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The small city of Ivrea sits cradled in the foothills of the Italian Alps, 30 miles south of the Swiss border. An 18th-century bridge over the Dora Baltea river leads to a quaint historic downtown of cobbled streets and pastel-colored buildings. But in the 1970s, Ivrea was Italy’s answer to Silicon Valley. It was the hometown of Olivetti, an icon of postwar European design, electronics, and manufacturing. The company’s most famous devices—its portable typewriters—were the Apple products of their day, technological fetish objects that were coveted around the world. In the early days of the computer industry, Olivetti was one of the few European contenders for market dominance; in 1965, it released the world’s first device marketed commercially as a “desktop computer.”
The young Gianroberto Casaleggio was one of Olivetti’s software designers. A local with a long mane of frizzy hair, he had studied physics in college before dropping out and turning to computers. He ended up in a small office on a quiet lane developing Olivetti’s operating systems. Enrica Zublena, an engineer who worked next to Casaleggio for many years, remembers their early days at the company as an exciting time. “We thought we could become a reference point for the evolution of basic IT around the world,” Zublena says.
Olivetti - Place - Ways - Anyone - Prone
Olivetti was a heady place to work in other ways as well, especially for anyone prone to utopian thinking. Adriano Olivetti, the late owner and general manager of the firm, had run his company as a kind of philosopher-CEO. He built futuristic factories and living complexes for his workers in Ivrea and advocated a “third way” between right and left sociopolitical thinking; he started his own political movement—a fusion of liberalism, socialism, and local self-determinism—which took him all the way to Parliament. He also wrote books expounding on his views. In...
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