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The Legend Goes Like This: One fateful day in the summer of 1980, three buttoned-down IBMers called on a band of hippie programmers at Digital Research Inc. (DRI) located in Pacific Grove, Calif. They hoped to discuss licensing DRI’s industry-leading operating system, Control Program for Microcomputers (CP/M). Instead, DRI founder Gary Kildall blew off International Business Machine (IBM) to gallivant around in his airplane and the frustrated IBMers turned to Gates for their operating system.
This anecdote has been told so often that techies need only be reminded of “the day Gary Kildall went flying” to recall the rest. Gates offered to provide IBM an operating system too, even though he didn’t have one at the time. This required a hasty purchase. While he’s revered for his technical innovations, many believe Kildall made one of the biggest mistakes in the history of commerce. The saga of the computing industry is rich with outsize characters and surprising plot turns, but there’s one story that has risen over time to mythic proportions. It’s the tale of how software pioneer Gary Kildall missed out on the opportunity to supply IBM with the operating system for its first PC-essentially handing the chance of a lifetime and control of tech’s future, to rival Bill Gates and Microsoft Corp. (MSFT). In the process, he may have missed out on becoming the world’s richest man. The Book: They Made America by Harold Evans, is certain to elicit cries of protest.
That’s because it attacks the reputations of some of the key players of the early PC era-Gates, IBM and Tim Paterson (born 1956). “The Father of DOS”, an American computer programmer, the Seattle programmer who wrote an operating system, QDOS, based partly on CP/M that became Microsoft’s DOS. Paterson squirms, for instance, at the implication that he’s fixated on his authorship of DOS. He holds a profile in Forbes, contrived as a first-person account. “I was 24 when I wrote DOS,” it begins. “It’s an accomplishment that probably can’t be repeated by anyone ever.” Evans asserts that Paterson copied parts of CP/M and that IBM tricked Kildall, because Gates rather than the more innovative Kildall prevailed, according to the book, the world’s PC users endured more than a decade of crashes with incalculable economic cost in lost data and lost opportunities.
David G. Lefer, one of Evans’ two collaborators, says: “We’re trying to set the record straight. Gates didn’t invent the PC operating system and any history that says he did is wrong.” There’s no doubt that Gary Kildall an American computer scientist and microcomputer entrepreneur was one of the pioneers of the industry. He invented the first operating system for microcomputers in the early 1970s, making it possible for hobbyists and companies to build the first personal computers. Legalities aside, Microsoft’s original DOS was based in part on Kildall’s CP/M. His insight was, that by creating an operating system separate from the hardware, applications could run on computers that were made by different manufacturers. On July 8, 1994, Gary Kildall (May 19,1942-July 1994) fell at a Monterey, CA. biker bar during a biker brawl and hit his head. The exact circumstances of his death and injury remain unclear; Kildall’s colleagues recall him as creative, easygoing and adventurous.
Kildall preferred to leave the IBM affair in the past and to be known for his work before and afterward, he continually faced comparisons between himself and Bill Gates as well as fading memories of his contributions. In addition to flying, he loved sports cars, auto racing, boating and he had a lifelong love of the sea. Although his career in computing spanned more than two decades, he is mainly remembered in connection with IBM’s unsuccessful attempt in 1980 to license CP/M for the IBM PC. Gates bought Tim Paterson’s program, called QDOS, for approx. $75,000, renamed it DOS, improved it and licensed it to IBM for a low per-copy royalty fee. The rest is history. (Bill Gates Net Worth:$53 Billion: 2010).
Paterson passed in and out of Microsoft during the 80’s, but returned for good in 1990. Paterson has patents and industry awards to his professional credit (including the Stewart Alsop Hindsight Award in 1991, recognized along with Bill Gates). He’s now retired, but the prominent “First Place” trophies and clippings on the wall of his Building 2 office come from the world of off-road racing, in which he bangs a four-wheel drive Mazda around gravel back roads throughout the Northwest. “I’m still having lots of fun,” he said.
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