A Bill Gates Product That Would Never Crash


IBM PC-DOS was one of three major operating systems that dominated the personal computer market from about 1981 to 1995. While it is a well-known fact that Bill Gates Microsoft developed this product for IBM in exchange for a one time fee and later on marketed it’s improved version as MS-DOS, what is not known is the intriguing story behind it.

Some, perhaps most, of the IBM decisions about the PC were definitely made on nontechnical grounds. Before deciding on MS-DOS, IBM arranged a meeting with Gary Kildall of Digital Research to consider CP/M. On the day of the meeting, so the story runs, the weather was so good that Gary decided to fly his private plane instead. The IBM managers, perhaps annoyed at being stood up, soon cut a deal with Microsoft instead.

Bill Gates who had bought the rights to Seattle Computer Product’s QDOS, decided to clean it up a little and sold it to IBM as PC-DOS and later spruced it up a little more to sell it as MS-DOS. The rest, as they say, is history. IBM was happy, Intel was happy, and Microsoft was very, very happy. Digital Research was not happy and Seattle Computer Products became successively unhappier over the years as they realized they had pretty much given away the rights to the best-selling computer program ever. They did retain the right to sell MS-DOS if they sold the hardware at the same time, and this was why you used to see copies of MS-DOS available from Seattle Computer Products, improbably bundled with alarmingly useless Intel boards and chips, to fulfill the letter of their contract with Microsoft.

Don’t feel too sorry for Seattle Computer Products, their QDOS was itself extensively based on Gary Kildall’s CP/M and he’d rather be flying. Bill Gates later bought a super-fast Porsche 959 with his cut of the profits. This car cost three-quarters of a million dollars, but problems arose with U.S. Customs on import. The Porsche 959 cannot be driven in the U.S.A. because it has not passed the government-mandated crash-worthiness tests. The car lies unused in a warehouse in Oakland to this day—one Gates product that will definitely never crash.




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