After a 12-year downhill slide, SGI is no more

The former Silicon Graphics, Inc., which has officially gone by the name SGI for several years, will sell its entire assets to Rackable Systems, the low-power data center server producer, for a mere $25 million, according to an SEC filing this morning.

Of the many heroes that graced the landscape of microcomputing during its formative years, few were more outspoken and more endearing -- in that particular way that entrepreneurs can be -- than the once high-profile CEO of SGI, Ed McCracken. Throughout the 1980s, McCracken championed the ideal of producing an original architecture for graphics workstations, at a price that (hopefully) folks could afford. At a time when there were big conferences every month and keynote speakers were everywhere, McCracken was one of the biggest, speaking not only about technology but about leadership strategy and executive conduct.

But someone else had the edge on "cheap" workstations, and throughout the 1990s, SGI's value proposition was difficult to maintain against an onslaught of Intel-based workstations running Windows NT. McCracken's strategy became to trumpet the power of software, as one of the earliest practitioners of virtual reality and a principal defender of VRML, the original markup language for interactive 3D environments.

In the end, McCracken's vision could not save the day. He avoided embarrassment by leaving SGI in 1997, and almost immediately, the company began producing everyday workstations. But from then to now, it never regained its edge and never turned a page in its history. When analysts speculated that SGI could recover by creating a way to make graphics processors into x86 co-processors, Nvidia ended up seizing that ball and running away with it. This morning, Rackable stated it believed SGI would help fill out its all-around product line, though just days earlier, it was remarking how well filled-out it already was.

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