Tim Paterson (1956) was in the right place at the right time in 1980. Or maybe not. He was responsible for the creation of 86-DOS, the operating system that would end up being the basis of MS-DOS and, a posteriori, the pillar on which Microsoft built its empire.
This programmer probably didn’t know what he was doing when he developed this “dirty and fast” operating system (Quick and Dirty Operating System, or QDOS) which would become 86-DOS and which Microsoft would end up buying for $ 50,000. The price turned out to be a real steal, because thanks to it Microsoft became the owner and mistress of personal computing for decades.
Dirty and quick principles
Paterson was raised and educated in Seattle, where he graduated in Computer Engineering in 1978 from the University of Washington with magna cum laude. In 1976, he had his first encounter with a personal computer, the IMSAI 8080, which his roommate bought. At the end of the race started working for Seattle Computer Products (SCP).
This moment was particularly important because Intel released its 8086 processor. It had been promised, but there was no operating system to support it, and only Microsoft’s BASIC-86 language was available to take advantage of it.
SCP wanted to sell computers based on this processor, and its leaders decided to put Paterson in to solve this problem. 24 years have started to develop their own system operational in April 1980 as fast (and dirty) as it could.
Hence its name, QDOS (“Quick and Dirty Operating System”, “Dirty and Fast Operating System”), a very basic system that built by copying the CP / M APIs —A well-known operating system at the time— which were accessible to the public. “I’ve always wanted to write my own operating system,” he said. “I have always hated CP / M and thought I could do a lot better. QDOS 0.10, with about 50% of the functionality I wanted to achieve, was ready in July.
One of the obvious differences between CP / M and QDOS was the FAT12 file system, much more ambitious than that of the CP / M and which highlighted the advantages of this section. By the end of August 1980, QDOS 0.11 was ready and stable enough to start selling. Paterson continued to work on it and included an assembler and a code debugger, although there was no editor, which he fixed in just two weeks.
In December 1980, this system made a significant leap: changed its name to 86-DOS (the first version of which was 0.33, continues to number QDOS), an operating system that manufacturers and other companies like Microsoft have started to license. They bought a license at a flat rate: they did not pay per copy, but rather for the OEM with which they were working. In one of the clauses of the contract, Microsoft made it clear that it did not have to contact SCP with which manufacturers and companies it worked with to integrate this operating system.
In 1981, things happened quickly: there were rumors that IBM was about to launch a personal computer and that SCP suspected Microsoft of working with it. Paterson decided to quit his job at SCP and sign with Microsoft., which led him to work on a version of 86-DOS which they renamed PC-DOS. At IBM, they had tried to come to an agreement with Digital Research to grant a CP / M license, but negotiations failed: they needed an alternative, and that alternative was 86-DOS.
It soon became clear that this operating system was intended for the IBM PC, and Paterson continued to receive requests from this company to adapt certain elements for their PCs. Among them, for example, at IBM, they wanted to copy the prompt (command console symbol indicating that it is waiting for user input) from the CP / M, something that made Patterson want to throw up. However, he made all of these changes and ended PC-DOS in July 1981, a month before the introduction of IBM PC.
It was then that Microsoft decided to move the tab and wanted to buy the full rights to 86-DOS. On July 27, 1981, they succeeded in making a deal with SCP and purchased these rights for $ 50,000, a figure that seemed reasonable to SCP, especially since it was a very small company, they did not have enough muscle to face this ambitious proposal from Microsoft.
Billions of $ 50,000 are worth billions
The rest, as they say, is history: Microsoft changed the name from 86-DOS to MS-DOS and under IBM license under PC-DOS 1.0 under a license which also allowed this operating system to be sold to other companies. He did, and with the success of the IBM personal computer which then led to the success of the clones, Microsoft ended up becoming the necessary ally who provided the software to supplement the hardware.
This purchase from Microsoft ultimately cost much more than the $ 50,000 paid for 86-DOS. SCP sued Microsoft, accusing it of hiding this profitable deal with IBM, and finally officials they got a million dollars to close the case absolutely.
Even Digital Research wanted to try and fight this change of epoch and threatened to sue IBM, accusing it that PC-DOS (and, later, MS-DOS) was nothing but a copy of CP / Mr. This legal debate has been going on for yearsBut a forensic analysis in 2012 showed that was not the case.
The truth is, purchasing that full license for the appropriate 86-DOS ended up being the key to making Microsoft what it is today. Within a year, they had already licensed MS-DOS to 70 companies, and growth was then spectacular.
This operating system would end up being a fundamental part of early versions of Windows first, and today the legacy of the original 86-DOS is still there on our Windows 10 systems: just run the CMD command to check it.
Paterson eventually left Microsoft and joined it twice more: in his final stage, between 1990 and 1998, he focused his work on Visual Basic. After leaving the company, he founded his own company, Paterson Technology, but his commercial and public activity has apparently been non-existent in recent years.