Silicon Cowboys Review – Three Guys, Pie and a Dream the Recipe for Documentary Success

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Silicon Cowboys, from FilmRise and Zipper Bros Films, presents the creation of the modern laptop that humbly began in a Houston Diner over an afternoon slice of pie with three guys who were unknowingly about to begin a revolution.

Written and directed by Jason Cohen, Silicon Cowboys utilizes both reenactments and first person interviews to present the timeline and story behind the world's greatest invention. Silicon Cowboys is based on the book "Open: How Compaq Ended IBM's PC Domination and Helped Invent Modern Computing" by Rod Canion.

Interviews included Venture Capitalist Roger McNamee, Sr. Lecturer, Harvard Business School Howard Anderson, Co-Creator, AMC's "Halt and Catch Fire" Chris Cantwell, EP, HBO's "Silicon Valley," Alec Berg, Founder, Lotus Software Mitch Kapor, Science Writer, New York Times John Markoff and Curator Computer History Museum, Chris Garcia.

Additionally, the original fifteen-member team that would become Compaq Computers were also interviewed. Beginning with the three guys who would draw their Dream Machine on the back of a paper placement at a local diner Co-Founder and CEO Rod Canion, Co-Founder and VP Engineering Jim Harris, Co-Founder/VP, Marketing Bill Murto.

Gathering their staff, they held an incognito job fair drawing from the talent base of colleagues they knew over the years from their careers at the Houston, Texas based Texas Instruments. During the introduction, the potential candidates were told essentially they would have to make a blind decision, as they couldn't explain what they were working on, couldn't show them a prototype and essentially couldn't give them any other information than an invitation to join them and be on the cusp on an exciting venture that had the potential to revolutionize the etch industry. And the documentary doesn't say if they even had that much information.

As a testament to the character and possibly the desire to be involved in something that quite possible even blind had the air, the electricity, of a bigger idea. The dreamers signed a twelve-person team that day bringing the entire staff at Compaq Computers to fifteen.

With this team, the company had structured formation with executives Bill Fargo, Hugh Barnes, David Cabello, Gay Stimac, Steve Flannigan, Mike Swavely, Karen Walker, Ben Rosen, Ross Cooley Steve Ulrich, Charles Lee and Kim Francois all signing on and it was only then they received information on the company.

The next step for our kitchen table dreamers: a prototype. Since the idea of a laptop computer was nearly foreign even in 1984. Computers had yet to see the speed of light revolution that most modern users are accustomed to experiencing annually.

Silicon Cowboys details the rise from living room/kitchen table and humble beginnings of three dreamers to global giant and its speed of sound growth! So how did they do it? The first laptop was in reality a desktop server with a handle and a small screen with a detachable keyboard.

So in front of the world, in 1984, our CEO and Founder Ron Canion stepped in from of the media and unveiled an extraordinary contraption. With the look of a singer sewing machine at 27lbs with a small handle Compaq Computers laid the case on its side, flipped two side toggles releasing the bottom of the case exposing both a hidden keyboard on the other side of the bottom panel and a small computer screen.

It was revolutionary! Beating the computer industry which consisted on IBM at the time and stepping out into the world with a luggable laptop. The laptop computer was born. Compaq couldn't produce them fast enough.

Many companies had tried to copy IBM's code and come up with the same only to be stopped by the formidable industry giant and beaten as they lawyered up pounding on the little guys, the upstarts, the dreamers, until they backed away. And IBM would try that this time also.

As Compaq was living large, the laptop was losing weight, and soon the 27lbs luggable was streamlined, slimmed down and it would take a good five years for the luggable to lose the excess weight and become packable.

In that time IBM showed up and attempted the lawyer up shake down, as the lawyers arrived in pairs, 32 lawyers later, GC Bill Fargo would relay the information and soon Compaq, flush with tech money, the nearest thing to Texas Gold, paid to have the giant step out of the ring which they did.

Dreams come at a price. And while our three normal guys who would rise to the top of the technology industry, looked like they had it all and for a while they did, soon the demands of the 24/7 commitment took its toll and families were falling apart. The cost of the standard bearer, in any industry, can be a fine line between stratospheric success and the deterioration of home life and to these three the success of the laptop was costly on the homefront.

Silicon Cowboys is a must see documentary. More than the story of dreamers, or of the tech industry, it is the story of an upstart company, called COMPAQ Computers, that decided over pie (it must have been the sugar) to venture into the David and Goliath ring built by IBM and fight for a market space.

Little did they know not only would the survive they would win and force IBM out of the laptop computer space.  The documentary presents an astonishing victory from a small upstart company with a singular big idea that worked.

Silicon Cowboys is exceptional. The backstory of the laptop with some reference to Steve Jobs whom all assume with the success of his creation the laptop was all him also. Silicon Cowboys fills in the blanks of technology industry's archaic 1984 history. What is so stunning as I pound out this review on a laptop the evolution to revolutionize the industry is only just over thirty years old. 

Silicon Cowboys is packed with archival footage of 1980's big hair, big ideas, big shoulders and the background of the 27lbs big luggable laptop.

Silicon Cowboys opens September 16, 2016. See it!  A MUST SEE Documentary!

 

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