history is hard (was: Microsoft open sources GWBASIC)

Jecel Assumpcao Jr jecel at merlintec.com
Sun May 24 19:16:17 CDT 2020


> To me, the culture clash aspect makes it one of the greatest stories of 
> the time.
> Was Gary not taking the meeting seriously enough to be there on time, and 
> as a consequence, ending up being $80B behind Bill Gates, the stupidest 
> mistake anybody has ever made?
> Or the bravest thing that anybody has ever done to stand up to them and 
> put refusal to be subservient ahead of the money by deciding that the men 
> from IBM did not deserve different treatment than other customers?

The only world I can imagine where Bill wouldn't be orders of magnitude
richer than Gary would be one where they were equal partners in a single
company (with Gary either instead of, or in addition to, Paul Allen).
The difference in their personalities was a far larger factor in the
results than any particular event, though having a single moment be
"pivotal" is better drama.

What I have heard about the "Gary was away flying" story was that he
used his small private plane to travel to business meetings. The airport
was open for instrument traffic (like what the IBM folks were arriving
in) but not for visual traffic (like Gary coming back from his previous
meeting) so there was no way for him not to be late.

Given that Bill Gates had called him to say he was sending some
important people (but he didn't say who) that he should treat well, he
must have been in his office earlier since this was the era of land
lines. He could have then cancelled his previously scheduled meeting to
make sure he would be present for this one even if normally there would
be plenty of time to come back. But he had no clue who was coming. We
know who it was and what it meant but it is not fair for us to pan his
decision based on what he knew.

In any case he did get the contract. When the IBM PC came out Byte
magazine called it the Rosetta Stone of computing:

We know that CP/M86's $240 price made it lose big time against the $60
PC-DOS (prices from memory and could be very wrong) but at that time
there were people betting on a different result. The first network
operating system in Brazil (NetMB), for example, was compatible with
CP/M86. Only in its third version did it add MS-DOS compatibility as by
1985/1986 the OS war was over (and the UCSD system mentioned in the
January 1982 Byte lost by a huge margin to even QNX and others). It is
funny that the DOS-only era was followed by Windows, Linux, BeOS and
eventually even MacOS as options of the PC making the original prophecy
come true.

-- Jecel

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