Was CP/M overrated?

Was CP/M overrated?

Veteran tech journalist Dan Tynan recently published a list of 10 overrated technology products, and CP/M was on his list. But was CP/M overrated? I want to dig into that question a bit.

I think everyone knows the story of how IBM almost used CP/M as the operating system for its PC, but ended up using an upstart product from a small company named Microsoft instead. We’ll probably never know exactly what happened, seeing as the author of CP/M is dead and his business partner is no longer able to recollect those events from the 1980 timeframe, and IBM and Bill Gates have no reason to embarrass themselves by revisiting the story.

But CP/M was the first and most popular operating system for early 8-bit computers, so people who used it remember it fondly, and the way Microsoft steamrolled it made Gary Kildall and his operating system folk heroes to underdog lovers everywhere. Even people who never used it and weren’t even born when Kildall’s company ceased to exist have at least a vague idea of what it was.
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And now it’s Apple’s turn

It’s been a weird month for technology. And as always, Apple had a way to get people to stop talking about anything else, though it’s not the news Apple wanted do deliver this week. I can only think of one bit of news Apple would want to deliver less.

Steve Jobs is stepping down as CEO. He’s becoming chairman, but perception is everything. Especially with Apple. I don’t think any company in recent memory has leveraged perception the way Apple has.

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A snapshot in history of Gates and Microsoft, 1992

Hard Drive: Bill Gates and the Making of the Microsoft Empire is a 1992 autobiography of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. It’s old. But it’s a compelling snapshot of what the industry thought of Gates and Microsoft before Windows 95, before Microsoft Office, and before Internet Explorer. Indeed, it gives an early glimpse into the struggle to bring Windows to market, some of the bad bets Microsoft cast on its early productivity software, and just how close Microsoft came to betting the company on the success of the Apple Macintosh.

If Microsoft’s history were written today, many of these stories would probably be forgotten.

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Windows, ARM, emulation, misconceptions and misremembered history

I keep reading stuff about Windows and ARM and, well, I think people just aren’t remembering history.

I’m not saying that Windows 8 on ARM will save the world, or even change it substantially. It probably won’t, since Microsoft tends not to get things right the first time. But will I automatically write off the project? No. It could prove useful for something other than what it was originally intended. That happens a lot.

But I’m more interested in clearing up the misinformation than in trying to predict the future.
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Paul Allen’s tearing into Gates seems familiar

You’ve probably heard by now about Vanity Fair publishing an excerpt from Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen’s autobiography,  which doesn’t give the most flattering portrayal of Bill Gates, his former business partner.

I’ve heard most of these stories before, though I’m trying to figure out where. What surprises me is the people who are acting like this stuff came out of the blue. If I’ve heard most of this stuff before, then so have a lot of people.
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How to pay off the national debt in less than 30 years

A couple of coworkers were talking about taxes, deficits and the national debt this week. One of them looked my direction and said, “I’ll bet Dave can figure out how to pay off the national debt.”

It’s actually not as hard as it sounds.

The biggest problem is that we’ve convinced ourselves that the national debt is impossible to pay. I believed this back in the mid-1990s, when it was around $4 trillion. Today, it’s right around $10 trillion. (Note: That was in 2008. In 2016 it’s about $19 trillion. So double any of the dollar figures you see from here on out.)

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Why Firefox will probably always have mixed acceptance in corporate environments

I saw an article in Information Week today about Firefox in the enterprise.

The fanboys on both sides took offense, of course.

I’m a longtime Firefox user and an IT professional, but yet I agree with the premise that Firefox will always have trouble in that environment.The biggest reason is inside the firewall, in the corporate intranet. Some commenters complained about lazy in-house design, but that’s not the whole story. Many web-based enterprise applications are designed for Internet Explorer and only Internet Explorer. One app that I support takes it a step further, and only works with IE 5.5 or IE 6. That’s going to be a problem when the order comes down to deploy IE 7. The product is discontinued, so at that point we’ll have to either migrate to something else, or have people connect to a terminal server so they can run IE 6.

I have another web-based application I support (but if I ever change jobs I’ll deny ever hearing about it) that works with IE 7, but if and only if an administrator logs on and manually registers some ActiveX controls. That product is called Microsoft Project Server 2003 Web Access.

Yes, you read that right. Even Microsoft can’t properly support its own web browsers.

Any corporate web-based app that uses ActiveX will never run on Firefox. Those that check for a specific IE version might run on a hacked version of Firefox, but if you ever have any problems, you’re on your own. Corporate suits don’t like that.

And since computers and applications tend to live almost forever once they’re deployed, IE’s stranglehold on those environments may not be measured in years. We may be talking a decade, or even more.

I’ll submit the refrigerator-sized VAX systems I walk past nearly every day in the server room as evidence of the longevity of some systems. The computers themselves may not be quite 20 years old, but the applications they’re running are at least that old.

Firefox also tends to go against corporate culture in other ways. One of the first questions a corporate suit will ask is who they can sue if it breaks. Never mind that if a Microsoft product breaks, they probably waived all legal rights as part of the EULA. The guys in corner offices who wear ties know more about that than anyone who works on computers. A wave of the hand makes that problem go away.

Yeah, right. But don’t bother trying to tell them that.

A second problem is that many IT decisions are made, or approved, by people who admire Bill Gates’ wealth. Since Bill Gates became the world’s richest man by selling computer software, his computer software must be the best, period, end of story.

Many of the books decision-makers read perpetuate this belief. One example is the highly popular and influential book Naked Economics by Charles Wheelan. In many circles, this book is a must-read. I have to admit I’m getting as much out of this $11 book than I got out of my college economics class, if not more. But Wheelan trots Gates out again and again as a master visionary, a master programmer, and lots of other things that he clearly isn’t. The examples serve to make Wheelan’s point, which is the most important thing, but they also perpetuate the myth that Bill Gates is the greatest computer scientist and visionary of all time, when the fact is he’s an astute and ruthless businessman who happened to find himself in the computer industry. His track record as a programmer and visionary isn’t all that great.

But because of this myth, spread largely outside of the computer industry proper, many influential people will insist on using the Microsoft product any time there’s a choice. They’re not interested in Wordperfect or Quicken or Dreamweaver or Firefox any other product not made by Microsoft, as long as Microsoft makes something that competes with it.

The Millionaire Mind by Thomas Stanley explains this mentality somewhat. When a person’s job is to make money, they don’t want to do product research and they don’t want to take chances. When they buy tires, a dishwasher, or a refrigerator, they walk into the store and buy the most expensive one, because the most expensive one must be the best. They don’t want to spend time doing market research because they could spend that time making money. And they want something they believe won’t break, because time spent dealing with broken stuff is time they can’t spend making money.

Basically, any time spent discussing or researching a purchase is time that can’t be spent making money. So in the mind of a bean-counter or an executive type, it’s much cheaper in the long run to just choose the Microsoft product and forget about it.

The logic is completely faulty–it’s an excellent example of a red herring logical fallacy, as Bill Gates’ wealth has nothing to do with the quality of his competitors’ products–but arguing that point isn’t likely to get you anywhere. Even if the decision maker is wrong, the time spent arguing about it is probably worth more than the potential savings by going with a different product.

At home, none of this matters. And at home, I’ll keep using Firefox. I’ve been using Firefox since 2002 when it was an obscure project called Phoenix, so I think you can call me a longtime fan.

Firefox made remarkable progress from 2002 to now, while IE has gone from IE 6 to IE 7 in the same timeframe.

But in the corporate world, very little of that matters. Incumbency has its advantages. Some companies will embrace it because of its many advantages. In other companies, users will sneak it in the door, the same way they snuck in PCs in the 1980s and 1990s while the mainframe-centric IT staff wasn’t looking. But in the majority of companies, it’s likely to stay shut out, perhaps because something important requires IE, but if not, the mere absence of Microsoft’s name on the product will be enough to keep it out of some doors.

I don’t expect to ever have Firefox on my PC at my current job. It’s my employer’s loss, but it’s not my decision.

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