John Linton, the founder of one-time Aussie PC market leader Osborne and more recently of ISP Exetel, has passed away following a stroke.
Picture via YouTube
Linton's son announced the news in a post on Exetel's customers-only blog:
Yesterday my dad was doing what he liked doing best. Eating at a nice restaurant, drinking nice wines, and talking about the state of the telecommunications market in Australia, and the various companies that make this up.
At lunch he suffered what was thought to be a mild stroke, and was immediately taken to St Vincents hospital. He was conscious in the ambulance, responding to their questions, but when he got to the hospital he had trouble breathing and they needed to put him into a medically induced coma and put him on a ventilator to help him breathe. Unfortunately it turned out to be a very intensive stroke and there was nothing the doctors could do, without killing him in an operation or leaving him severely brain damaged. So last night, with most of my family present, his ventilator was turned off and a few hours later he passed away peacefully.
This is the saddest day of my life, I have lost my dad, my mentor, my boss, and one of my best friends.
However dad would not want us fussing over him, he would want to know what we have sold, which was actually one of the last things I said to him. He would also want Exetel to go on as he had planned for it to. He put in a place a strategic plan, so we need to move on as he had wanted us to, and remember him for the great man he was.
If any of you feel like buying my mum and family flowers, I would ask that you instead make a donation to his favourite charity, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
Exetel is a popular ISP amongst our readers for its good-value deals (such as no upload counting on many plans), but Linton's take-no-prisoners approach is also the stuff of legend. Customers who used too much data or who complained over support issues were just as likely to find themselves effectively sacked, with their contracts terminated early. Linton always maintained that a small group of customers could ruin life for everyone, and that it was better to ensure a good experience for the majority.
It's worth remembering that well before Exetel was established, Linton also headed up the local operation for Osborne, licensed from its UK parent. In the pre-Windows 95 era, Osborne was the top-selling PC company in Australia, beating out the major global players and operating stores and support centres across Australia.
Osborne would have faced a tough time in the late 1990s regardless as the local PC industry effectively evaporated, but an infamous business decision arguably accelerated the process. Following a licensing dispute with Microsoft, Linton elected to ship all its machines with OS/2 instead. That proved unpopular with both business and consumer customers, and Osborne went into receivership in 1995.
Osborne was eventually purchased by Gateway in order to set up an Australian operation, but that only lasted until 2001 when Gateway withdrew from the local market. But the OS/2 decision continued to haunt Gateway staff,as Gizmodo editor Alex recalls only too well:
My first IT job, many, many years ago was working as a technical support engineer at Gateway 2000. As they'd assumed the Osborne business, that also meant taking on the support duties as best they could be performed with dwindling Osborne hardware stock. OS/2 was a particular nightmare, as there was no access to an OS/2 machine to provide any answers to support queries when they came in.
When I first began as a journalist back in 1994, the prospect of having to ring Linton for comments was a terrifying prospect. If he was in a good mood, you got terrific quotes. If he disagreed with your angle, he would curtly dismiss you as stupid. It was an effective baptism by fire, I guess.
When Osborne collapsed, my then-title managed to score an interview with him (by fax!), in which he proclaimed that Osborne would be back bigger than ever. That never happened, but with Exetel he clearly found a business he was equally as passionate about. RIP John.
UPDATE: Linton's business partner Steve Waddington posted on his blog:
I have worked with John for the last 16 years, at four different companies, and been his business partner for the last eight years.
We started Exetel with the objective of creating a 'perfect company'. We faced many challenges, some that would have undoubtedly overwhelmed anyone with less indomitable determination than John.
He was the toughest person I think I will ever meet. The most honest person I have ever met, and one of the kindest. But above all he was unique, with the clarity of vision and sharpness of mind that was simply awesome.
He has been my manager, my mentor and my friend.