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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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Can Google compete with Paypal?

There are reports in the news today that Google may launch a Paypal-like service. Most are questioning whether Google can compete with Paypal, which boasts 72 million users.

I believe the answer is yes.Here’s why. I buy a lot of stuff on Ebay. Lately I’ve been selling too, and since the initial effort was reasonably successful, I’m going to start listing more things.

I’ll be listing for the same reason lots of people do. It’s funny how much stuff becomes redundant once you get married and your spouse moves in, and it’s cheaper than having a garage sale and you’ll usually get better prices. And, besides, for the past six weeks or so I’ve been a bit shorter on cash than I’d like to be.

Online payment systems work because a lot of people don’t want to mess with checks. It’s a pain to write a check and it’s a pain to cash one, and nobody likes waiting the 7-10 days it takes for one to clear. Money orders and cashier’s checks eliminate the waiting period, but they’re a pain for the buyer, who has to go visit the bank during working hours and pay a couple of dollars, or you have to visit the ATM and then find a convenience store that sells money orders, and pay a couple of dollars. It wastes a lot of time. And if you’re buying a $100 item, you probably don’t care about the couple of dollars, but you sure do if you’re paying for a $2 item.

The reason 72 million people use Paypal is because it’s better than dealing with checks or money orders. But it doesn’t take much.

Read through some Ebay listings though, and you’ll find lots of people who don’t take Paypal. The reasons vary, but the people who don’t like Paypal really don’t like it. Those people tout Western Union or Bidpay as alternatives, but those in reality are just an online venue to buy a money order. It saves you hopping in the car. Again, on an item whose price requires three or more digits, you probably don’t care. But they’re horrible for small transactions.

Since Paypal is so widely used but so widely disliked, there’s lots of room for a competitor.

From what I can tell, sellers of merchandise don’t like Paypal because it’s free for the buyer, but big-time sellers take a hit. (People like me who sell casually don’t.) The hit seems to vary, but resellers seem to like to tack 60 cents onto the cost of the transaction when I use it. I generally pay it, since 60 cents is a lot less than it would cost for me to use another online payment service or to buy a money order, and it’s not much more than it would cost me to mail a check.

So it seems to me that there are at least two ways for Google to compete. I’m sure they’ve done some market research on what people dislike about Paypal and they’ve looked into what they can do to provide better service. Obviously one approach they could take would be to simply charge less money.

A second possibility would be for Google to endear itself to the seller by placing the financial burden on the buyer. Charge the buyer, say, a percentage of the transaction cost, with a maximum cap of somewhere around the cost of a postage stamp. Sellers would gladly accept it if it didn’t cost them anything. Buyers won’t like it as much as Paypal since it’s not free for them, but it would give the instant gratification of Paypal while costing about as much as mailing a check. And besides, it’s the seller who sets the terms of the transaction. If the buyer doesn’t like it, the only choice is to not bid.

I believe that sellers who don’t accept Paypal are putting themselves in the same position as a brick-and-mortar store that doesn’t accept credit cards, and sometimes I’ve gotten some real bargains precisely because the seller only accepted money orders, but that doesn’t stop a lot of them.

So I don’t believe Paypal is a juggernaut. It was the first widely successful online payment service. But this field doesn’t give much credit for being first. Just ask Datapoint (inventor of what became the x86 family of processors), Commodore (first successful consumer-level computer to feature pre-emptive multitasking), Digital Research (first popular operating system for microcomputers), or any number of now-defunct pioneers.

I’m not willing to place any bets on whether Google will become the market leader in this arena, especially without having seen their service. But I also don’t think there’s much question as to whether it will survive and/or be profitable. As dissatisfied as the users of other services are, Google Wallet would have to be awfully bad to flop.

Open sourcing code doesn’t necessarily mean people will rush to it

John C. Dvorak wrote a nice layman’s introduction to open source on But he makes at least one big false assumption.

Dvorak says he’d love to see old code open sourced. Some examples he sought, such as CP/M, CP/M-86, and GEM, have already been open source for years. Caldera, after buying the intellectual property of the former Digital Research from Novell, released just about everything that wasn’t directly related to DR-DOS, some of it as GPL, and some under other licenses. The results have hardly been earth shattering.

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Go get ’em, SCO!

I’m sure you’ve read it 4.3 billion other places already, but Microsoft has been granted a patent on double-clicking.

Well, there’s something you probably have only read a few hundred other places. Apple obviously had people double-clicking more than a year before Microsoft did, seeing as Windows 1.0 was released in November 1985 and the first Macintosh shipped in early 1984. Commodore had Amigans double-clicking by the summer of 1985. So did Atari.

Guess who supplied Atari with its operating system, since Jack Tramiel failed to swindle his way into ownership of the Amiga?

Digital Research, that’s who. DR provided Atari with a version of CP/M-68K, with its GEM GUI running on top of it. Atari marketed the bundle as TOS, for Tramiel OS.

Digital Research got crushed by the Microsoft juggernaut a few years later and eventually sold out to Novell. Novell then attempted to compete head-on with Microsoft (buying up its Utah neighbor, WordPerfect, and part of Borland in the process) and failed spectacularly. Smelling a rat–Novell believed Microsoft sabotaged some of its applications so they would not run under DR-DOS–it then pawned the Digital Research portfolio off on Caldera, a Linux company run by former Novell executives. The catch? Caldera had to turn around and sue Microsoft. Which they did, successfully.

A few more years later, The Santa Cruz Operation, a small Unix firm, wanted out. It sold its Unix-on-Intel business, as well as the rights to the old AT&T Unix (purchased from Novell, ironically) to Caldera, who soon changed its name to The SCO Group to reflect this business.

Yes, this is the same SCO who is now on a legal rampage, suing anything that moves.

Now, whether Novell or SCO is the more rightful owner of the double-click “innovation” is arguable. But such matters never seem to matter to SCO. It’s a frivolous lawsuit, but Darl McBride and Co. have made frivolous and baseless lawsuits into an art form.

Go get ’em, Darl.

How DOS came to be IBM’s choice of operating system

The urban legend says Gary Kildall snubbed the IBM suits by making them wait in his living room for hours while he flew around in his airplane, and the suits, not taking it well, decided to cut him out of the deal and opted to do business with Bill Gates and Microsoft, thus ending Digital Research’s short reign as the biggest manufacturer of software for small computers.

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