Silicon Cowboys

Synopsis: Three friends dream up the Compaq portable computer at a Texas diner in 1981, and soon find themselves battling mighty IBM for PC supremacy. Their improbable journey altered the future of computing and shaped the world we now know.
Director(s): Jason Cohen
Production: Zipper Bros. Films
  1 win & 1 nomination.
Rotten Tomatoes:
77 min


Ben rosen:
We never,

ever, had any idea

That this would

be as explosively

Successful as it was.

Mike swavely:

to fortune 500

And fastest to over a billion?

I would've just said

you're blowing smoke.

: Compaq is the story

of how david takes on goliath,

And it's not easy,

but when you do it,

It fundamentally

changes society.

Rod canion:
We hope you, too,

come to believe that the compaq

Is an important landmark

in the short history

Of the personal computer field.

Thank you.

John markoff:

Compaq was basically

Prying open a lock box.

Ben rosen:

analogous to somebody

Saying we're going to put

google out of business.

Chris cantwell:

you a mac or a pc?

The reason they don't say mac

or an ibm is because of compaq.

Alec berg:
You cannot

get to the iphone without

The original compaq portable.

man, if

you're looking for action,

Man, houston's the town.

Here's the action town.

Rod canion:
One of

the first things

I bought when I got

a real job, which

Was a sacker at a grocery

store making $0.45 an hour,

Was a '53 ford for $350.

We'd take our cars

way out to north

Houston where it

was deserted roads

And maybe run a few races.

And I ain't jivin'.

Rod canion:
Street drag racing--

like you see in the movies

Where you're going

around dead man's curve.

Man, houston's the town.

Rod canion:

weren't any video games.

That car was my computer.

I loved working on it.

I'd change spark plugs, and set

the points on the distributor,

And adjust the timing, and

that natural inclination

To try to understand

how it worked

And to not be afraid of taking

it apart and working on it.

I got a lot of

enjoyment out of it.

And spell, a

revolutionary learning

Aid from texas instruments.

It almost thinks.

Rod canion:
We were

very lucky to have

A high tech company, like

texas instruments, in houston.

The learning

can go on with the texas

Instruments ti-30.

Specially designed for

high school students

To help them find the wonder

of numbers never ends.

Rod canion:

where I wanted to go,

And I got the job and

that really got me started

In high tech electronics.

The bosses asked me to

take a small team of people

To develop an

intelligent terminal.

It was a predecessor to the pc.

Bill murto:
He called

me up and said, bill,

Would you come work for

me and be my business

Development manager?

Jim harris:
I came

out of texas a&m,

Electrical engineering degree.

Rod canion:
Bill was

the marketing guy,

And he was a good one.

Jim was the engineering guy, and

even though I was an engineer

By background, I

was really, sort of,

The business guy-- the

general manager type.

Jim harris:
While ti was a great

place, as the fun became less

And less over time, rod and bill

and I would quip to each other,

Like, let's go do something.

We were seeing what was

going on in silicon valley.

Roger mcnamee:

wandered around,

There was still a

lot of fruit trees.

It was a lot of empty space.

There was no silicon valley

as we think of it today.

: It

started out as purely

Hobbyist, not commercial.

You had to solder

your own connections

And build your kits.

Chris garcia:
You had the

microprocessor become available

In the very early

1970's, and you

Saw a lot of hobbyists coming

up with new ways to use it.

Jim harris:

we were out there

It was just exhilarating

to be around these guys

And to see their enthusiasm.

Bill murto:
The vp of

engineering of a small company

Would pull up in his

ferrari, which at ti you're

Never going to have a ferrari.

Maybe you can rent one once.

What are we doing?

It was like, oh

my goodness, this

Is what I would like to do.

Seeded this sense of we ought

to go do something together.

Let's just go do something.

Wasn't about getting rich.

It wasn't about

building a computer.

It was really about

starting a company that

Would be a good place to work.

Jim harris:
Bill said,

why don't we come over

To my house Thursday at 7:30.

And we said, let's do that.

We can at least have a beer.

We bought a thing called

entrepreneur's manual.

Because surely that'll

tell us how to put

Together a successful company.

We sit at a table, we each

have our piece of paper

With us and a pen, and

we're going to start

Taking notes about what we say.

Jim harris:
It's like,

ok, what do we do now?

Rod canion:
Let's talk

about all the possibilities.

One of the things

we did, sort of,

Traditionally, was we would

go out and eat mexican food.


tacos restaurants.

Treat yourself to

the wonderful world

Of mexican food and

authentic mexican atmosphere.

Jim harris:

and I always wanted

To do a mexican food restaurant,

so we brought that up.

Bill murto:
Maybe a

mexican food restaurant.

Jim harris:
We didn't

really want to do

A mexican food restaurant.

Bill murto:
What a stupid

idea that would've been.


tacos restaurants

Are the family fun place to be.

Rod canion:
We finally decided,

as you would hope, I guess,

That we ought to stick

with what we knew.

And we toasted the beginning

of starting a company.


probably on your way

Up to the top of the ladder.

Texas instruments,

a terrific company.

And you did a silly thing

like quit to try to start

Your own computer company.

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Jason Cohen

Jason Cohen is an American filmmaker. Cohen was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject) for the 2013 film Facing Fear. more…

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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    "Silicon Cowboys" STANDS4 LLC, 2024. Web. 20 Jun 2024. <>.

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