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back to article RIP Bill Lowe: Father of the IBM PC no longer reading drive C

William (Bill) C. Lowe, the IBM manager who broke through Big Blue's corporate structure to build its first personal computer (and inadvertently made Microsoft the industry's powerhouse) has died at the age of 72 after a heart attack. Lowe joined IBM in 1962 and swiftly rose through the ranks to become lab director at the …

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Anonymous Coward

...no longer reading drive C

The Fatal Blue Screen of Death strikes again...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: ...no longer reading drive C

Blue Screen? Hard Drive?

We had a 40x25 character monochrome green screen with a 360Kb floppy in a rolled-up piece of newspaper.

And you try telling that to the young people of today and they just don't believe you.

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Re: ...no longer reading drive C

Luxury! I had to get up at 3am and go down pit where I had to program via toggle switches. Lumps of coal heated by wires provided 16 storage registers.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: ...no longer reading drive C

We only had drive A and drive B --- and, what's more, they were the same physical drive!

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Re: ...no longer reading drive C

You were lucky! We only had a tape cassette player, oh and our Dad would come home and slice us in two with a bread knife!

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Silver badge

One interesting tidbit from the BBC article:

"Mr Lowe originally suggested using Atari to help IBM gain quick entry to the market, but this idea was rejected." - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-24725678

Imagine how different things would be today if that decision had gone the other way.

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Re: One interesting tidbit from the BBC article:

I've considered all the possibilities and I think: we'd have missed out on Clippy.

Snide remarks aside, respects to Bill Lowe. How many of us can claim to be be so sure in our belief about where the future lies as to overcome the inertia of a company like IBM and shape it ourselves?

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Linux

The hand of fate!!

"Seeing an opportunity, Gates said Microsoft could supply IBM with the operating systems it needed. The only problem was Microsoft didn’t have a working operating system, so it went to Seattle Computer Products, which had just written one called QDOS (Quick and Dirty Operating System), bought it for $50,000 and renamed it MS-DOS"

Are you sure there wasn't an unknown man with a rifle atop Dallas' Grassy Knoll or frustrated former painter named Hitler involved? :)

(Tux--because as IBM found out, there is never a penguin around when you REALLY need one.)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The hand of fate!!

"Tux--because as IBM found out, there is never a penguin around when you REALLY need one."

According to Billy Madison, you just need to drink more.

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Yes, indeed. I have a box containing QDOS 86 on my shelf

And it worked, although Microsoft had to get out quite a few bugs.

An excellent article, BTW. Accurate. RIP Mr Lowe. You changed the world...

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Great story, but one little bit missing. Both Bill Gates parents were lawyers (of one sort or another), and it was them that told Bill and his cronies at the new Microsoft to 'license' the software and not sell it.

The rest is history.

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Re: it was them that told Bill

[citation needed]

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Kelly Smith died of Cancer several years ago

Incidentally, the engineer who produced Tandon Computer's clone BIOS, Kelly Smith, died several years ago from cancer. After Tandon, Kelly worked on the Phoenix BIOS at Phoenix's 'skunk works' in Hawaii. Another sad loss to the industry...

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Anonymous Coward

Obituary?

For something labelled as an obituary, this is sadly mostly devoid of any commentary about the man and instead is more or less a cut-and-paste on how Microsoft got lucky.

Is this really the best you could do?

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Re: Obituary?

Why on earth are you bothering to go AC on a "whinge at a journo" post? I'm sure the reg can work out how you are if they care, and I can't imagine any one else being bothered about your little whine, unless of course there's someone out there wanting to spam people with offers to buy cheese...

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Coat

Re: Obituary?

Sadly, monsewer AC, I have to agree. Unfortunately El Reg has recently become, with the exception of Andrew's articles (Not all - don't get cocky now), just a clickbait aggregator. There's precious little original work.

We understand your need for ad revenue, but please don't take the piss.

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Pint

The man who created a legend

The IBM AT PC is the granddaddy of all modern PCs today. Especially the 2nd generation ones which, had SLOTS! and assignable interrupts and motherboards you could PLUG things into!, basically showed that a PC with built in expansion and modification features was what people wanted.

But man I hated IRQs and modem scripts and COM port swaps and LPT1 & 2 and then flaky ATAPI drivers and dip switches and ini and config, files, but it taught me a lot and eventually, I finally figured it all out.

Godspeed, Mr. Lowe.

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Re: The man who created a legend

"Especially the 2nd generation ones which, had SLOTS!"

Pardon? The 5150 had slots. It also had a PSU that was almost big enough to power the devices(*) in them, and certainly couldn't cope with a hard disk. That had to wait 18 months for the 5160 (PC/XT), which was otherwise much like the 5150.

The original AT (the 5170) came even later.

(*) Devices? What devices? Graphics card ("display adapter", up to two), serial and parallel ports, floppy controller, that sort of stuff. None of it was on the 5150's motherboard, except the keyboard and cassette port connectors.

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Re: The man who created a legend

Yeah I remember those days. I didn't mind too much when they put the serial and comm port on the MB, but when they added the graphics chip I do remember thinking "Great, now I'll have to replace the whole fricking MB if the graphics card goes." For the most part these days the only guys looking for a slot for a graphics card are hardcore gamers and CAD/CAM folks.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I hated IRQs

I still hate them.

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Re: I hated IRQs

Yeah I don't miss them either.

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Re: I hated IRQs

At least when you set an IRQ with a jumper you know it's set.

You don't have all this "can't find port X / can't create port X - already exists " crap you get with 'smart' systems

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I hated IRQs

They haven't gone away, I'm afraid.

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Anonymous Coward

Where Big Blue blew it?

IBM assumed that the PC couldn't be cloned without a license, this because the cloners would have to use IBMs copyrighted BIOS. They didn't figure that a third party would clean-room the BIOS and Columbia Computer Products produced the first independent IBM PC compatible clone. Compaq and the rest soon followed. Microsoft having got IBM to sign a NON-EXCLUSIVE LICENSE was more than happy to sell DOS licenses to them. Subsequently IBM tried-and-failed to claw back control of the IBM-PC industry with OS/2. They hired on Microsoft to write the code, but Gates had them work on Windows NT instead. Subsequently IBM sold their PC business to Lenovo.

"IBM recognizes thet MS will be licensing the MS Product Offering 1.1 to thind parties"

http://edge-op.org/iowa/www.iowaconsumercase.org/011607/0000/PX00004.pdf

"IBM never knew our plan and if they did they shouldnt like it - our old plan (DOS) which is the current financial sucess of the company - sell cheap to IBM and make money from everyone else"

http://edge-op.org/iowa/www.iowaconsumercase.org/011607/0000/PX00135.pdf

"You never sent me a response on what things an app would do that would make it run with MS-DOS and not run with DR-DOS"

http://www.theregister.co.uk/1999/05/03/more_gates_smoking_emails_support/

http://www.courts.state.mn.us/districts/fourth/MicrosoftTrial/Plaintiff/PLEX0874_0001.TIF

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Coat

Re: Where Big Blue blew it?

Choosing Intel was another big mistake.

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Re: Where Big Blue blew it?

Choosing Intel was another big mistake.

They didn't stick to one supplier. You will see lots of 5150's with an AMD CPU, and even NEC. In fact, not sticking with one supplier was a smart move.

PS: Here's a picture of my version of a real PC.

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Pint

Re: Where Big Blue blew it?

You should read the book "Inside Intel", a very interesting and well written book, And 5150 is a Intel processor and AMD is a competitor to Intel with a Intel instruction set.

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Boffin

Re: Where Big Blue blew it?

"Choosing Intel was another big mistake."

In hindsight.

People forget the originalPC was a 16 bit inside the processor, 8 bit outside, so they could use lots of 8 bit I/O chips as COTS parts.

I don't think Zilog had a 16 bitter chip at that time, Western Digital 16 bit follow up to the 6502 did not turn up int he Apple IIGS till 1987 (manual chip design. Uggh).

The best of them was the Motorola 68000 but I don't know if the 68008 (16, or even 32 bits internally, 8 bit bus) was out then or if Motorola was going with the 16 bit bus version only at that time.

If Motorola had an 8 bit version out a)It could not have run CP/M (as only Intel and Zilog processors could and that was a sort of backup plan) b)Software development would have been a very different environment.

Corporate types like having a plan b a lot.

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Re: Where Big Blue blew it?

You should read the book "Inside Intel", a very interesting and well written book, And 5150 is a Intel processor and AMD is a competitor to Intel with a Intel instruction set.

That's probably a fine book, however the 5150 is the model number of the IBM PC. The IBM PC came with mostly Intel CPUs indeed and all three of the motherboards in my own collection have Intel (I just checked), however AMD was a licensed second source for the 8088 processor. IBM would not use components unless they had a second source. There is no denying that there are machines around with AMD processors. A quick Google finds this one.

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Anonymous Coward

Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail?

Alas, this time, someone pressed 'A'. May he rest in peace.

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Re: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail?

Funny that I had already made the same comment before, but my post was deleted by a moderator.

Variable standards?

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Bronze badge

trying make it go more time ...

I have a old magic spell ....

g=c800:5.

Hope that fixed him, if not see u in the archives Mr Lowe ......

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I owe this man a lot, actually I think all of us do. Thank you Mr.Lowe, for everything. RIP.

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The IBM PC was a weird sort of sea change

We had all the computers running around at the time that El Reg has discussed in "This Old Box", and even though the reviews were mostly "meh" they also did say "... but it's IBM" and everybody went batshit about that fact. Even though the Apple was about the same at meeting a business' needs, everybody I knew bought one "because it was an IBM"

The amount of power and reputation that IBM had in computers isn't something you can really get across to folks nowadays.

Godspeed, Mr. Lowe.

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Pint

Re: The IBM PC was a weird sort of sea change

IBM produced a standard and oh, well, I have seen articles claiming that Jobs created the micro computer (PC) and sometimes that Gates created it. IBM was a late comer but the fact that PS's where produced by so many companies made the difference together with Windows, very soon.

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IBM management did not make a mistake. IBM shareholders got shafted and the billions went elsewhere as planned.

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IBM mistake?

Would an IBM only PC really have benefited IBM?

There wouldn't have been a PC software market, and certainly not Windows if IBM had kept it an IBM only product.

It's like claiming that if Mercedes had been the only one building cars all cars today would be MB - in fact there just wouldn't be cars today.

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There are still loads of old IBM pcs out there!

Back in the 80's, I was fixing IBM pc's and learning about MS-Dos....

I guess that's why I'm still fixing them today, in some respect

Recently had a problem with a very old PC, MS-Dos 6.22 I think, could I find any disks to reload it?

and where do you get an antique copy of some spreadsheet s/w (can't remember the name off hand)

But a quick post to freecycle and all the disks magically turned up

Getting it to run on a 'newer' PC was another problem as the IBM P/S2 had completely fried itself.

Godspeed, Mr. Lowe.

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RIP, as we all owe you...

a lot. Just goes to show, We are here because we stand on the shoulders of giants.

Our thoughts are with your family at this troubled time.

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Anonymous Coward

I watched him in this video not long ago.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NBvbsPNBIyk

Both Tramiel and Lowe are now gone along with Jobs (who's not in this video, but his parner Woz is).

Sad to see so many home computer figures gone.

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next ......

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Possibly, an obit is not the place for this

but there is a contradictory story about the rise of PC-DOS. According to the 1996 documentary Triumph of the Nerds, which featured interviews with most of the principals, when Gates was first approached, he told IBM to talk to Scott MacNealy. When that worthy failed to respond, they went back to Gates, who agreed [insert QDOS story here]. However, when presented with the massive IBM contract, he threw it in the trash, preferring his own simpler one that made Microsoft the powerhouse it became. (As I remember, Bill Gates, Sr. is a lawyer...)

I, not having been there, do not know which is true.

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Anonymous Coward

Antitrust

You failed to mention the real reason why the IBM PC design was copied. The results of the anti-trust suits in the USA meant that IBM HAD to make full detailed specs of all their kit available to all comers...

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Re: Antitrust

Yes, but the assumption was that with a) their buying power and b) the copyright of the BIOS no-one could clone it for a) less and b) successfully enough to avoid FUD about it being fully compatible.

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Still living with the problems...

That were introduced with the first 5150 PCs. Of course they were later augmented by the AT's design as well.

These have their roots in IBMs design of the IBM1130 (the same team did both designs). On that machine the interrupts were dedicated and "really strange" (been there, done that!). I'm sure that commentators here could enumerate the flubs, but a few are:

Interrupts

Slot 8 (on the XT)

Using the 8088

Microsoft

8 bit data bus

640k (ought to be enough...)

Keyboard (on the XT/PC). Improved a bit on the AT. Then having weird keycodes for dedicated keys (Insert, Home, Delete, End, PageUp, PageDown, etc.)

Ctrl-Alt-Delete (maybe, maybe not).

(Add yours here)

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Megaphone

Er, hello?

“In the 1970s companies such as Altair, Apple and others…”

Altair was the name of a computer. MITS was the company that made it. Anyone with a passing knowledge of recent computing history will know this. Get it right for God’s sake!

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