Microsoft’s Big Start Was A Total Ripoff

“Don’t bother trying to create a better commercial desktop OS—it doesn’t matter how hard you try, how many engineers you throw at the problem, how much money you spend, or how many years you put into it. Microsoft owns that space.” —Scott Hacker

In A Nutshell

Microsoft’s revolutionary MS-DOS operating system was a essentially a ripoff—a “Quick and Dirty” operating system that a 24-year-old programmer was paid $25,000 to “create” (read: copy from the competition and make a couple minor changes).

The Whole Bushel

At the advent of the modern computer in the late ’70s, the most popular operating system was Digital Research’s CP/M (Control Program for Microcomputers), created by programmer Gary Kildall. IBM was planning on kicking off the ’80s by releasing the first affordable “personal computer,” the IBM PC. Needing an operating system, they turned to Bill Gates and his fledgling company, Microsoft. Gates directed them to Kildall, as Microsoft wasn’t too into producing operating systems at the time.

When IBM came to visit, Kildall wasn’t around—he was out flying his private plane, and his wife wasn’t too keen to talk to IBM executives in his absence, so she sent them on their way. With nowhere else to turn, they came back to Gates—who offered a solution.

Gates paid 24-year-old programmer Tim Paterson of Seattle Computer Products $25,000 to whip up an unauthorized CP/M clone which he dubbed QDOS—Quick and Dirty Operating System. With enough differences to be legally considered a different product—but enough similarities to run the any hardware that CP/M could—the product was re-branded MS-DOS 1.0 and shipped with every IBM PC. That is, the first available consumer computer containing the architecture that PCs are still based on today. Gary Kildall became a footnote, Tim Paterson went to work for Microsoft, and Bill Gates has been the richest man alive since 1995.

Show Me The Proof

CP/M: The First PC Operating System
Design of DOS: From The Original Author Of DOS
MS-DOS is 30 years old today