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The fascinating history of Olivetti

Many have seen the short movie about the history of the Programma 101, the first personal computer in history. It was released in 1965 and became a huge success, especially in the U.S: 44,000 units were sold. The group of engineers led by Pier Giorgio Perotto at Olivetti entered the history of computing.

The beauty of the documentary is in its cheerful and light-hearted tone. Devoid of that tragic affliction typical of Italians who look to the past regretting old glories and successes. Rather it is an educational documentary that shows how the invention came out of a precise mix of preconditions: a great goal, a clear familiarity with technological innovation, a very Italian sensitivity to the industrial design, a basically happy working environment.

Sure, one can get on asking questions about the decline: why Olivetti had managed to come out first with a desktop computer fully functional and appreciated by the market but was not able to stay ahead then? And why Olivetti abandoned the way they had helped to draw? Why Olivetti could not catch up to the times that were changing?

The pioneers are a different kind from the empire builders. Happy working environments must be cultivated at all levels. Technological leadership is never safe from the competition. The vision needed to make great thinks must be and remain great. Some of these conditions have gone over time, to the detriment of Olivetti.

But all this does not mean that Italy is doomed. Italian electronics has recently created great products: Stm’s accelerometer and Massimo Banzi’s Arduino. Italians can certainly do more in order to grow and contaminate their industrial system with innovation.

The fascinating history of Olivetti will stay in Italian history. But there is no point in regretting the past: Italians should look at history to find inspiration in order to get new important things done. It is quite possible.

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Luca De Biase

Knowledge and happiness economy Media and information ecology

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