The Man who could have been Bill Gates-Gary Kildall
Gary Arlen Kildall was a pioneer of personal computer software. All of the products above would not have been possible without the valiant and brilliant work of the founder of Digital Research, the late Dr. Gary A. Kildall.
He wrote programming language tools, including assemblers (Intel 4004), interpreters (BASIC), and compilers (PL/M). Gary created the first Operating System for the microprocessor, CP/M. He and his wife, Dorothy McEwen, started a successful company called Digital Research to develop and market CP/M, which for years was the dominant operating system for personal microcomputers.
Gary Kildall was born and grew up in Seattle, Washington, where his family operated a seafaring school. His father, Joseph Kildall, was a captain of Norwegian heritage. His mother Emma was half-Swedish. Gary joined the University Of Washington wanting to become a mathematics teacher, but became interested in computer technology. After receiving his degree, he fulfilled a draft obligation to the United States Navy by teaching at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. Kildall briefly returned to UW and finished his doctorate in computer science in 1972, then resumed teaching at NPS.
He published a paper that introduced the theory of data-flow analysis, and he continued to experiment with microcomputers and the emerging technology of floppy disks. Intel lent him systems using the 8008 and 8080 processors, and in 1973, he developed the first high-level programming language for microprocessors, called PL/M. He created CP/M the same year to enable the 8080 to control a floppy drive, combining for the first time all the essential components of a computer at the microcomputer scale. Gary regarded computers as learning tools rather than profit machines. By 1981, at the peak of its popularity, CP/M ran on 3,000 different computer models and DRI had $5.4 million in yearly revenues. For the next 20 years, Gary continued inventing and breaking ground on new technologies, such as the first commercially available CD-ROM.
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. Microsoft provided programming languages for 8-bit machines, while the most-widespread operating system CP/M came from Digital Research. The two companies had a silent agreement on not looting the other one’s market. But Microsoft had licensed CP/M for a very successful hardware product at that time, the so called SoftCard for the Apple II. SoftCard contained a Zilog Z80 processor, and allowed Apple II owners to run CP/M and CP/M applications. IBM, woken by Apple’s microcomputer success with the Apple II, approached Microsoft in search of an operating system and programming languages for their “Project Chess” = “Acorn” = “IBM PC” machine. The legend goes that IBM’s decision makers mistakenly thought CP/M originated from Microsoft. Anyway, Bill Gates told IBM they would have to talk to Digital Research, and even organized an appointment with Digital Research CEO Gary Kildall.
So the next day some IBM representatives, including IBM veteran Jack Sam’s, flew from Microsoft’s office in Seattle to Pacific Grove, California, where Digital Research was located. When they arrived, Kildall was not present because Kildall had already another meeting scheduled and was visiting important customers, and flew his own plane to get there. Kildall’s wife Dorothy McEwen and her lawyer fatally miscalculated the situation in the meantime and declined to sign IBM’s nondisclosure agreement, so IBM left with empty hands. Microsoft seized this opportunity to supply the OS in addition to other software for the new IBM PC.
When the IBM PC arrived in late 1981, it came with PC-DOS, which was developed from 86-DOS, which Microsoft acquired for this purpose. By mid-1982, it was marketed as MS-DOS for use in hardware compatible non-IBM computers. This one decision resulted in Microsoft becoming the leading name in computer software. Another story says that Kendall was uneasy about the nondisclosure agreement with IBM and refused it.
When IBM returned to Microsoft still looking for an operating system, Gates would not neglect that opportunity. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen knew of a 16-bit CP/M clone named “Quick and Dirty Operating System” (QDOS), written by Tim Paterson. Paterson had grown tired of waiting for CP/M-8086, so he had decided to build one on his own. In a matchless deal, Microsoft purchased QDOS for a mere USD 50,000, and transformed it into PC DOS 1.0. IBM had unexclusively licensed DOS, which opened doors for Microsoft to sell MS DOS to every PC clone maker that would come along.
Kildall disliked the success of Gates and Microsoft, and went back to IBM and negotiated a deal to offer CP/M on IBM PCs. However, Kildall negotiated a very high license fee, much higher than that of MS-DOS, meaning IBM had to charge $240 per copy of CP/M rather than the $40 per copy it charged for PC-DOS. But this deal never took off mainly because of pricing reasons. After this deal Microsoft again become a leading name in computer software. Digital Research (and later its successor Caldera Systems) accused Microsoft of announcing vaporware versions of MS-DOS to suppress sales of DR-DOS.
Microsoft refused to support DR-DOS in Windows; in one beta release of Windows, Microsoft included code that detected DR-DOS and displayed a warning message. Digital Research’s successor Caldera Systems raised these disputes in a 1996 lawsuit, but the case was settled without a trial. As a condition of the settlement Microsoft paid Caldera $150 million and Caldera destroyed all documents it had produced in connection with the case. So kildall had lost two major deals with IBM.