On July 22, 1980 there was the secret meeting in which the “not holy alliance” was signed between IBM and Bill Gates to bring a personal computer (IBM) with an operating system (Microsoft) all over the world. The personal computer was not invented, no, that had been around for a few years, and even Apple had already started. But it took IBM, the authority of IBM, the prestige of IBM, the reliability of IBM to tell the world that this thing was not a toy from a group of San Francisco hippies but something that would change the world. And by buying a pc (IBM) you could be part of that revolution.
The meeting took place at IBM’s offices in Boca Raton, Florida, where a small group of engineers were secretly developing the first IBM PC (it would be launched a year later, on August 12, 1981). Secretly, because in the official statements the top of IBM continued to show a certain detachment towards these new tools that were infinitely smaller and less powerful than the “mainframes” for which IBM was famous. What happened is told in detail in a documentary entitled “The triumph of nerds”. The premise is Altair’s 1975 personal computer that was nearly impossible to use until 19 year old Bill Gates wrote the first code to make it work. Then came Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak’s first computer, the Apple 2, and it was a success. “But in order for personal computers to be taken seriously by the business world, the Silicon Valley nerds had to meet the managers of large companies” (Vern Raburn, one of those pioneering years will say: “Building the first computers was the most fun that could be done with clothes on “).
And in short, the meeting took place. It was because IBM woke up and at the time IBM was “the largest computer company in the world”. A colossus who during the training courses for salesmen, in the 50s had an adapted version of Jingle Bells sung that sounded like this: ‘IBM / happy men / smiling all the way / oh what fun / it is to sell / our products our products / night and day./ IBM / Watson men / partners of TJ. / In his service to mankind / – that’s why we are so gay “. (gay had another meaning at the time …).
Let’s go back to the Boca Raton meeting. IBM had formed an IBM PC Development Team led by Bill Lowe who had set up shop in Boca Raton. It was immediately clear that starting from scratch it took four years to put the first model on the market. Too many. The problem was the software, indeed, the operating system. Who to buy it from? They chose Bill Gates, who was just 24, had retired from Harvard, but his startup was the leading software provider to the nascent PC industry. Bill Gates brought Steve Ballmer, a college friend, who later will have a central role at Microsoft, but at the time he was there because he was the only one who could talk about business and because he dressed like the IBMers, in a white shirt. starched. Microsoft wasn’t the only alternative, there was another, less eccentric company doing the same thing. But when IBM called Gates to invite him to Florida the following week he said: We’re there in an hour. The problem is that at the time Microsoft did not yet make operating systems (while the other company did) and when in the meeting it emerged that IBM needed this, Gates and Ballmer had a stroke of genius: they remembered that in Seattle there was a small company, Computer Products, that had developed a rudimentary operating system and they said: we license it, fix it and you put it on your PCs.
It will be called PC-DOS, only MS-DOS in the many non-IBM PCs that chose this solution. It was a triumph from which IBM will not be the winner in the long run but only Microsoft for a fundamental reason: it was the operating system, and therefore the software, that became the market standard. And that was done in Seattle by the former startup of Bill Gates.
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