Cause of death: the Internet and AOL
While parts of the company are still around, the full extent of the Compuserve dial-up network is hard to imagine. Beginning in the 1980s, Compuserve maintained banks of modems in most major US cities, making it one of the most prevalent dial-up networks around. They had their own client software to access the network, called Compuserve Information Manager, and odd user names that were a collection of numbers, such as 765432,111. At its peak, the company also operated the network that is still being used for credit card authorizations. They were also one of the first providers of email for its users, and one of the first to offer Internet connectivity in 1989. It was popular for its discussion forums on a wide range of topics. Alas, they were sold to AOL in 1998 and that along with the ubiquity of the Internet -- was the beginning of the end for the company.
Cause of death: bungled corporate merger, universal LAN connections and decommissioned mainframes
At the dawn of the PC revolution in the early 1980s, one of the biggest challenges was getting them to talk to the IBM mainframes and emulate the 3270 green-screen terminals. The leading vendor in this space was DCA, who made the Irma hardware boards and software line. Attachmate Corp. eventually acquired DCA in 1994 and its Irma brands have since disappeared from the landscape. The two corporate cultures were very different, and Attachmate eliminated many of the duplicate positions since they sold essentially the same product set. Many of the DCA brain trust left and went on to their own ventures or work for established companies.
Cause of death: PCs
Perhaps no other computer maker had a more iconic and identifiable computer than DEC's PDP11. I learned how to program on one in graduate school back in the late 1970s, and they were found at universities and research labs around the world. I came across one not too long ago sitting in a friend's backyard and used as the repository for his gardening tools. About the size of refrigerators, they were 16-bit CPUs and had shared memory architectures and were built to last.
Cause of death: dot com crash of 2001, Internet use of credit cards
One of the first contenders in Internet payment processing was First Virtual, which developed a series of protocols in 1994 for exchanging messages securely for paying for goods and services online. The system didn't make use of encryption but instead used open standards and email for its infrastructure. Nevertheless, despite its intellectual elegance, by the late 1990s using credit cards across the Internet became more convenient and popular, and the company was eventually sold to Doubleclick in 2001. Key pieces of its technology are still found in Paypal and were precursors of many of the Internet commerce products of the modern era.
Cause of death: broadband connectivity and integration of modems into motherboards
Back when dial up communications were the norm and before DSL or cable broadband was invented, these were the products that everyone used on their PCs to communicate. The 2400 number refers to 2400 bps, which is slower than the data rates that even cell phone networks transmit these days. Dennis Hayes was the charismatic leader of the company but eventually the broadband industry and misplaced bets on ISDN brought it down. The company eventually disappeared in 1999, although Zoom Technologies purchased the Hayes name and still uses it on their products.
Cause of death: proprietary technologies
In the late 1990s, push technology was all the rage and at one point I think there were more than two dozen companies pushing their products. Push even made the cover of Wired magazine in 1997. These products had the ability to send you updates to your desktop, with no user intervention required. Web content would automatically arrive and publishers were enthralled by the whole idea. But push quickly collapsed because the implementations were quirky and users stayed away, and most of the companies spent more on marketing than engineering. BackWeb is still one push vendor around is used by a variety of tech vendors to automatically update their drivers.
Cause of death: corporate hubris and proprietary technologies
Before the notion of write-once-debug-everywhere Java came into being, there was General Magic's Telescript, a cross-platform programming language that incorporated what we now call cloud-based communications. The company had some huge backers, including Sony and AT&T. And the devices, introduced in 1994, made a huge splash but by 2002 they were out of business, brought down by a dependence on the AT&T cellular network and a lack of applications.
Nevertheless, they were prescient in pointing out how PDAs and smartphones can make use of Internet-based applications and services. Parts of the core technology still survives in General Motors' Onstar navigation voice recognition software. And the founders of the company were quite the brain trust: they went on to develop parts of the iPhone, the Sidekick phone, Google's Android phone, and start eBay.