Dimitri Rotow's own memories:
Fortune was yet another fascinating case of a start
up where the visions of the founders diverged from those of the technical
staff. I was one of the product managers and perhaps the only guy in
marketing and sales with a UNIX background.
The technical staff at Fortune believed in UNIX, in Ethernet and in
client/server architectures. Even for a single workstation they
would have liked to have had a machine where the processor itself would
have connected to the disk store through an Ethernet stub.
Unfortunately, the three founders cared for none of this and ended up
trying to steer the company in some sort of "Business Basic"
clone business (a strategy driven by the least competant fo the three
founders, Homer Dunn, aka "Homer Dumb" to many of the technical
employees) - utter idiocy, albeit very well executed by senior management
(Gary Friedman, a financial and administrative genius) and Sales (Dave
Vandenberg, a genius at sales). Fortune went public in the mid
1980's and at the time had the largest IPO ever, over $70 million.
Later on the company crashed because the Business Basic strategy was
stupid (as was obvious to everyone except Homer, apparently), but those of
us who really wanted to do a UNIX workstation company were proven right by
the success of SUN.
Fortune was a great learning experience for many and was a wonderful place
to meet people with serious UNIX skills. To this day, Fortune alumni
tend to be a close-knit bunch. It's a testimony, like some of AT&T's
adventure in the 3B line, to how one or two managers who don't really
understand the intersection of technology and customer needs can negate
the efforts of the rest of the company even if that rest is a truly
I was one of the few who sold shares in the initial offering: thank you,
Gary Friedman, for making this possible, and thank you all my colleages
(except Homer, of course) for the brilliance and style and personal
commitment you brought to the party. To this day, I measure
serious power and commitment in startups by the high standard set by
Fortune people 'lo these many years ago.
Anne (Rosenbloom) Schardt's
I worked for Fortune Systems in various technical support / management
capacities from 1984-1990 in Redwood City/CA, Frankfurt/Germany and Monte
Carlo/Monaco. From the PS 10 32:16 through the Formula, Fortune
IBM-compatibles, Motorola and Arix OEMed systems.
The first person in support to get a 30MB drive was the envy of all
others. Wow, 30 megs! Those were high-flying days at the pioneer of
UNIX microcomputers: Fortune Systems...until they didn't keep up with the
market, became a software company selling Fortune:Word and Convergent
Technologies took the systems lead.
But, hey, they're no longer around either. Sun picked up the ball
and most of Fortune's and CT's technical staffs.
Pat Audet reports to us:
I maintained these systems at Ford. They could hold 2MB of RAM (4 x 256 KB
+ 1 MB) and four 4-port serial cards. Later versions had a 70MB HD. You
could also get a tape unit that fit to the right of the floppy drive. Ford
had hundreds of these systems with terminas all throught their Dearborn
offices in the mid '80s unitl replaced by IBM ps/2's. An Oracle DB was
also available for the Fortune. It came standard with a word processor,
spread sheat and several programming utilities.
Joe Cassara adds:
I worked for a now defunct photography chain store
as a freelance programmer, writing custom database applications for their
old 32:16 (at the tender age of 15. My father was regional
It had one of the best implementations of Business Basic at the time, but
the rest of the system was quite fussy! Power loss to the CPU would
result in hours worth of tinkering around with SCO XENIX to get it
to boot again.
Our system was fried and repaired for a whopping $500 because a salesman
mistakenly plugged a printer into one of the RS-232 ports. And the
terminals' keyboards produced a beeping sound with every keystroke that
could not be shut off completely! Hard Disk access was slow. Call me
bizarre, but I kinda liked this system, despite its drawbacks.
Al Meers remembers:
From 1984-1988 I worked at SSG/WB, and we sold and supported about 200
Fortune Systems 32:16 (and other) computers as a VAR in the SF Bay Area.
Fortune used to compete against their own VAR's for sales, and would even
compete VAR's against their other VAR's, so we started to back off of
selling Fortune systems, even tho they were just about the first and best
multi-user Unix business systems at the time.
Competitor Unix systems at the time included Plexus, NCI, Sperry Rand,
with Sun, Apollo, and SGI being at the niche or expensive high-end.
Most of our clients used them for the Fortune Word word processing and the
Multiplan spreadsheet, along with some accounting programs written in
I still have a Fortune system, complete with console & kb, extra
terminals, some extra cards, memory, disks, and programs on 5 1/4"
floppies. I also have way too much documentation on it considering I
haven't touched the system in more than 15 years.