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DEC, Microsoft, Cutler and NT. Is it true? | 102 comments | Create New Account
Comments belong to whoever posts them. Please notify us of inappropriate comments.
DEC, Microsoft, Cutler and NT. Is it true?
Authored by: tiger99 on Thursday, June 20 2013 @ 08:00 AM EDT
I seem to recall that DEC sued M$, and either won or settled out of court. But this is quite interesting. It gives some insight into the shockingly bad development practices at M$, in which Cutler seems to have been a willing participant.

What I can't easily find is reliable information on whether Cutler really did approach Gates with what became NT, or whether Gates just hired him and the dispute was really about the ideas he brought to M$. I had always thought it was just the latter. In other words, the same type of situation that provoked Mr. B to perform some furniture ballistics when someone left to join Google.

[ Reply to This | Parent | # ]

DEC, Microsoft, Cutler and NT. Is it true?
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, June 20 2013 @ 02:11 PM EDT

The story is a bit dubious, and I suspect it's just standard Slashdot trolling. The situation as I understand it was that Cutler had a collection of ideas about what the next generation VMS should be like. DEC however wasn't interested in spending the money on developing it, but wanted to continue improving the existing versions. That was probably the right decision for them, given that they were primarily a hardware vendor who wanted to continue to support their customer base. They weren't interested in entering the PC market (which is where they went wrong). Cutler then started shopping around for a new employer that would let him do what he wanted.

Developing a new OS is a big job, and it's unlikely that DEC management would have approved the funds and headcount for it unless they were behind the idea from the beginning. It's not something that you can do under the radar and then pull it out finished and ready to go. Where Cutler may have done something dubious is with respect to what extent he took designs from DEC with him. If he had taken a significant amount of code with him to Microsoft, the case would have devolved into a simple open and shut copyright case, which isn't what happened. Instead it appeared to involve trade secrets and other rather nebulous "intellectual property".

What made Windows NT successful was that it was cheap (for its day) software designed to run on cheap commodity x86 hardware. VMS ran on expensive VAX hardware. The proprietary Unix vendors all charged an arm and a leg, and most of them targeted their own very expensive hardware. Most BSD developers weren't interested in anything that wasn't a "real computer" (i.e. a mini-computer or expensive unix workstation). Microsoft sold something that was good enough, ran on the cheapest hardware available, and they provided a migration path for existing DOS and Windows 3.x users and developers. It was (and still is) rubbish, but it was better than DOS or Windows 95, and for most users that was good enough.

There seems to be a trend in the computer industry that the companies that dominate one phase or era don't succeed in the next. That doesn't necessarily mean they disappear (although some do), but that some new companies tend to overtake them and then dominate the new era. It was IBM for mainframes, DEC for minis, Digital Research (CP/M) for 8 bit business PCs, Microsoft in 16+ bit commodity PCs, and now Android (Google) for "appliance" (phones/tablets) systems.

Microsoft was in the right place at the right time to succeed, but there was no technical reason why Windows NT in particular was needed for success. As long as Microsoft had something which would do the job (32 bit, multi-tasking, memory protection) and provided a migration path for their existing Windows 3.x users, it would have succeeded.

[ Reply to This | Parent | # ]

DEC, Microsoft, Cutler and NT. Is it true?
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, June 20 2013 @ 02:51 PM EDT
Whether it is true or not, it is fairly close to what I remember from that time.
I remember that some companies including DEC and IBM were working an a common
operating system (what is was called I can't remember) when Microsoft broke out
of the cooperation and presented the first WindowsNT. Windows NT didn't really
work until version 3.51, but it was enough to break the common effort.

[ Reply to This | Parent | # ]

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