The custom-made computers powered by pepperoni pizza

Raymond Chen

During the development of Windows NT, testing identified that a very specific model of computer from a major manufacturer exhibited a very large number of problems, and the team needed about a dozen of them in order to debug the issues.

Unfortunately, the test team didn’t have twelve of them. Okay, they didn’t have any at all.

The person who told this story (let’s call her Alice) said that a phone call to the manufacturer confirmed that the model was no longer in production. There was no way to order them.

The administrative assistants checked their hardware inventory and searched through their storage closets of spare hardware to see if they could find any computers of this specific model.

No luck.

Alice called the manufacturer again and explained that she really, really, really, desperately needed twelve copies of that specific discontinued model of computer in order to debug, identify, and fix the problems that they were having with Windows NT. The manufacturer searched their own warehouses, but no luck. The systems simply didn’t exist.

The company agreed to take the extraordinary step of shutting down one of their normal production lines and converting it to produce the now-discontinued model.

To make twelve computers.

It took around two days to do this. When Alice learned that an entire production line of people were working overtime in their warehouse to produce this one-shot run of computers just for her, she figured it would be nice to send them some pizza or something as a thank-you.

Remember, this is around 1992. There was no Internet in the form we recognize it today. There were at most 50 Web servers in the world, all of them belonging to academic and research institutions. The first online pizza order was still two years away. How do you order pizza for people in another state?

She called directory information for the city that the production facility was in. “What do you guys have over there for delivery pizza? Oh, there’s a Dominos? Can you give me their number? Thanks.”

“Hello, Dominos? I’d like to order a bunch of pizza for delivery to the XYZ computer factory. Do you know where that is? Great. So how about a dozen pizzas, assorted toppings. And a case of soda. Yup. Do you take corporate Amex? Oh, you don’t accept credit cards of any kind over the phone.”

In this era, payment by credit card was typically done by mechanical imprint, which required the card’s physical presence.

Okay, so you want to order a bunch of pizza, and you’re on the phone to the pizza place in another state, and they don’t take credit cards over the phone. What options do you have?

“Will you take a corporate check which I promise to put in the mail?”

She was sure this wouldn’t work.

“You will?!”

So that’s how a dozen computers of a discontinued model from a major manufacturer were created for the specific purpose of debugging why Windows NT wasn’t working. They were powered by pepperoni pizza, with the help of a a trusting stranger.

(I don’t know for sure, but I suspect the corporate check included a generous tip.)


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  • Bart Sipes 0

    This is a great story! Thanks for sharing it

  • C V 0

    What was the problem then?

  • aidtopia 0

    An actual check right off the bat? I’m surprised it wasn’t a purchase order with a check to be cut later by the accounts payable department.

    • Brian 0

      Major manufacturer basically had 2 choices at this point:
      1) Tell Microsoft they could not help. This has the consequence that manufacturer and/or Microsoft would have to basically say, “Hardware X does not work well with Windows NT.” Customers of manufacturer would refuse to upgrade to Windows NT. This is rather ugly. I would expect customers would have placed most of the blame for these problems on Microsoft, even if the manufacturer’s computers were still under warranty with Manufacturer’s customers.
      2) Help Microsoft.

      While #2 is a far more consumer-friendly choice, #1 is an easy choice to make, and probably would not have done much damage to Manufacturer, unless Manufacturer had advertised their devices as Windows NT compatible.

      So, kudos to manufacturer for making the consumer-friendly choice.

  • Mystery Man 0

    Are you testing some kind of blogging AI that gets some facts and writes a blog post from them?

    Because no human could possibly think that purchasing some PCs and then order Pizza for the manufacturer makes those PCs “Pizza-powered”.

    • Raymond ChenMicrosoft employee 0

      The production line was partly powered by pepperoni pizza. Grant me some artistic license, will ya?

      • cheong00 0

        The people working on the production line was partly powered by pepperoni pizza.

        If I were Alice, I would have told whoever tasked to help ship the computer back to Microsoft to buy pizza on the way to the factory.

        Then again the story would have been less interesting than it is.

      • Mystery Man 0

        How can you be so cruel?! Do you know how many colorful, sarcastic retorts I’ve fought back since I’ve read your reply? Adhering to the Code of Conduct is not fun… 😉

        • cheong00 0

          I don’t know, what I said was the common way to do this AFAIK in the old time.

          When my grandfather was the manger of a warehouse, he told the truck drivers to buy him foods and other things when they drive back with goods.

          That said, the people worked in the factory and warehouse including the truck drivers are all my relatives, so things are pretty casual when they need food from homeland to relieve nostalgia.

          • Mystery Man 0

            @Cheong00 My reply wasn’t meant for you. You can tell from its indentation that it is meant for Raymond Chen.

        • Maximilien Noal 0

          *Sigh* Do you really need to start a silly war with every comment you make ?

          • Mystery Man 0

            @Maximilien: I have a feeling that (despite what the indentation suggests) I’m not the intended target of your reply, given the fact that I haven’t been exactly chatty in this new version of the blog since its inception.

            But if you really are talking to me, I should say that I genuinely thought this blog post is written by an AI. That’s what Microsoft is doing lately. I did my best to come off polite and lighthearted. If a “silly war” has been a started as a result of this educated observation of mine, I’m afraid I neither intended it nor should accept the responsibility of triggering it.

  • Steven Don 0

    Also, “Alice” is a pretty darn awesome person.

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