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

  • Andrew Pepper

    I think a couple of errors have crept in; Microsoft’s “big start” was probably MS-BASIC (or GW-BASIC as it was known). That was, as legend tells it, written over a weekend by Bill Gates. Microsoft were the leaders in languages for small computers when IBM came and asked if they had an operating system that ran on 8086 hardware.

    CP/M didn’t run on “the same hardware” as the IBM PC; it ran on 8080 based computers; Digital Research (who produced CP/M) were working on CP/M-86 but, as Gary Kidell decided to go out and fly his plane rather than meet IBM, that didn’t seem to be an option.

    QDOS already existed when IBM met Bill Gates; it wasn’t really a copy of CP/M, it was more a look alike – obviously the code was different as it ran on different hardware and, as the linked article explained, used a different file system. Microsoft didn’t have an operating system, but they obviously saw an opportunity and bought QDOS which they branded as PC-DOS (and MS-DOS).

    It’s an interesting thought that if Gary Kidell hadn’t been out when IBM came to call, the IBM PC would have run CP/M-86. That had multitasking and multiuser support fairly early (which MS-DOS never had). The world might be running various flavours of GEM rather than Windows.

  • R5h2x

    He’s the SECOND richest man alive. The first one is in Telecommunications, I think.

    • Nigel van Dalfsen

      nop, Bill has catched up the last 3 years his estimate worth is 72 biljoen dollar, 20 bil or so ahead of the number 2.

      • W357C0457

        you are wrong, you should probably double check before you try to correct someone. Carlos Slim has been the richest man in the world since 2010.

        • Exlibris

          Actually Gates just regained the title due to Carlos Slim losing a bit of money due to changes in telecommunications laws.

          • Tony

            Look who’s talking now W357… If you double checked YOUR claim before being rude, you wouldn’t end up looking like a missinformed douche.

          • Michael Bradshaw

            Caught** Catched isn’t a word. Even if your point is valid, which I haven’t researched to know, bad spelling will not help anything..

          • Nigel van Dalfsen

            ok mr spelling nazi.

          • It really doesnt matter if slim beats gates. Gates has donated a lot of his wealth to charity. If he hadnt, no one would be even close to him.

          • Nigel van Dalfsen
          • Talk about missing the point of my argument completely.

          • Nigel van Dalfsen

            Donating to charity is the ultra rich man trick of laundering money, the amount of tax reductions on his personal wealth are insane i can tell ya. + about 30/40 top riches ppl are know filantropist who spend a lot of money on charity`s. And yes Bills donations exceed well into the 15 bil dollars, carlos donated roughly 10 bil and many more folks. But these guys are the biljonairs with measurable wealth, there are still a dozen ppl out there with more money then Bill..For example take a close look at mister Vladimir Putin his estimated weath is around 70-80 bil dollar effectily making him the richest man in the world. Where i got this statement from you may ask?, well its simple he owns a lot of shares who are in his names, and they are the biggest oil and chemical companies in the world. And there bound to be more guys of him out there.

          • ….continues to miss the point

          • R5h2x


          • W357C0457

            what up homeboy? thats my boy slim on top, by almost 6 bil.

        • Nigel van Dalfsen

          Mister bloomberg has proven to be far more accurate these days then forbes, thats where i got my info from. The list is basicly updated daily.

          • W357C0457

            oh i got you, i assumed forbes was an accurate source but didnt look too deep into it. but right now forbes has slim at 6 billion above gates. either way, they both got a ton of cash haha. sorry for falsely accusing you of being wrong, i guess this whole net worth thing is a lot of speculation

  • W357C0457

    i hope the author didnt get paid anything for this, most of the information is compeltely misleading. QDOS already existed, and it was already being licensed to other companies before microsoft. then bill gates came along and licensed it from him for $25,000. the guy that wrote the OS did not have access to IBM, so without microsoft he would have made way less off his QDOS. instead he made $25,000 off of a non-exclusive license (meaning he could still sell it to anyone he wanted), then eventually sold it to microsoft exclusively for $50,000. This website is kinda useless if one wikipedia article has better info.

  • Mel Crooks

    If you really want to do a hatchet job on Gates (who has given billions to charities of his choice, and charities he is the sole benefactor of) look at his attitude to women, rather than the cutthroat nature of early tech companies.

  • John End

    Wow there are so many wrong things in this article. Did you just make this crap up?

  • rhijulbec

    I’m practically a Luddite and I knew most of this to be untrue. Disappointed in this one.

  • Unfirth McChuggin

    Mark Suckerberg ripped off mysepace, which ripped off friendster, which probably ripped of something we’ve never even heard about, from Indonesia…. It’s called “THE WAY IT IS”. Get over it.