In 1975, the federal government passed the Magnuson-Moss Act. Ask the next 100 people you see, what this law is and why it made the explosive growth of the computer industry possible, and you will likely get somewhere between 98 and 100 blank stares.

WarrenGMagnusonBack in the 1960’s and 70’s, IBM sold mainframe computers, and sold a lot of them. IBM also sold service, accessories and upgrades for those systems. What IBM did not do was allow anyone else to poke around in those machines – even after the sale. IBM did not allow the machine purchasers to add in accessories from other manufacturers. IBM kept it all and kept it all as trade secret. Hence, when, in 1981, IBM introduced its take on the personal computer, the world marveled at its open architecture. The IBM PC was open. Anyone could, and did, build and sell accessories and replacement parts. IBM copied the Apple II in that respect. The infant industry had already learned from the success of Apple II, that open is best.

Apple didn’t just sell a computer; Apple spawned an industry. They did because they allowed other companies access to the internals of their computer. Apple provided an expansion bus. Apple published the specifications of that bus. Apple published the source code for the ROM that drove its computer. Apple sold millions. Orange Micro, Videx, Microsquish, STB, ALR, AST and myriad other companies exploded into the American business world.

Senator Warren Magnuson, “Maggie”, of Washington State, one of the last of the great depression “New Deal” senators, brought money and power to Washington State. He also, along with Senator Moss, changed the way companies did business. The Magnuson Moss act essentially stated that companies could not deny warranty coverage to a consumer because that consumer put a part or accessory, from another manufacturer, into their product. Apple had to allow these other companies to exist. They didn’t have to make it as easy as they did, but they had to do it. After the act became law, IBM had to as well.

Without this law, the number of computer related companies founded in the late seventies and eighties would likely have been a factor of ten or more fewer. Without competition from third party accessory manufacturers, computer companies would have been free to charge outrageous prices, further diminishing the size and speed of growth of the industry.  Al Gore may have wrongly claimed to have invented the Internet but Warren Magnuson dammed the Columbia River and did truly enable the computer industry.

Ironically, Apple left its open root behind at some point in time. The first Macintosh computers were anything but open. The iPods, iPhones, Mac books and iPads of today are pretty much the opposite of open.