* Posts by linuxguru

2 posts • joined 18 Mar 2017

RIP Bill Godbout: Cali wildfire claims the life of master maverick of microcomputers


Bill Godbout was a legend in the S-100 era.

Between the two of them, Gary Kildall and Bill Godbout did more than anybody else to enable the first wave of Personal Computing - namely CP/M running on 8-bit S-100 systems. Almost the entire edifice of the PC industry today is built on an enduring architectural combination that survives to this day - An Expansion Bus (or X-bus), ROM BIOS (Basic Input/Ouput System), and a disk-based BDOS (Basic Disk Operating System). It is no surprise that when IBM designed its first PC c.1980 at Boca Raton, they copied this exact proven combination - an simpler expansion bus which was a demultiplexed version of the S-100 bus, a ROM-based BIOS, and a DOS that was boot-loaded from secondary media and came into the picture after the BIOS had done its initialization. This design survives in the same form to this day in almost every PC and Smartphone out there, though the 8-bit expansion bus may not always be easily visible - it's usually inside the Southbridge ASIC these days and rarely brought outside, except in some legacy industrial/embedded applications. The OS is also usually stored in (inexpensive) Flash ROM these days.

Incidentally, Gary Kildall's meeting with Bill Godbout happened on the morning of the fateful IBM meeting, and he got back in the afternoon to meet with the IBM team. They didn't come to an immediate agreement on licensing (Kildall apparently quoted them retail pricing per instance of CP/M-86, while IBM wanted a discounted bulk price for bundling with their PC). Hence, IBM went with Plan-B, which was Microsoft, which sourced an alternative CP/M-86 clone called 86-DOS from Tim Patterson at Seattle Computer Products for $50k, and the rest is history. However, Kildall did not miss the meeting as most versions of the story seem to imply.

(The story of licensing the software for the IBM PC is actually a bit more complex, because of a piece of software that is irrelevant now, but considered important then - the ROM-based BASIC interpreter. Kildall's Digital Research did not have it, while Microsoft had their own ROM BASIC. It's possible that Gary Kildall would not have won the IBM deal regardless of the terms he offered - IBM wanted ROM BASIC to be offered by default on their PCs, and it was bundled with just about every PC and PC/XT sold by IBM, as well as most next-generation PC/ATs. However, it's possible that if the terms had been better, Kildall would have won the deal to offer CP/M-86, while the ROM BASIC alone may have gone to Microsoft).

The Steve Jobs of supercomputers: We remember Seymour Cray


He was driving a Jeep Cherokee or some similar SUV, IIRC. The vehicle which prompted him to swerve was a rust-bucket '70s cookie-cutter - maybe a Chevy or Pontiac. This was reported in the local newspapers at that time (1997).

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