Dodoid Presents: A History of SGI

Last evening I stumbled upon a couple of interesting things on YouTube. Dodoid is a channel run by a young man who seems to have a thing for old technology, in particular computers from SGI. He has accumulated a series he calls, “The Complete History of SiliconGraphics (1982 – 2009)” It’s a nice romp through some history reminds me of the early parts of my working life.

No, I didn’t work at SGI. I was involved in video production. Some of the people I worked with were occasionally involved in graphics and animation, which is where I first crossed paths with SGI. That was about the the time of the SGI Personal Iris Workstation.

Later, when I moved into helping to sell graphics systems to post-production and broadcasters, I occasionally competed against software solutions running on smaller SGI systems. This was back in the mid-90s when PCs really didn’t do video in a serious way.

I recall being at Fox in LA and seeing their editorial teams working on SGI Onyx systems. Back then they ran Autodesk’s Flint or Fire software for editing, and Flame for special effects. I see that Flame still exists.

Smaller animation houses would run Softimage 3D animation on Indigo or O2 workstations, with an Octane or Onyx to render.

The Indy workstation included “IndyCam” a small fixed focus cameras intended to make it possible for users to video chat in real-time. As such, it may well be first computer to include what we now think of as a “webcam.”

IndyCam

Some of the sales people I worked with across the US were also resellers for companies that has SGI-based products. I can still recall the utter heartbreak some felt when SGI turned away from Irix on MIPS processors, turning to Windows NT running on Intel CPUs. There was a palpable sense of abandonment by a sales force that had fought hard to differentiate professional workstations from common PCs.

It’s nice that some young people, like Dodoid, are drawn to this corner of computing history. Although, I do admit that remembrances of troubleshooting SCSI interfaces still gives me a headache.

Then there was the time that Majortech thought they might get into selling IBM’s Power Visualization System, aka PVS. That was IBMs attempt to compete with SGI for the high-end of the entertainment business, leveraging hardware they had designed for industrial and medical imaging. That’s a story for another day.