Remembering Ed Iacobucci

Another great tech manager has left our ranks this week, Ed Iacobucci. Ed lost a 16-month battle with pancreatic cancer. I last saw him two years ago when I was transiting Miami, and he was good enough to meet me at the airport on the weekend to brief me on his latest venture on desktop virtualization, Virtual Works. That is the kind of guy he was: coming out to the airport for a quick press meet on the weekend. There aren’t too many folks that would do that, and it shows the mutual respect we had for each other.

Ed was one of the originals in the PC industry. By that I mean that many of his ideas turned into products that we are still using today, or with companies that have gone on to become giants. He worked for many years as the IBM PC brain trust, first in their mainframe communications area and later on was one of the leads for the misguided OS/2 operating system. Both were big interests of mine and I followed his career since then.

You have to realize what a study in contrasts working for the PC division of IBM was back in the day. You had all these upstarts (such as Apple, Kaypro, Columbia, Osborne, and the like) that were building clones to run DOS. These companies were for the most part populated by people in the their 30s. Not at IBM: you had older folks who had come up the ranks in the mainframe world that were taking things into a new direction for IBM: using commodity parts that could be assembled quickly for very low cost. Ed was part of that revolutionary guard at IBM. Now IBM doesn’t even make PCs anymore.

You also have to realize what things were like in the early PC days for the trade press too. Aside from the fact that our publications used dead trees instead of electrons, we had tremendous access to these guiding lights of the industry. We could call up anyone and get anything. We would fly somewhere on a moment’s notice to meet someone or attend a briefing to see a new product.

Back in the early PC era, I just loved people like Ed: smart, articulate, open, funny, and did I mention smart? Tech reporters soaked up the information about their products, their worldview, their “vision” (although that term is overused now). We could always count on the ilks of Ed to ‘splain somethin’ and give us a pithy quote that actually shed some light on a tricky tech topic. I have forgotten more about operating system design that I learned from Ed than most reporters even know today.

When OS/2 was still a project that combined the best and brightest of IBM and Microsoft, I was writing my first book with Mike Edelhart, who was my mentor and editor at PC Week (now eWeek). The book, like the operating system, went through several revisions as we waited for it to take off and become the corporate standard. Sadly for us (and them), that never happened and the book was never published.  Mike and I did have some cool and memorable experiences: holing up at a hotel on Coronado Island to finish the first draft, scheduling a press briefing in Austin where 60 IBM’ers came to brief a few PC Week reporters the secrets and inner workings of OS/2, and getting to meet the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation at another press briefing (as one version of OS/2 was called Warp).

Ed left IBM in 1989 to found Citrix, which was a very small company for several years until it became the software behemoth that it is today. That began his next career in virtualization, something that he was still working on at his death.

After Citrix he left the tech field temporarily to found NetJets, a time-sharing company for business aircraft. Just like his other startups, he was way ahead of his time: now there are many jet sharing companies around. I always regret that I didn’t get in touch with him during that era and get a chance to ride on one of his jets (a guy can dream, right?).

In the release announcing his death, he is quoted as saying “Every human being has his own vision of what’s happening in the future. I was lucky in that what I thought would happen did happen. When we know we can do it and the rest of the world doesn’t – that’s when things get interesting.” It sure does. It was a honor to know him.

So long Ed, and thanks for the wonderful memories and terrific times and great products over the years.

3 thoughts on “Remembering Ed Iacobucci

  1. Pancreatic cancer is horrible and he lasted so much longer than others who were diagnosed. I hope everything was calm, painless and peaceful. He will be missed.

    • His passing was as gentle as could be hoped for, given the scope of his illness. He died as he wished: at home, surrounded by family. He will indeed be missed.

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