How the mighty

Earlier today, Hewlett Packard Enterprise — having hived itself off of the consumer division of HP earlier this year — purchased the remaining business of a nearly unknown technology company named SGI.

Were this 20 years ago, it could well have been the other way around. At that time, Silicon Graphics Incorporated was the world leader in graphical workstations, graphical computing, simulation, virtual reality, real-time graphics compositing, VFX, and so on. If you did any work in any of these fields, your employers plunked out at least $50K for an SGI workstation — and more for all the associated software, tools and support.

SGI was founded by Jim Clark, who had himself been educated by the experts in graphics out of the University of Utah, and who left SGI in early 1990s, after a disagreement with the management over the direction of the company.

Then Clark went on to found another forgotten Silicon Valley startup — Netscape.

The first company to produce a commercial-quality Web browser, Netscape briefly threatened all the entrenched interests in tech — until Microsoft ‘embraced and extended’ Netscape out of existence.

SGI was instrumental in making real-time computer graphics A Thing , a market soon eclipsed by PC-based products.

I remember having a 1995 meeting with the founders of 3DLabs — the first company to challenge SGI in the PC space, well before nVidia — and getting the clear sense from them that SGI just couldn’t grasp the magnitude of the opportunity in the PC market for powerful graphics capabilities.

The classic SGI logo — by artist Scott Kim — had to be viewed in 3D

SGI, the victim of a cash cow business selling to military and the biggest companies in the world, never made a transition to PC graphics. It could have been nVidia. Instead, it’s now a footnote.

This is a sad day, because without SGI, much of modern VR simply wouldn’t exist. They paid for a lot of pioneering research work — yes, in order to sell more systems, but nonetheless they paid for the infrastructure that people still use today (such as OpenGL) to create virtual worlds.

Vale, SGI.

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