Bombshell: Ballmer steps down from Microsoft

I’m sure you’ve heard by now that Steve Ballmer is retiring. It’s time. If anything, I agree with the people who say he would have been better off retiring years ago. But I really didn’t expect it. In spite of the immense pressure to step aside, at least in public he never gave any indication of having any intention of doing so.

To a degree it’s understandable. He’s more than set for life, but he’s 57 years old. He’s only worked two years anyplace else–at Proctor & Gamble–since graduating from college. It would seem he could work 10 more years pretty easily. The company is his life.

And I have to believe that if it weren’t for Ballmer, Microsoft could have just as easily flubbed up the IBM deal for PC DOS 1.0–the deal that put Microsoft on the map–as Digital Research did. Ballmer, after all, was the one who told Bill Gates to buy a suit. Early photographs of Microsoft employees that look like a bunch of hippies and transients that have become popular memes date back to before Ballmer joined the company and brought a bit of his alma mater, Harvard Business School, with him. Read more

Windows NT turns 20

The first version of Windows NT, version 3.1 (to coincide with the then-current 16-bit version of Windows) was released 20 years ago today. It was an insanely ambitious effort for Microsoft that took a while to pay off, though it eventually did in spades. Windows NT was what killed off Novell and OS/2 and turned the proprietary operating system market into a duopoly. Although a user running it wouldn’t see much difference between Windows NT and regular Windows except that it didn’t crash nearly as much, it was the first version of Windows that qualifies as a modern operating system, with pre-emptive multitasking and protected memory.

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Gary Kildall and what might have been

Gary Kildall and what might have been

I didn’t have time to write everything I wanted to write yesterday, so I’m going to revisit Bill Gates and Gary Kildall today. Bill Gates’ side of the DOS story is relatively well documented in his biographies: Gates referred IBM to Gary Kildall, who for whatever reason was less comfortable working with IBM than Gates was. And there was an airplane involved, though what Kildall was doing in the airplane and why varies. By some accounts he was meeting another client, and by other accounts it was a joyride. IBM in turn came back to Gates, who had a friend of a friend who was cloning CP/M for the 8086, so Microsoft bought the clone for $50,000, cleaned it up a little, and delivered it to IBM while turning a huge profit. Bill Gates became Bill Gates, and Kildall and his company, Digital Research, slowly faded away.

The victors usually get to write the history. I’ve tried several times over the years to find Kildall’s side of the story. I first went looking sometime in 1996 or so, for a feature story about Internet misinformation I wrote for the Columbia Missourian‘s Sunday magazine. For some reason, every five years or so I end up chasing the story down again.
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The CP/M-DOS forensics don’t prove much

I saw the headline on Slashdot: Forensic evidence trying to prove whether MS-DOS contained code lifted from CP/M. That got my attention, as the connection between MS-DOS and its predecessor, CP/M, is one of the great unsolved mysteries of computing.

Unfortunately, the forensic evidence doesn’t prove a lot.

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Don’t call the war on hackers unwinnable

John C Dvorak asks what war we’re waging on hackers. While war may not be the best choice of words, because it’s not exactly a conventional war, there’s no question there’s something going on, and we’re not winning it right now.

The latest salvo is that someone in China is building a botnet using Macintoshes. Read more

How computer and energy technology don’t relate

Bill Gates says the rapid advance of computers created unreasonable expectations for the advancement of energy technology. The argument makes sense. And while desktop computers did advance very quickly, I think people have a misconception of even how quickly computers developed–which makes it worse, of course. Some people seem to believe the computer was invented by IBM and Microsoft in 1981. Far be it from Gates to lead people to believe otherwise, but the direct ancestors of modern desktop computing date to the early 1970s, and the groundwork for even that dates to the 1940s, at the very latest.
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UEFI on ARM illustrates why we still have to watch Microsoft

UEFI is a technology that forces a computer to only load a digitally signed operating system. This has some security benefits, as it makes parts of the operating system unbootable if they become infected, since the viruses won’t be digitally signed by a reputable vendor.

Great idea, right? From a security perspective, absolutely. The more attack vectors for viruses we can eliminate, the better off we’ll be. But Microsoft’s policy on ARM systems shows how it can be abused.

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