What does this story make you think about? What characteristics can you recognize in both Bill and Gary? What would you have done differently?

Bill Gates won, Gary Kildall lost. In the accepted version of
history, Bill Kildall blew off a meeting with IBM representatives
to go flying, thus losing the opportunity to sell his operating
system to IBM for use on the hugely successful IBM personal
computer. But Kildall’s own words, in a never published memoir
written shortly before his death in 1994, detail a slightly more
complicated tale. Like Bill Gates, Kildall was raised in the
Seattle area, and like Gates Kildall had a passion for computers.
Their paths even crossed when Gates, a high school student, and
Kildall, a college student, both worked on the same computer
system. Kildall joined the Navy and became a Computer Science
instructor at the Navy’s Post-Graduate School in Monterey,
California. Kildall and his students wrote a small control program,
which he called CP/M (Control Program/Microcomputer) that allowed
the microprocessor to communicate with a floppy drive. After his
discharge from the Navy, he started Digital Research to market his
program. The beauty of CP/M’s operating system was that it was
separate from the hardware, allowing applications to run on
computers from different manufacturers. His operating system soon
dominated the market. It found its way onto computers manufactured
by Apple, Radio Shack, Commodore, Zenith, Sharp, and almost a
hundred other manufacturers. But Kildall was slow to write an
updated version of his OS for the newer 16-bit microchips. Tim
Paterson of Seattle Computer Products took parts of CP/M and
rewrote the program for the newer processors. Paterson called his
system QDOS (Quick and Dirty Operating System.) What happened next
is unclear. What is known is that IBM approached Digital Research
about licensing CP/M for use on the soon-to-be-introduced IBM PC.
The widely believed story is that Kildall blew off the meeting to
fly his plane, leaving Dorothy McEwing, the company’s business
manager (and Kildall’s wife) to meet with the IBMers. Supposedly,
McEwing balked at signing the IBM non-disclosure agreement and
refused to make any modifications to CP/M. The IBM staffers left,
looking elsewhere for an operating system. Kildall remembered it
differently. He did take his plane out that morning, but returned
in time for the meeting. (A Digital Research colleague Tim
Rollander was on the plane with Kildall and insists they returned
and attended the meeting.) Kildall stated that he and IBM reached a
handshake agreement that day. Insiders at IBM believe no deal was
made. IBM then approached Bill Gates to see if he could provide the
operating system. Gates did not have an appropriate program, but he
knew Tim Paterson had created QDOS based on CP/M. Gates bought the
program from Paterson for $50,000, renamed it PC-DOS, and licensed
it to IBM for a low royalty rate. Kildall and Digital Research
never recovered. Within a few years, the IBM PC was the undisputed
champ, and Microsoft was the leading provider of operating systems.
Kildall introduced a DOS compatible version of CP/M in 1989 but
claimed that Microsoft’s marketing tactics shut him out of the
market. He remained bitter, believing that Microsoft stole the
market by licensing Paterson’s rewrite of his operating system. He
was 52 when he died in 1994 after falling outside a Monterey
restaurant.
What does this story make you think about? What characteristics
can you recognize in both Bill and Gary? What would you have done
differently?

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