Micro History Part 8

History of the Microcomputer Revolution

Part 8 -The First Operating System Standard

Gary Kildall will always be one of the misunderstood people related to the pc industry. At one time this true pc pioneer was a bigger name than Microsoft's Bill Gates. Other people knew him in later years as the co-host of Public Television's Computer Chronicles. Unfortunately, some people will claim he was the man who missed one of the biggest opportunities in business history, but there are several sides to this story. But to all of us who use pc's, we daily use commands he had written into the first pc operating system standard. Every time you use the directory command - DIR - to list files, you're using a cp/m command that is one of many carry-overs in today's DOS operating system.

Gary Kildall was born in Seattle and later received a computer science degree in 1972 from the University of Washington. While attending UW, he rubbed elbows with the young Bill Gates and Paul Allen when they were working at part-time jobs at computer companies in Seattle's University district. Gary had the same appreciation for DEC computers that the boys had. After graduation, he joined the Navy and was stationed in Northern California at Monterey, teaching computer science at a Naval postgraduate school. When Intel introduced their first microprocessors, Gary bought one just to play around with. After his Naval tour ended, he stayed in the area, continuing his teaching, and working on several projects in his company which he named Intergalactic Digital Research.

He actually wrote his operating system for microcomputers - which he called CP/M - control program - microcomputer - in 1973 - two years before the Altair computer kit appeared on the cover of Popular Electronics later in 1975. As many things have evolved off tangents in the PC industry - he actually wrote it as part of another project he was working on. Gary was trying to get his own language to run on an Intel 8008 microprocessor. He called this language PL/M - programming language for microcomputers - and he decided that there needed to be a software interface - or an operating system - that would enable the microprocessor to communicate with a floppy disk drive input/storage device. Floppy disk drives at the time cost a fraction of what a teletype machine with a paper tape cost. Gary figured correctly that floppy disk drives were the superior technology.

Being a fan of DEC minicomputers, he borrowed a lot of the features he admired in DEC's TOPS 10 operating system for PDP-10 computers and adapted them to his cp/m system.

A few years later - after Bill Gates and Paul Allen had written their version of Basic - borrowing many features from DEC's version of Basic - successfully fed it into the Altair computer using a paper tape - and after the Altair computer had been cloned by IMSAI and others and when microcomputers began to take off - Gary Kildall was in the right place at the right time with an in-place operating system - cp/m - which would allow these early computers to use floppy disk drives - and in theory at least - allow programs from one computer to run on another computer - because they shared the same operating system.

CP/M became the dominant operating system used by the majority of the early microcomputers, and at one time there were over 100 different micros running cp/m. Gary Kildall toned down his company name to Digital Research Inc. or DRI - dropping the seventies sounding "Intergalactic. The PC market place from 1975 until 1981 was dominated and divided between Digital Research and Microsoft, with an informal understanding between them that Microsoft was THE pc languages company, and Digital Research was THE pc operating system company.

Of course there were exceptions to this rule. Radio Shack had their TRS 80's and other micros with their own Basic and TRSDOS operating system; Atari and Commodore were in similar situations, and then there was this crazy company named Apple which was started by a couple california kids in a garage which had its own operating system. But ironically, even the Apple II had an add-in card - developed by Microsoft called the Soft Card - which allowed an Apple to run CP/M - and over 100,000 were sold.

But we'll talk more about a lot of other ironies associated with Apple computer next week..

On to Segment 9, "Home Brewing and Computers Named Apple"

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