Microsoft Innovation – Part One

I’ve been around for a long time now. Not as long as some, Stallman for instance predates me by a good bit. But I’ve been around long enough to know a lot about Microsoft, that many people don’t know, even though it is public. Microsoft would rather that most of this was forgotten. It’s a history of Innovation. Innovation by other companies, which was then copied by Microsoft. Since in many cases Microsoft’s competitors no longer exist, due to Microsoft’s predatory monopolistic practices, and Microsoft appears to be the only vendor, many people think that Microsoft invented these ideas. They didn’t.

Let’s go back to the start. What were Bill Gates and Paul Allen doing? Running a company called Traf-O-Data, writing traffic system control programs. Was it the first? No. No innovation here.

What was there next project? Writing a Basic implementation for the IMSAI computer. This was the first time that they used Micro-Soft as the business name. The Basic Programming Language was designed by John George Kemeny and Thomas Eugene Kurtz at Dartmouth University, New Hampshire, USA. Microsoft didn’t invent Basic. They didn’t invent porting either. Their success at IMSAI helped them win more business from the computer manufacturers springing up at the time, and they ported their Basic to several other operating systems, including CP/M, and gained a bit of a reputation as company that could supply computer language implementations. They supplied several Basic implementations to Commodore and Apple for example. I have fond memories of Basic V2.0, which came with the Commodore C64 computer. I had no problem using my knowledge of Basic from an IBM mainframe to program the C64. Yes, it was limited. But it worked pretty well.

The companies next major shift came with DOS1.0. There are a variety of stories on the internet as to how they got this contract, and several as to how they got the source code. Due to Microsoft’s tendency to ask that all settlements be sealed, no one now knows the truth as to what happened. And those who’ve gone on record, stating one position or another, may not be telling us the truth. That after all is one reason to seal court documents, to hide the truth and there were purportedly several lawsuits.

The most likely variation that I’ve heard is that Bill Gate’s mother was serving on a board with an IBM executive, and told him some of what Microsoft was doing, and pushed him to use Microsoft as a supplier. When the IBM-PC was in design, IBM decided to buy an Operating System, rather than developing their own, and talked to Intergalactic Digital Research and Microsoft. Microsoft got the sale, even though they didn’t have a product of their own at the time (this was apparently hidden from IBM). Microsoft bought a product called Q-DOS from Seattle Computer Products, made some modifications, and sold it to IBM. Q-DOS was a CP/M clone, which may or may not have contained CP/M source code (there are stories…). IBM as a backup also planned to offer CP/M as an option on the new computers.

Again, no innovation here. Not even in selling something you don’t own, smart traders have done this for years. It cuts down on the inventory requirements!

To be continued…

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