back to article Stephen Fry rewrites computer history again: This time it's serious

What are we to do with Stephen Fry? Britain's go-to guy for advertisement voice-overs has had another attempt at explaining computing history, in his own unique way. But he's got it wrong, and at the same time sullied the memory of one of the industry's true pioneers. Writing on his blog and at The Daily Telegraph, Fry - …

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Re: he sort of reminds me of a polished Boris

Apologies for the down vote. I kept reading the comment and realised the "[sic]" was correct.

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Re: he sort of reminds me of a polished Boris

Looks like there are plenty of other pedants than me reading to advice that licence is a noun. You know what they say: practise makes perfect.

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Coat

Re: Erm, no

@handle

Erm, yes. I am even older than Fry, and went to a British school where people cared about that sort of thing. We used the OED - A successor of which still allows "licence" as a verb - Oxforddictionaries.com

Note that in British English licence is the correct spelling for the noun, and is also an acceptable variant spelling of the verb. In US English both noun and verb are spelled license.

Pure snobbery of course (like Fry?). We also used spellings liike unionized, so that people could be confused by the chemical or political usage...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Erm, no

Even in English English, the present participle of the verb is licensing, so it seems logical that the preferred verb form would be license.

The Germanic strain in US immigration makes them very prone to interchanging nouns and verbs, so a single spelling for them makes sense. But, as we all know, verbing weirds syntaxing.

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Headmaster

Re: he sort of reminds me of a polished Boris

licence = noun

to license = verb

advice = noun

to advise = verb

Wait ... I have already done this.

Confusion between nouns and verbs is not the only issue a vast number of Americans have with the English language, and some English speaking people as well, sadly.

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Re: Erm, no

verbing weirds syntaxing

Have an upvote, just for the Calvin and Hobbes reference.

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Technology Without An Interesting Name

Didn't Kildall develop the TWAIN protocol that all scanner/camera systems now use for image communication, as well as creating the initial specs for data on CD?

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LDS
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Re: Technology Without An Interesting Name

Are you sure? CD standards were a Philips/Sony joint effort (data CD are the "Yellow Book" standard) - although Kildall was among the firsts to deliver software on CDs.

Nor I ever heard he worked on TWAIN, which is a standard developed by a group of companies interested in image acquisiition and manipulation.

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Anonymous Coward

> Gates insisted that he could licence [sic]

Why the [sic]?

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<pedant>In the UK, nouns and verbs are often differentiated by the letters c and s. Licence is a noun and license is a verb. </pedant>

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Anonymous Coward

Licence is a noun. License is the verb - the spelling he should've used.

A bit like advise & advice etc.

Apologies in advance for my own inevitable grammatical/spelling errors... ;-)

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verb vs noun

In the UK 'license' is the verb ('you license the use of...') and licence is the noun ('you must have a car licence'). Same as defense/defence etc. The USA don't have this usage.

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Headmaster

In British English, "license" is the verb, as correctly used by Fry in his preceding sentence.

He also calls the LHC the "large hardon collider" and uses the US spelling of "archaeology", but who's counting?

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"> Gates insisted that he could licence [sic]

Why the [sic]?"

In British English the verb is license, and the noun is licence.

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Anonymous Coward

Thanks for the explanation chaps. I wasn't aware of the difference.

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If it helps, the LibreOffice spell checker for US English gets it precisely the wrong way around (as of v4.1.4).

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Like almost every other media person Steven Fry has bought into the Jobsian religion, which tells him that he is a "creative" and hence superior to ordinary PC-using schmucks

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Anonymous Coward

"Steven Fry has bought into the Jobsian religion"

Other way round, I think, Apple got some of its allure because media types thought that owning a Mac would somehow make them like Douglas Adams or Stephen Fry. Apple even, in one excruciatingly awful advertising campaign, tried to enlist Einstein to their marketing effort. ("Think different" - yes, dimwits, like not knowing how to form an adverb correctly.)

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It's Stephen Fry, a humorist with a degree in English literature.

He's not a tech-guru, he's not even Wikipedia, and anyone who get their tech-information (or their panties in a twist) from Stephen Fry is barking up the wrong tree. He does light entertainment, and is very good at it.

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Anonymous Coward

Bear in mind Fry has had many opportunities to speak with David Mitchell. Who doesn't appear to have aged at all!

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Paris Hilton

Comedians

Oh I thought he was telling a joke.

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Two stupids don't make a right.

Whilst it is pretty weird that Fry tells us about technology its just as stupid to see stupidity when that stupidity ain't there this time.

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Joke

The BBC's like that isn't it?

Or moreso: British Broadcasting is like that no?

Let's rewrite history and sell the revised form in the Malls in time for next Christmas royalties payouts?

I mean, why bother at all with accuracy and fact

Tsk, don't they just get in the way of a good story?

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Joke

El Reg 28/01 editorial objectives

Bash NSA - Tick

Bash Fry - Tick

Bash Climate Scientists -

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(Written by Reg staff)

Re: El Reg 28/01 editorial objectives

I let this through the net, but only because it made oi larf.

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Re: El Reg 28/01 editorial objectives

I must buy an iphone, then i've checked all the boxes on The Regs shitlist.

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404
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an American...

..who thinks Stephen Fry is a character on 'Futurama' - seems it might as well be the same person to judge by the outrage of El Reg commentards*.

* yeah I'm one too, so deal.

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It's a pity ...

Sometimes the facts purveyed in good faith by enthusiastic amateurs need to be corrected or clarified, and I'm all for that, but does it have to be done in such an unpleasant way?

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Re: It's a pity ...

Unfortunately Fry like to pretend he knows better than informed professionals, so the bile is understandable.

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Anonymous Coward

"Yet again, Stephen Fry's credentials as a technology guru turn out to be tissue thin"

Yet how many iDrones bought shiny shiny on recommendation of his?

In fact most shiny shiny strokers bought one on someone else's worthless opinion.

Doesn't say much about the shiny shiny stroker, does it?

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Byz

how many iDrones bought shiny shiny on recommendation of his?

Not many as he also recommended the Windows phone and not many of them have been bought either ;)

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Devil

Disruptive Technology

As a person who was actulay involved in the industry at that time I have doubts IBM had any real intention of supporting MP/M on the PC (Piece of Crap) .

In the late 70's, before the PC there was the didicated Word Processor. I worked for AES DATA in Mississauga as test enginer kepping the production line humming. I made the first CP/M bios for that system.

Shortly after that I was hired by a startup developing a S100 based system. We had 128K banked memory system workin ( never finished debugging the 256K model )and a 5M hard drive, running MP/M with 4 dumb terminals.

Imaging my amazement when the PC (Piece of Crap) was first introuduced with 16K of RAM and a puking cassettre tape drive to so much fanfare and hype, destroying the actulal inivations going on in the microprocessor market.

The startup ran out of funding. I showed up for work one day to find the doors locked and me stiffed for 3 moths salary.

MP/M had the possibility of crashing the minicomputer market margins. The whole purpose of the PC(Piece of Crap) was to prevent that from happening. IMHO

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Pint

An IBMer told me a story....

I heard from a director-level IBMer in the PC Division at the time that CPM actually was IBM's first choice, but that it was difficult working with Kildall.

He said, and I have not verified it, that they had arranged to call Kildall with a final decision to go or not, and asked he be by the phone. When they called with the good news, Gary was playing golf, and a call to the clubhouse resulted in a caddy driving the "mobile" phone out to Kildall. He was heard making a comment to "Tell those ******** I'll call them back when I finish my golf." That triggered Plan B at IBM!.

Might be true, might not. But the teller would have been on that call without question.

That could make Stephen fry close to accurate.

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Whether S. Fry is a technical genus or not...

... he is _presenting_ himself as one in the Torygraph article, and because he is associated with a programme that contains facts, non-technical readers will assume that he is correct. To my mind, the article here is justified because (a) Fry has got simple facts wrong, and he really should (and the Telegraph also should) do some basic checking before he publishes anything that claims to be remotely factual, and (b) Fry uses the word "cracked" to describe a man whom he has probably never met, clearly knows nothing concrete about, and who is dead and therefore cannot defend himself. Fry's use of the word "cracked" is itself a mystery, since there is nothing in the context of the article to explain what he even means by the word (although I concede that some sloppy editing by the 'graph may be to blame for that).

The fact that Fry has previously shown himself to be ignorant on technical matters does not help. As an aside, when he was "explaining" GPS on QI, he was clearly off-script - he spent the entire time during that speech looking at the panellists, rather than consulting his cards or reading the Autocue. It's interesting to watch the programme and spot the difference between the scripted and the unscripted stuff.

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Re: Whether S. Fry is a technical genius or not...

...wrong is wrong.

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Re: Whether S. Fry is a technical genus or not...

> and the Telegraph also should... do some basic checking before ...[it] publishes anything that claims to be remotely factual

Telegraph should do fact checking? Surely you mean "include gratuitous pictures of young ladies in skimpy summer dresses"?

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Pint

pip CP/M

Or was it PIP. Fond memories, a fairly nice Cobol compiler and basic too, I think. But lets not forget that Gates was considering Xenix too, too bad he did not choose it. Enough about Fry.

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Fry may have got it wrong but so did Orlowski.

Chris Miller posted the correct version - as told by those actually present but you were all too busy having a go at Stephen Fry and tapping at anti-BBC rhetoric to read what he said weren't you?

Gates were NOT in the OS business when they started dealings with IBM. They were pitching their application software to them.

The story involves Gary Kildall, his wife, his lawyers, Tim Paterson of Seattle Computer Products. The suits of IBM and of course Bill Gates. If you do not mention the role of all of these people then you do not know the story. That doesn't really make you any better than Stephen Fry when you preach as you do.

First I've heard of any mental health issues though...

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Oh man gotta show my age...

Ok folks lets get a few factoids straight.

1. Although QDOS was the original name of the OS developed by the the Seattle Computer Products company, when Microsoft came a knocking the name had been changed to 86-DOS.

2. It was Paul Allan who closed the deal with Seattle Computer for the rights to 86-DOS. It is still unclear if Bill closed the the IBM deal first or Paul closed the Seattle Computer first. In any case the timeframe was very narrow certainly days and perhaps even hours. Also of note; sometime later Seattle Computer successfully sued Microsoft for further compensation.

3. Rumours, at the time, were rampant that Gary Kildall dragging his feet with the IBM deal. I had a direct interest because I and several others were working on a relational DBMS that would run on CP/M and would have competed directly with MS/PC-DOS DBMS that would later be known a Dbase.

I love Stephen Fry, and believe he pretty much got the story right and only some of language he used , like 'cracked' to describe the Kildall/IBM relationship may have thrown younger geeks off also considering Stephen's normally pedantic approach to Language, Literature, Culture and Science, his remarks may have seemed a little out of character :)

So from a geek who took delivery of the second Altair kit delivered to Canada and who, in his late twenties had the privilege to participate in what was, I think, the most exciting time in technology since man landed on the moon in '69' I doft my hat to you the next generation and leave you with this:

"Bill Gates was never evil. He just became a better poker player than a computer programmer." - MitD

PS.. For those of the next gen who might want to read more about what was happening in those early days might grab a copy of Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution (ISBN 0-385-19195-2) by Steven Levy published by Double Day or Michael Swaines, the Pirates of Silicon Valley, the book. The movie is good too, but has a few small inaccuracies. Noah Wyle, of Falling Skies fame plays the best Steve Jobs to date.

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Re: Oh man gotta show my age...

"I had a direct interest because I and several others were working on a relational DBMS that would run on CP/M and would have competed directly with MS/PC-DOS DBMS that would later be known a Dbase."

Just for the sake of clarity, are you saying you worked on DBase or that IBM "invented" DBase?

ISTR working with DBaseII, Wordstar and Supercalc on CP/M machines before I ever saw an IBM PC or clone. I could be wrong. The first "PC"s we got were MS-DOS but not IBM clones, and later, Tandy 1000's both which initially ran the CP/M versions of those programmes once I'd written the software to transfer them over vis RS232C before later buying in "PC" versions.

Either way, I thought DBase predated the IBM PC.

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Re: Oh man gotta show my age...

> Either way, I thought DBase predated the IBM PC.

dBase was originally Vulcan, Ashton-Tate bought it and released it in 1980 on CP/M. IBM had a range of CP/M and Apple II software converted to run on PC-DOS including Wordstar, Visicalc, Peachtree, dBase, and UCSD Pascal.

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Flame

Bill Gates was never evil.

"Bill Gates was never evil. He just became a better poker player than a computer programmer."

Perhaps so, evil is a rather evil word. Why assume he was better at poker than programming. Looking at Gates/DoJ at Youtube I would suggest he had problems with his memory (or something) too, however, the thing to remember now is that IT, even while Windows was the greatest catastrophe ever in the history of IT, IT, do day, is rather stable, the real problems to day are companies like Monsanto and similar. To our joy and entertainment in IT, we have persons and personalities, people with names and faces, how lucky we are. Compare that to the real faceless shit taking place right now. Try to discuss what shit was added to what we had thirty years ago and what shit is added to day, good luck finding a person with a face and a name behind that.

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Hope you CC your article to Stephen Fry directly...

...since he obviously does not read The Register. If he did, he wouldn't make mistakes like this. I remember The Register had a fine piece on the history of MS-DOS and CP/M a few years ago.

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Unhappy

The cab driver speaks

Egads, when will this glorified cab driver exit the scene?

I wretch every time I hear that voice pontificating about things he know SFA about!!

ggggrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

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Kildall

Since I was around at the time, the story I have understood for the last 30 or so years is, IBM preferred Digital Research's DRDOS to Microsoft's MSDOS, but when they came calling on Gary, he was up in a plane, and radioed down that he'd get back to then sometime. IBM went away. To Microsoft.

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Re: Kildall

> Since I was around at the time,

That seems unlikely.

> the story I have understood for the last 30 or so years is, IBM preferred Digital Research's DRDOS to Microsoft's MSDOS,

At the time 'DRDOS' did not exist (that was several years later), DRI's products were CP/M and MP/M. Nor did 'MSDOS' exist. IBM were negotiating with Microsoft for their ROM BASIC, which was in the Apple II and others, and Bill offered SCP's QDOS/86-DOS.

> but when they came calling on Gary, he was up in a plane, and radioed down that he'd get back to then sometime. IBM went away. To Microsoft.

IBM had an appointment with DRI's VP of licensing, the appropriate negotiator. It happened that was Gary's wife. She refused to sign an NDA and offered the standard terms for CP/M and CP/M-86 licensing as just another OEM.

Whether Gary was in a plane or not is irrelevant, he was not scheduled to be in the meeting.

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JMB

Fry seems to have zero technical knowledge, he has made some ridiculous mistakes reading the Qi script which is supposedly carefully researched by his 'elves'. The one that I always remember is that Sat Navs work by sending a signal up to the satellite which then sends back a signal with the position.

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