Was Microsoft built on stolen goods? - Embedded.com

Was Microsoft built on stolen goods?

Prior to the launch of the first IBM PC in August 1981, Microsoft had already established itself as the largest producer of computer language compilers and interpreters for the personal computer market. Starting with Microsoft BASIC (which first appeared as Altair BASIC in 1975), the folks at Microsoft quickly branched out into other languages like Microsoft FORTRAN and Microsoft COBOL.

Meanwhile, by the late 1970s, the leading vendor of operating systems for personal computers was Digital Research Inc. (DRI) with its CP/M (Control Program for Microcomputers). In 1980, IBM decided to use MS-DOS from Microsoft as the operating system for its PCs, as opposed to CP/M from Digital Research, and controversy has reigned ever since.

I don't want to go too much into the details here. Suffice it to say that Bill Gates originally advised IBM to talk to DRI. However, when the folks from IBM arrived, DRI's CEO, Gary Kildall, was “missing in action.” IBM eventually told Bill they wanted him to supply the operating system, so Bill went to Seattle Computer Products (SCP), where — over a four-month period in early 1980 — twenty-four-year-old Tim Paterson had written QDOS (for Quick and Dirty Operating System). Microsoft bought the rights to QDOS, which subsequently evolved into MS-DOS. (If you wish to know more, a great book replete with nitty-gritty tidbits of trivia and nuggets of knowledge is Gates: How Microsoft's Mogul Reinvented an Industry — and Made Himself the Richest Man in America by Stephen Manes and Paul Andrews.)

Ever since that time, there have been rumors that Microsoft essentially copied CP/M and that the credit, and the money, should really have gone to Gary Kildall and DRI. But how can this be proved one way or the other?


Was QDOS copied from CP/M? (Source: Max Maxfield)

Well, my chum Bob Zeidman is famous in the field of software forensics. In fact, it's fair to say he “wrote the book,” by which I am of course referring to The Software IP Detective's Handbook: Measurement, Comparison, and Infringement Detection. Did you see the 2010 biographical drama film The Social Network about the founding of Facebook? In one scene, the Mark Zuckerberg character holds up a sheaf of paper and tells the Winklevoss twins “I did not steal your code.” In real life, that sheaf of paper was Bob's report. (Bob was also an expert witness in the Texas Instruments vs Samsung Electronics case that resulted in an award of over $1 billion to his client.)


Bob Zeidman (Source: Carrie Zeidman)

As an aside, there's a funny story here. The reason Mark Zuckerberg's lawyer came to Bob in the first place is that Bob had created a suite of tools for analyzing software (both source code and binary executables) to detect copyright infringement. Bob was instructed to examine every scrap of code he could lay his hands on. At that time, this was the largest software forensics task with which Bob had been faced. The only problem was that he'd never heard of Facebook. That evening, when he returned home, he said to his wife, Carrie, “I only hope this company has enough money to pay me for my time.”

But we digress… The reason I'm waffling on about all of this here is that Microsoft recently donated the previously unavailable source code for MS-DOS to the Computer History Museum in California. Furthermore, a more complete version of the CP/M source code has been uncovered.

Using these newly available sources, Bob has performed an in-depth analysis. On Saturday, August 6, at the Vintage Computer Festival at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, Bob will first present the history of Gary Kildall and Bill Gates, of DRI and Microsoft, and of CP/M and MS-DOS. At this time, Bob will also announce his new findings regarding whether or not Microsoft copied CP/M to create MS-DOS.

  • What: Was Microsoft built from stolen goods? A forensic analysis of DOS and CP/M.
  • Who: Bob Zeidman, Software Forensic Scientist.
  • When: Saturday, August 6, 2016 at 10:00 a.m. Pacific Time.
  • Where: Vintage Computer Festival, Computer History Museum, 1401 N. Shoreline Blvd., Mountain View, CA 94043.
  • Tickets: Available at the door or online.

I just got off the phone with Bob (said Max, smugly). My hair is currently standing on end and I have shivers going up and down my spine (said Max, tantalizingly). I can’t tell you what Bob said (said Max, frustratingly). What I can tell you is that, if you live anywhere in the vicinity of Mountain View, California, I know where you should be headed on the morning of Saturday, August 6, 2016 (said Max, knowingly).

18 thoughts on “Was Microsoft built on stolen goods?

  1. “I actually used PC-DOS version 1. I did some consulting for a guy on his very early model IBM PC. It had two 160K floppy drives. If I'm remembering correctly, it had 64K (no zero in there) RAM.nnI certainly don't have any insight into the source code, b

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  2. “I think that a lot of people get confused between the command line user interface (UI) and the underlying code. The QDOS/MS-DOS UI was certainly very similar to the CP/M UI — although some things like copying a file from one floppy disk to another was

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  3. “It's really tempting to head down there. Sometimes flights are pretty cheap between here and there – or I could take a 12 hour road trip…”

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  4. “I'll be at the beach with my family — but I really wish you would go and write a blog for us telling us all about it (this is a very contentious issue and I expect a fairly “robust” response to Bob's announcement) … TAKE PICTURES!!!”

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  5. “I actually acquired a copy of CP/M with the intention of building my own computer. One of the problems in those days was there was no standard format for floppy disk drives. It shipped on 8” single side single density floppies in some IBM format. I neve

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  6. “CP/M kept the VTOC in RAM and required reloading if if you changed disks. I don't know about all versions, but 2.X would reload it with some non-remembered control key combo.”

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  7. “If MY memory serves, it was Ctrl-C – and one became very adept at remembering to do it. You know, I always thought CP/M and MS-DOS were similar. Both were operating systems, both ran on processors, needed RAM, supported FDD's. Hmmm… coincidence?”

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  8. “I seem to remember a “DOS Uncovered” (I could be misremembering the title) book from around 1990 that covered the same topic–some self-modifying code obfuscation that seemed suspicious, IIRC…”

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  9. “I'll be giving a history of events in my talk and answering many of these questions. And I'll take questions from the audience afterwards. Plus, I expect that we'll have some of the early DRI people at the event to contribute their memories of what happen

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  10. “As far as I remember, the CP/M was far better than the early DOS, at least it was able to run four different programs concurrently, whereas the DOS was only able to run one at the time, basically. I started with DOS 3-something in 1988 and stumple upon a

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  11. “Are we now expecting different results from those in 2012?nhttp://spectrum.ieee.org/computing/software/did-bill-gates-steal-the-heart-of-dosufeff”

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  12. “This is a little bit of bogus trolling. CP/M (DRI) “invented” the software routine dispatcher and DOS vary closely mimicked CP/M with many of the same interrupt numbers for the same function.nnIn patent law “if it looks or sounds the same, it is t

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  13. “Yes. Quite probably if you read the Editors note at the top of the article you reference n”Editoru2019s Note: Upon publication, this article failed to properly disclose the connection between its author, Bob Zeidman, and Microsoft Corp., a key subject

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