Landmark Computer Labs: Past, Present, Future
Who we are
Landmark Computer Laboratories, Inc. is an independent computer consulting firm and personal computer systems integrator in Alexandria, Virginia.
What we do
Landmark's fundamental mission is to support users of personal computers. To this end we offer a variety of products and services:
We consult on personal computers . . .
. . . with corporate, academic, government, business, and individual users of personal computers.
We consult on the Internet . . .
- Web site development and maintenance
- Web marketing
- Web publishing
We research and evaluate PC technologies . . .
. . . to help clients determine which ones can best meet their needs.
We assess and rate hardware, software, systems, and vendors.
We assist clients in making computer-related purchases.
We develop and advise on training and computer literacy materials:
- Custom-tailored personal instruction and group training
- Regularly scheduled adult education classes
- Ongoing development and presentation of classes, seminars and workshops
- Preparation of training materials
- Computer-aided instruction
We build, customize, install, maintain, repair, and upgrade personal computers.
We sell, lease, and rent systems.
We connect PC users with . . .
- Software solutions, including open source and other free programs
- Cost-effective computer accessories, including backup systems, printers, scanners, and monitors
- Newly minted or greatly improved technologies that make the personal computer more useful, more effective, more efficient
We provide ongoing support for computer users with . . .
- Support contracts
- Telephone hotline
- On-site visits
- Our Web sites
Who we serve -- and where
Though our clients are a diverse lot, they generally cluster into a few distinct categories:
- Small businesses, entrepreneurs and other self-motivated individuals
- Educational institutions
- Organizations and advocacy group
- Home computer users
- Disabled individuals
We have sold Landmark systems to clients in 25 states, Brazil, Canada, England, and Mexico. Though we sell computers and services nationally, we concentrate on serving the Washington, DC metropolitan area.
How we got here
Landmark Computer Labs began in 1979 as a consulting and training firm specializing in microcomputer-related issues. That year Bud Stolker, Landmark's founder, began teaching several adult education classes on personal computers through Open University of Washington, DC. The ongoing series soon grew to six titles that ran in rotating sequence for several years. Bud wrote all the software in BASIC, first on Oric, his Vector Graphic Z80 system, which had speech output and speech recognition, then later on an Atari 800.
By the early 1980s Bud was developing and presenting national lecture tours for industry leaders and educators interested in the growth of the PC phenomenon. He traveled with an Atari 800 and lectured with joystick in hand. His custom-written interactive lecture software gave many audiences their first look at how a color computer could be used to illustrate and enhance a presentation.
Bud also prototyped concept computers, notably a kitchen computer for a major national appliance manufacturer. Featured in a "Kitchen of the Future" display, the Landmark Concept Computer offered customized meal menus, inventory control via a light pen reading product bar codes, and a simple but durable touch-screen interface.
Also in the early 1980s, Landmark was consulting with clients purchasing their first personal computers. At that time the choices were limited: the 6502-based Apple, Atari, and Commodore, or, for serious (read "black and white") computing, anything running CP/M.
Landmark Labs began selling personal computers and supporting PC users in 1981, when floppy disk drives were expensive options and laptop computers had 8K of memory. We consulted on business computers too, focusing first on CP/M computer and later on DOS-based systems.
We authored a revolutionary operating system concept in the mid-1980s for a major national publisher who seriously intended to dominate the PC software industry. Bud first prototyped the program on his Atari. The concept team then developed software samples on several different hardware platforms including Apple II, Commodore 64, and IBM. The intent was to capture market share by providing programs with a consisten look and feel that would run on any popular brand of computer with standard built-in graphics. The concept was similar to Microsoft's Windows, but more graphical, more object-oriented, and more intuitive. (After $4 millions spent in development, the parent company dumped that project and two others focusing on electronic media. They could not see a clear winner in the hardware arena and were afraid to gamble any more company funds.)
By 1985 DOS and the IBM PC standard had become pervasive. Clients were asking us to provide hardware and software as well as training and support services. Landmark labs built several XT clones for members of the local North Start Computer Users Group. Those computers were so well-received that we introduced our first IBM-compatible computer, a Turbo XT model with 20 Mb. hard disk. Landmark's "Smart Computer" was a low-cost, high-quality product with software, training, personalized user guide and open-ended technical support. It sold well. Several of those original systems lasted ten years and more, with significant upgrades as technology progressed.
Our PC systems grew with the times. As the world shifted to Turbo ATs, then to models based on the Intel 80386 chip, so did Landmark. Always our systems had some technical edge: higher speed, more memory or disk capacity. And always we offered free technical support and bundled software customized to each user's needs and interests.
For several years our PC sales were strong, but by the early 1990s the PC landscape had changed. Clones shops had proliferated to the point where there were hundreds in the Washington, DC area. Appliance and department stores had begun carrying computers, only to be challenged in turn by the superstores. First came Micro Center, then CompUSA and Computer City. They in turn were challenged by Best Buy, Circuit City, and Fry's. They came, and for the most part they're gone. Micro Center remains the only superstore in the DC area that still focuses exclusively on personal computers.
Landmark continued to sell computers, even as our profits--and everyone's--were squeezed. We still sell them, but our focus is far different from that of the early years. Now we provide personal computers as part of a package of services--typically a network or a group of similar systems (school computer labs, for example) with support included. These systems differ from consumer-grade computers in the level of service and support we provide.
Of course we still sell individual systems on request, generally (but not exclusively) to clients who like our style and who appreciate the added value we furnish with each computer.
In April 1995 Landmark opened our first Web site. It grew from a simple one-page display to dozens of pages. Over time it grew stale as business grew and we had less time to devote to Web activities. Now we're back with a contemporary Web site, both simpler and more sophisticated, using up-to-date tools and still learning as we go.
What we're proud of . . .
Since 1981 we've built around 2000 systems. With proper maintenance and cost-effective upgrades, they often last ten years or more.
Our firm has survived for forty years with philosophy and drive intact. We've learned how to roll with the punches, continually changing and growing to meet the challenges of a competitive industry and an eager clientele.
We've survived COVID-19 without having to resort to pandemic relief funding. As of this writing the Lab is still closed to clients. We offer support via remote access. When we need to have hands-on a computer, we meet clients in our parking lot, offering drive-through dropoffs and pickups. We do offer site visits for clients who are fully vaccinated.
We're proudest of the loyal base of clients we've built. Many stay in touch, coming back for more service, training, support, equipment, and system upgrades. Many send their friends and colleagues to Landmark. We must be doing something right.
What we believe . . .
We believe our clients are intelligent and appreciate being dealt with as such. No bogus claims, no stiff-armed sales pitches, no phony excuses when things go wrong.
We believe in providing services to clients, rather than commodities to customers. Client service is the cornerstone of our organization, and we commit ourselves to it every day.
We believe in adding value to all our products and services, realizing that there's always someone out there with a cheaper price.
We believe a service-based business that grows and changes with its clients will survive and thrive in the long term.
Where we're going
For forty years, the constant factor in the personal computer business has been change. The PC has transformed itself from hacker's hobby to mainstream necessity. We have survived by diversifying our products and services. Landmark will continue to evolve as the PC industry grows and changes.
Computer manufacturers, clone shops, and superstores far larger than Landmark have come and gone. Yet we are still here, still in the same business: helping people use computer power in interesting and cost-effective ways. Despite all the changes, we're always here for our clients, proof that in a room full of elephants, there's always a place for a nimble mouse.
Landmark's corporate goals are to . . .
- Promote next-level computer literacy: a degree of comfort with personal computing that goes beyond operating systems to focus on personal development, computer security, and "second brain" applications.
- Develop non-linear instructional materials to promote adult computer literacy.
- Develop video technologies that will enable small businesses and influencers to easily and inexpensively reach their target markets and audiences.
We will continue to broaden our business base with new products and services.
We intend to be a primary provider of services to personal computer users in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.