Picture this: it's 1990 and you're at DEC.

It's all over.

You're a dinosaur. The comet of DOS is coming right at you from behind. Sun and their workstation line will probably get you first.

What are you to do?

And yet. DEC almost made it out alive. They had a winning computer with their Alpha line.

DEC Alpha Processor

It was a marvelous piece of machinery. The leap forward was competitive with both workstations and servers but sold for far less. Unlike competitors like Sun, DEC bundled Microsoft Windows NT. This (usually) made it a drop-in replacement for slower DOS machines.

Video of this thing running

It's RISC designed processor made it good at parallel tasks such as databases. If you wanted to service a lot of low compute requests at once, there was no better option. Amazon, for instance, ran their Christmas shopping season on two of them. Many dot com era companies did the same.

So what went wrong?

DEC never embraced the Alpha. They weren't built to do it.

Minicomputers, the company's bread and butter, commanded 70% margins. DEC Alphas got 50% and sold at a lower price point. It was hard to give that up. Alphas weren't broadly compatible either making other DEC products a tough upsell.

This wasn't only a sales decision. Many departments felt threatened by the Alpha. Custom board layouts, specific case designs, specialized power supplies. Minicomputers needed those but the Alpha did not. Those jobs would get the axe.

And so DEC never did go all-in on their winning product. They acted shy about the Alpha, instead trying to push customers towards minicomputers.

Yet what could've been.

Companies often struggle to move downmarket. The Innovator's Dilemma has many such examples. The margins are so much worse down there and people don't want to give up their profits. So they stay put and go bankrupt. Even if they can see the future, it's very difficult to adjust course. DEC had ~100,000 people by ~1989 when the Alpha launched. What would you tell them?

If you're more curious, I highly recommend the Computer History Museum's Oral History with Robert Supnik. He was around at DEC for a number of decades and played an important role in the building of the Alpha.