How One Decision Changed Personal Computers Forever | Sys3

It is remarkable how far back we can trace certain key elements of the computers, laptops and other smart devices commonly used to this day.

Almost all smartphones and several laptops feature at their core a CPU architecture that was initially designed in 1987, whilst most other desktops and laptops have a design that can be traced back to the late 1970s.

It is fascinating, therefore that one simple decision created a domino effect that affected the heart of the computers we use to this very day, but to explain it, we need to discuss the path not taken.

In the early 1980s, before the creation of the IBM Personal Computer that would accidentally form the template of everything ahead, most of the biggest and most widely used computer systems in the business world had three letters in common: CP/M.

CP/M, short for Control Program for Microcomputers, was the first standardised operating system that helped create a more even playing field for software designers and programmers, running on a peak of 3000 different computer models.

At the suggestion of Micro-Soft founder Bill Gates, IBM intended to buy the rights to CP/M-86 to use in their IBM PC, which used the compatible Intel 8088. According to a famous legend of what happened that day, CP/M designer Gary Kildall of Digital Research happened to be taking a flight to deliver software that day.

Dorothy Kildall, Gary’s wife, refused to sign an IBM non-disclosure agreement without Gary’s approval, but accounts vary as to whether he signed it or why the deal fell through, although it is believed to be related to the one-time nature of the deal compared to the typical royalty-based contracts of the era.

 This decision to take the flight and delay the negotiations took IBM back to Bill Gates, who agreed to find an alternative, which was suspiciously similar to CP/M 86-DOS, which would go on to become PC-DOS and later MS-DOS.

Gary Kildall threatened to sue but was placated by an agreement with IBM to allow both to be used on the system and not bundle the PC with PC DOS, assuming that IBM’s PC would not be a success.

This would turn out to be a mistake, as PC DOS and later MS-DOS would become the dominant operating system of the computer world.

Gary Kildall would be reminded of this decision for the rest of his life, tragically cut short due to a head injury at a biker bar in Monterey California under mysterious circumstances in 1994.

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