Triumph of the Nerds

Triumph of the Nerds is an in-depth look at the rise of Silicon Valley giants from nerd-dom to success, providing an impressive history of personal computing by Robert X. Cringely. All three one-hour sections (“Impressing Their Friends,” “Riding the Bear” and “Great Artists Steal”) invite viewers into the lives of movers and shakers such as Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Apple’s Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. This is a very interesting PBS series done back in 1996 covering the beginnings of the personal computer, or PC. It does a good job of explaining the changes to that point and the characters involved in the early developments of the computer revolution. For a look back at the power players of the early PC, this is informative and entertaining fare, especially for those who might not have background knowledge of Silicon Valley and its history. The information is presented in an entertaining fashion. This series combines some basic explanations of technical knowledge with the surprising story of the explosion of the PC market. So this movie on the birth and growth of the personal computer is entertaining even for non-geeks (my wife liked it!). For folks who work in the tech industry, this is a great trip down memory lane! The story is informative and trivia-laden about an interesting subject. Clearly lays out the development of the PC and the roles of key players like Gates, Jobs, IBM, Xerox, Apple, etc. in bringing this technology to market. One can see the contrasting styles of the main protagonists, such as Gates vs. Jobs, and everyone vs. IBM. Shows the give-and-take of different individuals as they worked to bring modern computing power to the average person. Host Robert X. Cringely does a very good job explaining and showing how the first personnel computers came to be. He keeps the episodes moving at a brisk pace while covering most of the really big moments in early personal computing history. His slightly off-the-wall style is highly entertaining. He does a great job with interviews, photos and field trips to places where the personal computer was developed. Spotlighting mostly Apple and Microsoft, the documentary provides an interesting history of the personal computer by showing film clips. He interviews most of the major players of that time who started all the biggie companies: Apple, Microsoft, Adobe, Intel, Oracle, IBM and the granddaddy of them all: Xerox PARC. We meet behind-the-scenes guys like Ed Roberts who invented the first PC, Altair. Many industry luminaries including Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Paul Allen and Steve Wozniak (aka “The Woz”) are profiled along with other bit players. There are lots of fascinating revelations: How Gates sold IBM an operating system that didn’t really exist — after his chief rival refused to scrub a planned outing instead of talking to Big Blue on short notice. How Gates bought the core of MS-DOS from a hard-up software company for $50K. The demo Jobs got from Xerox of its graphic user interface (GUI) that led to the Macintosh. It also reveals how big ponderous business companies like IBM or Xerox got involved with computers — and what they did or didn’t do. We learn how missteps by companies turn out to be 100 billion dollar mistakes, made by people who could be millionaires today — if they had just been thinking differently. I love that even those who missed the boat have a say! And how it is sometimes not the inventor but the exploiter of an innovation who profits in this industry. The backstabbing by Microsoft and Apple. Some of the interviews included in this film are now the stuff of legend, such as Steve Jobs plainly stating that Microsoft has no taste. All of it is great information on just the first 20 years of personal computer history, but for an account up that point it is really good. (This movie was made in 1996, BEFORE laptops, smartphones, tablets, Google, or social networking such as Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, etc.; before Internet markets such as Amazon, Ebay, etc.; before high speed Internet opened new ways to watch TV shows and movies via Hulu and Netflix!) So in the film it is funny seeing “the latest and greatest” computer technologies of 1996 that are so obsolete by today’s standards. But the film is all the more interesting because it is dated. Some reviewers on Netflix include the word “unfortunately” in the same sentence as “dated”, but I disagree. I think it being dated makes this story ten times more awesome. The 90s seem so camp now! Lame graphics, odd host, bad hair and clothes, etc. But that kind of adds to the whole atmosphere of this documentary. Yes, in technology years it’s ancient history – and that’s the point. It would be like objecting to the mini-series “John Adams” as “too dated.” It’s fun to see interview footage of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and others from back in the early days of the computer revolution — the old photographs of 19 year-old geeky Gates are great. Basically, it shows that the modern PC in almost every household today was made and developed by a bunch of teenage geeks and nerds from the seventies who were looking for some extra beer and gas money. This documentary illustrates the beginning of how a few determined guys changed our world completely. It really is a fascinating story on the early days of the PC industry – a good documentary on the development of the modern PC. This is really THE film document of the history of the personal computer. This doc is valuable because it lets you see some of the movers and shakers of a new industry. It is virtually a must-watch for nerds today. Having owned and used computers since the early 80s, this was a great walk through memory lane. Absolutely a must-watch for anyone who has ever touched a computer. If you want to learn about computers or their history, this the documentary to watch. I was glued to the screen. With a quick pace the material provided is never dry, and the three hour run-time goes by quickly. This is definitely worth watching. I highly recommend this — I think you will like it. Two thumbs up! This has got to be one of the great historical documentaries — one of the very best documentaries ever! I am grateful to everyone involved, including the lighthearted host Robert Cringely. May we continue the innovative legacy these men and women left behind. It would be great to get an update with interviews from new powerplayers, although after this movie came out in 1996 subsequent developments have been covered much more thoroughly in the media than were the early days before 1995, which is why this doc is so valuable. At the end of the film Robert Cringely promises to do a sequel in ten years to catch up on a lot of the changes that have taken place since 1995. That promise came due in 2005, and has yet to be fulfilled with a sequel (which however then would itself quickly become out of date again!) This film is based on Cringley’s 1992 book Accidental Empires. Robert X. Cringely is the pen name of technology journalist Mark Stephens. If you like this, there’s also Pirates of Silicon Valley, a made-for-TV docudrama based on this material that’s also a very good watch. (This documentary Triumph of the Nerds could be considered as a behind-the-scenes disc to the docudrama Pirates of Silicon Valley, with the advantage that the actual people involved in the beginnings of the home computer industry are interviewed on this disc, which also offers more details about the history of the computer industry. Documentary 1996 NR 165 minutes. (Not to be confused with Revenge of the Nerds, the 1984 title of a series of comedy movies about a fraternity of brainy socially-inept students — but not about the founders the computer industry.)

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