Texas Based
  2. Different but Similar - Both rely on Big-Business management experience and hire best-of-breed. Cardiff vision comes from ex-IBMer Joe, while COMPAQ founders were formerly from Texas Instruments. In a bit of tongue-in-cheek irony, Gordon's wife Donna is even a Digital Engineer at Texas Instruments!
  3. Similar - COMPAQ utilized a "dirty" team writing BIOS Specs after viewing IBM PC source code, that the "clean" team would turn into legal code. [3]
  4. Similar - Both Cardiff / COMPAQ produced a portable (called "Lugable" at the time) IBM Compatible computer.
  5. Similar - While COMPAQ itself never claimed 100% BIOS compatibility with IBM, they were acknowledged the best by the industry.[4]
  6. Different - Cardiff is already an IBM competitor - COMPAQ a startup, whose product was sketched on a napkin at a Pancake House.[5]
  7. Different - IBM published both the Source code and the Schematics of its PC - creating a vast third party hardware/software aftermarket.
  8. Similar - But this caused competitors no end of extra cost and complexity maintaining a "clean" team of coders who in no way could have seen the easily available "IBM Technical Reference Manual"
  9. Similar - The teams of IBM auditors and lawyers descending on competitors, threatening, insisting on the double blind (dirty/clean) development - very real.

References and Citations

  1. There is NO WAY one can call these monsters "Laptops"! They were referred to as luggable and some hardy souls did indeed use them as we use laptops today!
  2. "The morning of January the 8th, 1982 ... I was going over the idea of a portable computer. How could we make one that was differentiated enough to make it worthwhile? ... Not being able to get software developed for it was a killer. ... Every computer ran different software. There were literally somewhere close to 300 different computer companies making new computers at the time. ... That morning, the idea hit me that, what if we could make our computer run software that already was out there? That is, run the software for the product that was getting the most software and always getting the software first when the new one came out, and that was the IBM-PC." Rod Canion interview - The Incredible True Story Behind AMC’s Halt And Catch Fire – How Compaq Cloned IBM And Created An Empire, by Brian McCullough — May 26, 2014, The Internet History Podcast, Chapter 2, Episode 7 - containing excerpts and an unedited audio interview with COMPAQ Co-Founder and CEO, Rod Canion. http://www.internethistorypodcast.com/2014/05/the-incredible-true-story-behind-amcs-halt-and-catch-fire-how-compaq-cloned-ibm-and-created-an-empire/
  3. What our lawyers told us was that, not only can you not use it [the copyrighted code] anybody that’s even looked at it–glanced at it–could taint the whole project. (…) We had two software people. One guy read the code and generated the functional specifications. So, it was like, reading hieroglyphics. Figuring out what it does, then writing the specification for what it does. Then, once he’s got that specification completed, he sort of hands it through a doorway or a window to another person who’s never seen IBM’s code, and he takes that spec and starts from scratch and writes our own code to be able to do the exact same function. Rod Canion interview, ibid.
  4. "There were actually a few companies that went in and just started copying out of the manual and they ended up getting sued and shut down. (…) We knew there was a way to do it. We believed we could do it legally. We didn’t just assume things. We hired the best intellectual property attorneys we could find and used their strict guidance to help us do the reverse engineering very carefully.(…) What our lawyers told us was that, not only can you not use it [the copyrighted code] anybody that’s even looked at it–glanced at it–could taint the whole project. (…) We had two software people. One guy read the code and generated the functional specifications. So, it was like, reading hieroglyphics. Figuring out what it does, then writing the specification for what it does. Then, once he’s got that specification completed, he sort of hands it through a doorway or a window to another person who’s never seen IBM’s code, and he takes that spec and starts from scratch and writes our own code to be able to do the exact same function." Rod Canion Interview, ibid
  5. "From Its Beginnings on a Napkin, Compaq Did Nothing but Succeed" by Ruth Rendon. August 5 1988, Associated Press, as reported in the Los Angeles Times. http://articles.latimes.com/1988-08-05/business/fi-8300_1_compaq-portable

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