I love technology feuds -- be it SCO versus IBM (or is it rest of us?) over Linux; .Net versus Java; Napster versus RIAA; Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer versus Grokster; or any one of the thousands brewing all over the country.
However, it is one thing to watch these feuds unfold over a period of time, at times agonizing over the possible outcome, and quite another to look from a vantage point in future, having the historical perspective, and with full knowledge of the final outcome and how it shaped the future. So, I was quite excited when I got my hands on a copy of Great Feuds in Technology: Ten of the liveliest disputes ever by Hal Hellman.
True to its name, it is a compilation of narrative around ten technology feuds chosen by the author. And although I felt that Hal, like most journalists, went for feuds between individuals behind the technology, and not feuds between competing technologies, I liked the stories nonetheless.
Although, almost all the stories are engaging, I found the the following most interesting:
- Ford versus Selden: George B. Selden got a very broad patent on basic principles of automobiles and tried to use this to extract license fees from all auto manufacturers. But Henry Ford, a gifted mechanic who had developed his own auto designs, was determined to bring autos to masses at very affordable prices. He fought hard against the Selden patent and finally won.
- Sarnoff versus Farnsworth: Who invented television? Was it Sarnoff of RCA or Farnsworth. A recent Google search of "Who invented television" returns links that all point to Farnsworth as the inventor of television. But this wasn't always so. You have to read this story to beleive the corporate power of twisting reality.
- Edison versus Westinghouse: Edison may have been the biggest inventor of the century but he missed the importance of Alternating Current (AC) and stuck to hist Direct Current (DC) generators. Another fascinating story.
- Wright Bothers versus Curtiss, and Others: Wright Brothers were probably ahead of others in building and flying controlled flying machines but they were certainly not alone in this endevour. Still, they got the patent and used that to their economic advantage.
The things that I found most amazing is the fact that most notable inventions occurred through efforts of many people working on same and similar ideas almost at the same time!