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back to article Bill Gates, Harry Evans and the smearing of a computer legend

The roots of Microsoft's success in using a clone of Gary Kildall's CP/M operating system are well-known and supported by a court ruling five years ago. But that hasn't stopped a software consultant from making claims that could smear Kildall and the late computer pioneer's legacy. In an astonishing piece published by the IEEE's …

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Anonymous Coward

Err...

This seems like an attempt to smear Gates as doing the actual ripping off himself. MS acquired an OS from another company, if any ripping off had been done it was by them.

Also, didn't the recent Oracle/Google case say that you couldn't copyright an API, which seems to be what the article is saying was ripped off.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Err...

But Gates DID rip off Seattle Computer Products - which is why a court ordered MS to pay triple the price.

He also ripped off Stacker, but that's another story.

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Anonymous Coward

"With the publication of this article,"

Are you sure it wasn't an advert? It sounds like it.

The high gloss low content monthly rag of the former UK IEE, now calling itself *the* Institute of Engineering and Technology (though you won't find many chemicals civils mechanicals etc in the "IET") is no better, in fact probably worse.

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Re: "With the publication of this article,"

Spectrum used to be worth reading, but over the past few years it has dipped down somewhere below "Scientific American" in the quality of its technical journalism. Advertising disguised as paid-for content is standard fare.

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I am thoroughly confused by it all

To implement a compatible API is definitely not the same as to rip off the actual software. There must be more to it or that judgement is a complete rubbish.

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Re: I am thoroughly confused by it all

I don't see anything wrong with looking at someone elses software and thinking "I can do a better job than that." and then going off and writing a similar piece of software.

If you're not copying the source code, it's not plagiarism. It's simply building a better mousetrap. For example, Dyson built a better vacuum cleaner, even though the concept of a vacuum cleaner had been around for a while.

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Coat

Re: I am thoroughly confused by it all

"I don't see anything wrong with looking at someone elses software and thinking "I can do a better job than that." and then going off and writing a similar piece of software."

Then you clearly aren't a lawyer, sir! Dontchaknow there's plenty of money to be made around patenting such things?!

Protect their... err... innovation... or something

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Joke

Re: I am thoroughly confused by it all

Dyson ripped off Hoover. Look at the interfaces - a 3-pin plug on a wire, and a nozzle. Exactly the same. It ensures that whole towns full of houses remain compatible with the device. Hoover should be taking Dyson for every penny.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I am thoroughly confused by it all

Actually Dyson ripped off the industrial cyclones which are used for various tasks in industry, made it smaller and plastered patents all over it.

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Devil

Re: I am thoroughly confused by it all

"Actually Dyson ripped off the industrial cyclones which are used for various tasks in industry, made it smaller and plastered patents all over it."

That's an inovatative use of an existing process. Totally patentable.

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Re: I am thoroughly confused by it all

It seems to me that the law - which has only recenty come to terms with software patents - hasn't yet got to grips with the effects of object-orientation and information hiding. The whole point of OOP is that the precise coding of a function is hidden and not relevant to other users: only the interface or API matters to use that function. That should make the API a crucial part of the intellectual property of any software system, in addition to the detailed source code. It will take decades (if ever) to explain this to lawyers.

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Re: I am thoroughly confused by it all

Courts have already held that other people are specifically allowed to implement an API that is compatible with yours. It's called fair competition.

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Happy

Re: I am thoroughly confused by it all

I laugh at the idea that Dyson built a better vacuum cleaner.

It sucks muck off the floor just like a Henry.

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@Dick Pountain

"That should make the API a crucial part of the intellectual property of any software system, in addition to the detailed source code."

Spoken like a true IP gangster ;-) Not only you seem to like the idea of software patents but also that of API patents, which is likely to bring any progress in any OS development to complete standstill forever. Shiver me timbers...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I am thoroughly confused by it all

Take a big thing and make it smaller? I don't see that as an innovative use of something which already exists.

For example: I don't think that you can claim that, having seen a mainframe, you can make a desktop sized computer and patent the idea of a desktop sized computer.

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Re: I am thoroughly confused by it all

true enough.

but whatever you do don't add any rounded corners.

i always heard that Kildall didn't want to have anything to do with the 'suits' from ibm, and that was the basis of his not contesting ownership - for what was clearly a funtional copy of his OS. plus that was back in the halcyon days when people were more interested in the tech that monetising it/ (_most_ ppl that is)

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Re: I am thoroughly confused by it all

You've now confused me.

> That should make the API a crucial part of the intellectual property of any software system

The api is the interface.

The code does the work. This is the hard bit. Like a factory. The api is the delivery system round the back. It gets the results/feeds in raw materials. It is the simple bit.

If you propose the api should become intellectual property controlled by some owner then are you suggesting the code that underlies it should be now have its legal protection removed? Or are you saying that both api and source code be protected, in which case what is there now that isn't protected? What effect would that have had on the creation of linux, for example?

I don't think you've thought this through (or I've completely missed your point, perhaps).

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Re: I am thoroughly confused by it all

@Dick: The API a crucial part of the IP? Do you work for Microsoft?

Seriously, you are saying that if a product API implements a GetScreenDimensions() method then nobody else would be able to implement that for compatibility sake in their competing product? Way to miss the point.

The whole point is that the API is the freely copy-able part of any software to enable competition in the market to thrive and it is the underlying implementation of that API that may or may not be the IP but is probably copyrightable. Remove implementation of the API and you utterly stifle competition through compatibility.

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Re: I am thoroughly confused by it all

"Take a big thing and make it smaller? I don't see that as an innovative use of something which already exists."

Carrier was building central air conditioning systems for theaters, hospitals and factories in the 1920s. But the installations were massive.

The industrial refrigerants used lethal when mishandled.

That is why you don't see residential air conditioning in common use until the 1950s.

You can't patent an idea, period.

What you can do is patent a solution to a particular problem. The transistor that replaces electro-mechanical or vacuum tube logic circuits.

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Linux

Re: I am thoroughly confused by it all

Except that in good APIs can also be considered a specification for what happens behind it. Depending on hte level, there's not much scope for "inovation".

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Re: I am thoroughly confused by it all

I believe this is the key bit:

The first 26 system calls of MS-DOS 1.0 are identical to the first 26 system calls of CP/M. A few of the API names, accessed through CP/M's int 21h mechanism, were altered – CP/M's "Sequential Read" became MS-DOS's "Read Sequential" but the order was preserved.

Most people would find it difficult to believe that on a purely random basis you'd wind up with 26 items in the exact same sequence. Slightly altering a name here or there reeks of someone copying a piece of art and carefully altering 7 or 9 minor points in order to claim it as different.

Now, I have no experience writing that sort of hardware level code, so it may be there are good engineering reasons to sequence them in exactly that order. But to a layman it sure looks suspicious. Also I think modern clean room projects to write code that matches APIs wouldn't allow the actual coder to look at even disassembled code from the binary, although I expect those practices have arisen from specific court cases and it was too early in coding history to expect those precautions to have been taken.

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Re: I am thoroughly confused by it all

>The api is the delivery system round the back. It gets the results/feeds in raw materials. It is the simple bit.

Designing a good stable API and underlying data structures is both very difficult to get right, and often restricts the backend coding to a very specific behaviour.

An API shouldn't be "we have some function calls and we made them public", it should be stable, extensible, compatible and decipherable. The sad fact that this is so often overlooked doesn't make it any less important - the same argument is made for documentation.

I think his point is that classic OOP is reduction to absurdity until there is almost nothing left but a bunch of interfaces and some loops - if you could claim that all the function names "were the API" (which is taking things a little far!) then in the OOP world there would be little left but the obvious (which is not patentable because its obvious).

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Re: I am thoroughly confused by it all @Will's

I know how hard designing a good API is, and how important (more important than the code; interfaces persist longer) but it's a different kind of hard from writing good code & I didn't want to confuse the issue.

> almost nothing left but a bunch of interfaces and some loops

The code's there whether you can see it immediately or not, else it wouldn't work. Unless you're supporting my suggestion that apis should be controlled as IP, but that code should perhaps not be? Because it's hardly 'there'?

BTW is that the real dick pountain esteemed-journalist-writing-since-eighties dude cos it seems astonishingly clueless and just a mite troll'y to be him.

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Facepalm

Re: I am thoroughly confused by it all

Just a jump table of pointers to the actual working code - put the corresponding pointer in the correct position. Not much more suspicious as another set of encyclopedias being labeled the same from 'A'-'Z'.

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@Ivan Headache - Re: I am thoroughly confused by it all

Wrote :- "I laugh at the idea that Dyson built a better vacuum cleaner. It sucks muck off the floor just like a Henry."

So do I (laugh I mean). I thought the idea of a vacuum cleaner was so that you did not have to see the dirt any more. With a Dyson you still see it because the dirt container is transparent.

From time to time my wife used to deal with Dyson personally. Unlike his public face, he is a arrogant PoS.

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WTF?

Koch brothers takeover of IEEE?

The IEEE article sounds like the sort of rubbish the Tea Party would issue against the president if he was a coder and they were smart enough to know what an operating system is.

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Re: Koch brothers takeover of IEEE?

Put a sock in it, will you? Leave the feral politics and zealotry at the US border and give the rest of us some peace.

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Re: Koch brothers takeover of IEEE?

You and that damned beeper-selling Turk. Save the "Koch brothers" bullshit for the Exiled, will you?

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FAIL

Re: Koch brothers takeover of IEEE?

Add another layer of foil to keep the evil Koch Brothers rays away. Heavy duty Reynolds Wrap should do the trick.

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Just dropped by the Exiled Online for the first time in a couple years

I'd forgotten quite what scum they are over there! About the only thing good I can find to say about 'em is that, come the bloody mob revolt they so cheerfully encourage, they'll be fed to the rabble by an even more ruthless pack of lying, power-grabbing murderers. Maybe, if I'm very lucky, their turn on the gallows will come before mine does, so I can at least smile and wave from my spot in the neck-stretching line.

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Backfired

I cant believe the IEEE would allow such a smearing and thinly veiled "advert" into its pages. I think it'll backfire in IEEE and Zeidman.

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Re: Backfired

it will really backfire if M$ find out this fuckwit has tacked a fancy-pants search routine on their notepad and is flogging it as his own!

( i make this claim on the basis that i have not examined a byte of either code, but just felt like saying it - cos i suspect it's more or less true, and this guy sounds like the kind of asshole who deserves having some urine extracted)

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Re: Backfired

IEEE Spectrum has become a rag over the past few years. You can almost guarantee that the "cover story" will always be some sensational non-scientific nonsense. I'm not at all surprised that they would print this tripe.

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So who was Zeidman's first customer for CodeSafe, Oracle?

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First client: SCO

...prolly.

Really, it appears that Zeidman has forgotten, or perhaps never knew, how software was developed back then. Big chunks of stuff were written directly in assembler, without there ever being a higher-level language source code. Space was tight. Carrying screeds of comments (i.e. human readable text within the object code) forward would only have happened if exact *copying* had taken place, and nobody ever alleged that, as far as I know.

Using a debugger to 'explore the internals' of the operating system you're cloning isn't a clean room implementation of the API, though.

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Re: First client: SCO

...was "clean-room implementation" a thing back then, even?

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"clean-room implementation"

Compaq did so in creating the BIOS for their PC clone.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: First client: SCO

Not only was a fair amount written in assembler, but the early Intel development systems ran CP/M, that's why it got the foot hold. Remember those 8inch floppies!?

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Re: First client: SCO

> without there ever being a higher-level language source code

The CP/M BDOS was written in PL/M not assembler.

In fact the CP/M project was started when Kildall was contracted to write the PL/M compiler that ran on DEC systems and produced 8085 code. Gary wanted to run the development system on the target machine but Intel weren't interested in doing that, so Gary wound up with the OS he had developed.

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Re: First client: SCO

> Not only was a fair amount written in assembler,

CP/M BDOS and a fair amount of utilities were written in PL/M, not assembler.

> but the early Intel development systems ran CP/M,

Early Intel development systems targeting the 8085 ran on DEC machines. Gary wrote the 8080/8085 PL/M compiler for Intel and it ran on DEC. The CP/M code was compiled on DEC. When MS wrote their BASIC for Altair it was compiled on DEC machines and transferred by paper tape.

It wasn't Intel that wrote the development system that "ran [on] CP/M", it was DRI (and others such as Microsoft). You may also note that there were versions of CP/M that were not on Intel CPUs, eg on Zilog, on 68000.

> that's why it got the foot hold. Remember those 8inch floppies!?

The reason that CP/M was popular was because it could be adapted (via the CP/M BIOS) to a variety of different 8080/Z80 machines with different components and different structures. This allowed small manufacturers to produce a disk based OS cheaply that would run a large amount of common software.

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Pint

Re: First client: SCO

"Carrying screeds of comments (i.e. human readable text within the object code) forward would only have happened if exact *copying* had taken place, and nobody ever alleged that, as far as I know."

Jerry Pournelle certainly did:

"Legend tells us Kildall himself buried a secret message in CP/M and that the message can also be found in MS-DOS.

In 2006, science fiction writer and technology reporter Jerry Pournelle said on “This Week in Tech,” an Internet radio show, that this secret command triggered the display of a copyright notice for DRI and Kildall’s full name. According to Pournelle, Kildall had demonstrated this command to him by typing it into DOS; it produced the notice and thus proved that DOS was copied from CP/M.

This story, circulated for years, has a few problems. First, no one knows the secret command; Pournelle claims he wrote the command down but has never shown it to anyone. In addition, such a message would be easily seen by opening the binary files in a simple text editor unless the message was encrypted. CP/M had to fit on a floppy disk that held only 160 kilobytes; Kildall’s achievement was squeezing an entire operating system into such a small footprint. But it is difficult to imagine he could do this and also squeeze in an undetectable encryption routine. And although we’re now in an era of hackers breaking into heavily secured computers, no one has ever cracked DOS to find this secret command.

But I set out to look for it anyway. I used a utility program developed at SAFE to extract strings of text from binary files. Not only did Kildall’s name not show up in any QDOS or MS-DOS text strings, it did not show up in CP/M either. The term “Digital Research” did appear in copyright notices in the CP/M binary files, but not in MS-DOS or QDOS binary files.

If Jerry Pournelle did indeed see a hidden message revealed by a secret command, it was not in MS-DOS"

http://m.spectrum.ieee.org/computing/software/did-bill-gates-steal-the-heart-of-dos/0

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "clean-room implementation"

Compaq pretty much had to. IBM actually published a full, commented listing of the BIOS in the IBM technical reference manual.

It would be inevitable given the nature of assembly language and the task at hand for sections of code to be identical, so only a documented clean-room implementation would pass muster.

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@Richard Plinston

Thanks for the info.

I came into tech work about the time MS was taking things over, so this bit of history is before me. Nice to hear it from somebody who was there.

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Gimp

Re: First client: SCO

Here's a secret MS DOS command I prepared earlier, complete with source code (sic).

L:\>NOTEPAD SECCMD.bat

@echo Copyrighted 1978 by Digital Reseach Inc. Author Gary Kilman

L:\>seccmd

Copyrighted 1978 by Digital Reseach Inc. Author Gary Kilman

I reckon Gary was just having a little fun with a mildly gullible science fiction writer after a few beers.

And who says legends can't have a sense of humor?

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Re: First client: SCO

Decades ago I wrote an article in a small circulation newsletter. It presented a short TI BASIC program that contained a series of complex equations embedded in a simple loop that ran from 0 to 9; the output from each pass was PRINTed. If anyone was bothered to key in the program and run it, the result was displayed on the screen: APRIL FOOL. No prizes for guessing the publication month.

That text string did not appear anywhere in the code - it was the result of output from the injection of the integers 0 through 9 into a complex polynomial derived from a solution (one of many possible) by infinite integrals. In other words, the ASCII values were generated in sequence from a complex curve.

I can't say what method Gary Kildall used but I can say that it's entirely possible to cloak text without resorting to encryption (even now I'm working on a similar technology for a novel approach to privacy protection).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: First client: SCO

"I reckon Gary was just having a little fun with a mildly gullible science fiction writer after a few beers."

A few more than a few.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: First client: SCO

Surely it would have to an undetectable DEcryption routine? And the message would only need to be 'encrypted' enough to not show up as plain text.

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Windows

Memories of the once cutting edge.

I've not yet seen the Spectrum article, but those of us who were around at the time know very well that MS-DOS and CP/M were very different from each other in coding terms. Moreover, they were sufficiently different at the command line to cause considerable annoyance in organisations that used both.

For example CP/M's copy utility: PIP B:=A:*.COM [VO] versus say COPY A: B: /v

We used Tim Paterson's/Seattle Computing's 16-bit O/S from Lifeboat Associates, SB-86, when CP/M was still only 8-bit. SB-86 was needed for the then 'new' 8086, it was the forerunner of MS-DOS, which was snapped up by Bill G when Garry supposedly went a flying when IBM visited.

All that said, fundamentally, the operational/logical structure of MS-DOS and CP/M are pretty damn similar.

Paterson needed an O/S for his '86/S100 card so he wrote '86-DOS', which was essentially a functional clone but sufficiently different to avoid copyright. It's also said that he deliberately simplified some commands, for example: 'COPY' was simpler to understand than 'PIP' (Peripheral Interchange Program). Nevertheless, I always felt more at home with PIP than with COPY. But then, I suppose that's just me.

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Re: Memories of the once cutting edge.

"PIP B:=A:*.COM [VO] versus say COPY A: B: /v"

RT-11 and systems based on it used both formats simultaneously.

You could use the name of the utility program (i.e. PIP, DUP, DIR etc.) followed the command line in one format or use a mnemonic command with options and then KMON (keyboard monitor) would convert the command into command line for the appropriate specifics, like DIRECTORY/BADBLOCKS DK:

The mnemonic command interpreter was so intelligent in comparison with MS-DOS stupid command.com with 1 error message for every eventuality that it felt as if I'm going back in time when I moved from PDP-11 to IBM PC... Only discovery of NDOS and 4DOS saved me from terminal depression.

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