Bill Gates and his billions

The Independent’s Extra section today published this article about Bill Gates’ recent announcement that he is reducing his commitment to Microsoft to concentrate on his charity work. One sentence that stuck out was this:

The geek who changed the world by dropping out of Harvard to write the operating system that became known as MS-DOS for IBM’s new personal computer, has not lost his love for tedious detail.

The well-known fact about the genesis of MS-DOS was that it started as QDOS, which was in the words of Eric Raymond:

A clone of CP/M for the 8088 [Intel processor] crufted together in 6 weeks by hacker Tim Paterson at Seattle Computer Products, who called the original QDOS (Quick and Dirty Operating System) and is said to have regretted it ever since. Microsoft licensed QDOS in order to have something to demo for IBM on time, and the rest is history. Numerous features, including vaguely Unix-like but rather broken support for subdirectories, I/O [input/output] redirection, and pipelines, were hacked into Microsoft’s 2.0 and subsequent versions; as a result, there are two or more incompatible versions of many system calls, and MS-DOS programmers can never agree on basic things like what character to use as an option switch or whether to be case-sensitive.

Even if Gates had developed it, this would be no good reflection on his technical ability, as it was notoriously hamstrung by its inability to take into account advances in computer technology; its inability to manage more than 640Kb of memory or 32Mb of disk space at a time persisted long after such technology was available on all but the bottom end of PCs. Could the Independent’s journo not get these basic facts right?

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