MARKS OF ESTEEM
History Of The Microcomputer Revolution
IBM had been watching the emerging PC marketplace. By 1980 the
company had made a couple feeble attempts at their own PC products. One was the IBM 5100 computer which was a big desktop
with a tiny screen, and the Datamaster - another future failure. Atari and its early PC line.
IBM’s chairman at the time decided to take a different approach,
and gathered a group of the company’s renegade successful managers - wild ducks in IBM-speak - to start a project code
named the Manhattan project. Its mission was to explore building a PC that the market really wanted, and to try to end the
embarrassment of the world’s largest computer company being beaten out by long haired kids and unknown tiny startup companies,
and to build it in a non-IBM company way. The IBM team approached Microsoft
under pretense of doing a market survey, requesting Microsoft to sign a non-disclosure
agreement which would enable IBM to disavow the meeting ever happened - (Mission Impossible tactics) - and asked Bill Gates
for his opinions on what a PC should have and do. Gates had no problem with IBM’s secrecy, and had many opinions as to
what a PC should be like.
His ideas included using the new Intel 8086 16 bit processor for
better performance, and desiring the computer to have better graphics and several other features not found in the current
generation of PC’s. IBM soon returned with the admission that they were interested in building their own PC and were considering
using many of Gates’ ideas. They asked if Microsoft would be able to write a special version of Basic for this PC project
- they wanted Basic to be in a ROM chip in the computer. Microsoft had already written a version of Basic for Intel for their
new 8086 processor, and readily agreed. This new generation PC would need an operating system, so naturally
Gates told IBM to contact his friend Gary Kildall at Digital Research - who had written CP/M.
Digital Research already had plans to develop a new operating system - CP/M for the 8086 - named CP/M 86.
Herein lies one of the most interesting stories of the microcomputer
revolution. There are many war stories about this incident - including how Kildall deliberately kept IBM waiting while
he flew his private plane - or how he refused to sign IBM’s non-disclosure agreement.
Gary Kildall had his own different story of exactly what happened here also - but the
net result was that IBM wrote him off as a potential partner and returned to Microsoft still looking for an operating system.
Wanting desperately to be part of this new project, Microsoft committed to writing the operating system also - although
they had never written one before.
Fate smiled on Microsoft twice in these proceedings. First, IBM
was somewhat leery of dealing with what they considered a somewhat flakey tiny software company, but it turns out that
in addition to Microsoft’s proven reputation as a viable language vendor, Mary Gates - Bill’s mom - had served on the national
board of United Way with one of the involved IBM senior executives - providing the validating social reference that they were
working with "Mary’s Gates’ boy Bill".
The second fateful event was even more interesting and involves
yet another Washington State connection in the microcomputer revolution.
Microsoft soon realized that they knew nothing about writing an operating
system and began to panic, but someone remembered talking to a Seattle hardware hacker who had already built a prototype
computer using the new Intel 8086 and who had mentioned he was tired of waiting for Digital Research - so he had gone
ahead and written his own operating system for it.
Ironically, this individual - whose name was Tim Patterson
- had previously talked to Microsoft employees and had been very interested in the File Allocation method that Microsoft
Basic used. Patterson worked for a local company named Seattle Computer Products and had indeed written his own operating
system for his prototype 8086-based computer which incorporated a similar File Allocation system for disk management - and
he had named it QDOS - for quick and dirty operating system.
Next week on Raw Bytes we’ll talk about what many have called the
deal of the century, and we’ll learn about what impact IBM’s new PC had on the world.
History of the Microcomputer Revolution
The Historic Background.
The Revolution Begins.
The Washington State Connection.
High School Kid’s Computer Company.
The World’s First Commercially Available PC.
What good is a computer without Software?.
Send in the Clones.
The First Operating System Standard.
Home Brewing and Computers Named Apple.
The Killer Application.
The Deal of The Century.
A Walk in the PARC.
Send in the Clones again - Freud would have said GUI-Envy.
The PC Industry at Age 11 in 1986.
Will the Circle Be Unbroken?.