Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Gary Kildall

Gary Kildall died in 1994. He died an unhappy man, forgotten by the industry he helped to spawn and if remembered, remembered as part of a joke. In 1980, IBMers working on the first PC in secret, approached Bill Gates, looking for an O/S. Gates had nothing to offer, so he referred IBM to Kildall of Digital Research, who had the CP/M O/S. There the story gets murky. The popular story, and joke, says that Kildall brushed off IBM to go flying in his plane. IBM says they couldn't reach a nondisclosure agreement with Digital Research, while Kildall says he had reached an oral agreement with IBM. Regardless, the fact is, 6-days later, IBM approached Gates to build the O/S for their new PC. Gates in turn went to Tim Paterson, a Seattle programmer, and purchased QDOS for $50,000, which he made changes to, renamed to DOS and licensed to IBM. It's generally recognized that QDOS borrowed liberally from CP/M. When Kildall approached Gates, a good friend then, about the fact that Gates was ripping off Kildall, they argued, and never came to an agreement. IBM and Kildall eventually reached an agreement in which Kildall wouldn't sue IBM, and IBM would start selling CP/M along with DOS. A combination of higher license fees for CP/M and IBM probably wanting to deal just with Gates, resulted in IBM offering CP/M for $240, while DOS went for $40. And the rest, as the story goes, is history. Gates went on to become the richest man on Earth, and Kildall faded to obscurity. The final slap in the face to Kildall came in 1992 when he was invited to the University of Washington, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their computer science program. Kildall was a distinguished graduate from the school, earning his PhD there. The school invited Gates, a Harvard dropout, to be their keynote speaker. BusinessWeek has a sad article about Kildall -- a sort of review for Harold Evans' They Made America, which profiles 70 American innovators. PBS will be running a series inspired by the book, starting November 8th.


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