A Career Spent In Gates' Shadow -- Computer Pioneer Dies At 52

Seattle native and software pioneer Gary Kildall, who died Monday at age 52, never let on publicly how he felt about losing dominance of the personal computer industry to hometown rival Bill Gates.

But in "Computer Connections," his privately circulated memoir, Mr. Kildall is blunt:

"I have grown up in the industry with Gates. He is divisive. He is manipulative. He is a user. He has taken much from me and the industry."

It's not the first time the Microsoft billionaire - who built a software empire on BASIC, a computer language invented at Dartmouth; MS-DOS, a program he purchased, and Windows, modeled after Apple Computer's Macintosh - has been called predatory. But Mr. Kildall, an easygoing type who co-hosted a public-TV show on computers called "Computer Chronicles," previously had shied from pointing the finger.

Gates was unavailable for comment. A Microsoft spokeswoman said Gates "regrets Gary passed away at such a young age, and it's a loss to the industry." But, she said, "no one can deny the size and strength of the personal-computer industry that has been made possible by MS-DOS and Intel technologies becoming the standard."

Mr. Kildall, who was en route to Seattle to visit relatives, died in a Monterey, Calif., hospital. The cause of death has not been determined. A press release issued by the county coroner said Mr. Kildall was injured late Friday at a Monterey restaurant but refused treatment.

Early Saturday, an ambulance was summoned to his home, and Mr. Kildall was taken to a hospital, then released. He was readmitted Sunday and stayed in the hospital until his death.

A service will be held in Seattle on Tuesday.

In his book-length memoir, Mr. Kildall acknowledged his sentiments about Gates are "sour grapes" but he defends his version of events as "the whole truth."

Associates are trying to have the memoir, which was shown to The Seattle Times, published by a trade press. Mr. Kildall spent two years writing it and did a limited printing for family and friends last fall.

Wrote one of the first systems

Twenty years ago, Mr. Kildall wrote CP/M, the first popular operating system for desktop computers. Called by some the father of personal computing for that contribution, Mr. Kildall became better known for something he didn't do.

In 1980, IBM needed an operating system for its personal computer project and was directed by Gates to Mr. Kildall's Digital Research Inc. in Pacific Grove, Calif. To run applications, a computer needs an operating system. IBM wanted to ship one with each of its new PCs.

In a frequently told story with numerous conflicting versions, IBM visited Digital Research, only to be rebuffed when Mr. Kildall's wife at that time, Dorothy McEwen, balked at signing a form limiting disclosure of the relationship between the companies.

Gates later told interviewers "Gary went flying" at the pivotal historical moment. But Mr. Kildall wrote that he returned from flying his Piper Turbo Arrow to a business appointment in the afternoon, signed the agreement and began negotiating a deal with IBM.

IBM wanted to purchase CP/M-86 outright for $250,000, but Mr. Kildall held out for the standard royalty of $10 a copy.

Mr. Kildall's version has never been confirmed. Jack Sams, an IBM program manager at the time, said Mr. Kildall was missing from most of the meeting but "might have been there at the time they signed the letter (nondisclosure agreement)." Mr. Kildall's ex-wife McEwen declined comment. Gerry Davis, his attorney at the time, did not return phone calls.

Tom Rolander, a Digital Research executive then, said he was with Mr. Kildall on the San Jose trip and at the meeting. He declined to give details but said, "a careful analysis of the whole relationship will indicate how ruthless IBM and Gates were, and how innocent Gary was." Mr. Kildall "was not a Gates-type person. He was an inventor of technology, not a businessman."

Gates steps into breach

When IBM returned without a deal, Gates purchased an operating system from Seattle Computer Products called QDOS, for Quick and Dirty Operating System, for use on the IBM PC. After renaming the program MS-DOS, Microsoft licensed it to makers of IBM PC "clones," making it by the mid-1980s the prevailing operating system for personal computers.

When Mr. Kildall, who had shown IBM his system, saw an early copy of DOS, he was incensed over similarities between the two. At a meeting with IBM, he agreed not to sue for copyright infringement if IBM marketed his program. IBM later priced CP/M at $240 but charged only $40 for DOS.

"The pricing difference set by IBM killed CP/M-86," Mr. Kildall wrote in the book. IBM's Sams acknowledged the price difference but said it reflected Mr. Kildall's higher price to IBM, which he recalls as $100 a unit.

Mr. Kildall, who knew Gates from the latter's early computing days at C-Cubed, a University District computer center, made millions from CP/M. But he was destined to be cast as the guy who lost the big one.

Mr. Kildall's and Gates' paths crossed often. In 1977 the two discussed merging their companies while Gates tried to decide where to move Microsoft, then in Albuquerque.

Mr. Kildall later offered to sell Digital Research for $26 million to Gates, who told him the company was worth no more than $10 million. In 1991, Digital Research was sold for $120 million to Novell.

Teaching, then work at Intel

While studying at the UW in the late 1960s, Mr. Kildall had entered the Navy. When given the choice between serving in Vietnam or teaching at the Naval Postgraduate School in California, he chose the latter. In 1973 he went to work for Intel, which today supplies chips for 80 percent of the world's personal computers. In 1976 he founded Intergalactic Digital Research. He soon shortened the name.

Mr. Kildall licensed CP/M to IMSAI, an early personal-computer manufacturer. By 1980 it had become the industry standard.

In an appendix, Mr. Kildall reprints copies of code for CP/M and DOS showing, he maintains, that the first 26 lines, or calls, are identical. Seattleite Tim Paterson, author of QDOS, has acknowledged that it was modeled after CP/M but denies it was a direct copy. In his book, Mr. Kildall calls it "plain and simple theft."

Mr. Kildall wrote he was advised by Davis, his attorney, not to sue. At the time, the software community widely imitated one another's work. Later, suing over "look and feel" and copyright or patent infringement became a means of protecting what became intellectual property potentially worth billions.

Mr. Kildall stayed with Digital Research through the 1980s and worked on a variety of ventures. He was residing in Austin, Texas, at the time of his death.

"We all thought Gary was a genius," said his sister, Patricia Guberlet of Seattle. "He was a genuinely likable person" who never received recognition tantamount to his contribution, she added.

"He paved the way for everybody," said a cousin, Tom Kildall, a Seattle marine-insurance broker. "When I talked to him about it (the lost IBM deal), it was like, `That's the way it goes.' All it would have gotten him was more money, and he wasn't poor."

Gary attended high school at Lincoln in Wallingford but graduated from Queen Anne High in 1960, his sister said. He enrolled at the UW in 1963 and earned a doctorate in computer science.

Mr. Kildall is survived by his mother, Emma, of Seattle; his sister; an uncle, Bob, of Seattle; a daughter, Kristin, of Seattle, and son Scott of Oakland. Services will be held tomorrow in Monterey and 11 a.m. Tuesday in Seattle's Trinity Parish Episcopal Church at 609 Eighth Ave. Donations may be made to Make-A-Wish Foundation.