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A very different world

In 1982, it was far from clear which way things were going to go. Had the economy continued to deteriorate, had the world drifted toward further polarisation and confrontation, or had the microcomputing market become increasingly fragmented and unable to evolve industry standards able to sustain a viable application market, we would not be here today plotting how best to steer Autodesk through the uncertain times ahead. Indeed, we might not be here at all.

But, in 1982, the downtrends in so many things economic, political, and technological began to turn up ever so subtly. Slowly things began to improve. Confidence returned, technology resumed its exponential growth, and Autodesk never lost the position we had staked out for ourselves in 1982--the world leader in computer aided design. Time passes. Things change. People adapt. Suppose I had included the following paragraphs as the inspirational closer of the original Working Paper for the organisation of Autodesk?

Who knows what the future may hold? Perhaps, as the 1980s pass into the last decade of this century, we'll see a world very different from the dark world of today and, if we draw our plans carefully and strive to make them real, the fruit of our labours may have grown into an enterprise that leads its industry into that new decade.

Small changes add up. Reality eventually will out. Today, we're trying to scrape together enough money to give our partnership a six month lease on life: enough for one good shot at success. If we fail, we go back to our jobs and chalk it off to experience. If we succeed.... If we succeed....

The year is 1990. After much strife and suffering, chaos and confusion, we finally ended up naming the company ``Autodesk''. Every founder has made a million dollars or more from his original investment; those with the greatest confidence in the company have reaped the greatest rewards. Every two cents invested in Autodesk stock has grown to more than sixty dollars. One of Autodesk's products has become the overwhelming global leader in its market--indeed, it created the market, and has spawned an entire industry of related products.

Today, we're worrying about filling our treasury. In 1990, I see our company sitting on a hoard of cash exceeding $140 million and viewing that very evidence of success as a problem: ``what to do with all the money.'' It's a nice problem to have.

Our company's success is world-wide, and what a different world it will be in 1990. The Berlin Wall will have been smashed to rubble by sledgehammers and Eastern Europe will have emerged from the aftermath of World War II to become what it was before--simply part of Europe. The Soviet Union will have a democratically elected parliament, debating the means and pace of transition from central planning to a market economy. More than half of the Soviet republics will be in various stages of secession from the Union. Our company, today dreaming of rolling out our first products in a trade show in the United States, will have organised     successful trade shows in Moscow and Prague. And, as the tide of liberation sweeps the world, we'll remain in the vanguard by planning a show in Capetown for 1991.[Footnote]

A very different world.... The Dow Jones Industrials have flirted with 3000 before pulling back; the U.S. national debt moves from trillion to trillion almost unnoticed, and Japan becomes the manufacturing power in the world. And in computing? Well, no end is in sight. Today, we're constrained by a 64K memory limit. In 1990, people will talk disdainfully of machines still limited by a ``640K barrier''. The typical machine used to run our products will run between one hundred and one thousand times faster than the machines we're using today, and an entire market will have been created for hardware products developed specifically to accelerate the performance of our software. And looking forward from 1990, none of these trends appear limited by any fundamental constraints. Technological visionaries foresee computing at the molecular level--with the very stuff of life--and a time where individual computers and databases will coalesce into a common information pool providing access to the collected wisdom of humanity. And our company will be at the forefront of realising both of these goals.

Would you have joined a company organised by such an obviously raving lunatic?

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Editor: John Walker