Digital Research

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Not to be confused with Digital Equipment Corporation.
Digital Research Inc. (DRI)
Industry Software
Fate Acquired by Novell in 1991
Founded 1974 in Pacific Grove, California
Headquarters Pacific Grove, California, United States
Key people
Gary Kildall (Founder and CEO); Dorothy McEwen
Products Compilers, Operating Systems, Graphical User Interfaces

Digital Research, Inc. (a.k.a. DR or DRI; originally Intergalactic Digital Research) was the company created by Dr. Gary Kildall to market and develop his CP/M operating system and related products. It was the first large software company in the microcomputer world.[1] Digital Research was based in Pacific Grove, California.

The company's operating systems, starting with CP/M for 8080/Z80-based microcomputers, were the de facto standard of their era, as MS-DOS and Microsoft Windows came later. DR's product suite included the original CP/M and its various offshoots; DR-DOS which was a MS-DOS compatible version of CP/M, and MP/M, the multi-user CP/M. The first 16-bit system was CP/M-86, which was to be unsuccessful in competition with MS-DOS. There followed Concurrent CP/M, a single-user version of the multi-tasking MP/M-86 featuring "virtual consoles" from which applications could be launched to run concurrently. Successive revisions of this system, which gradually supported MS-DOS applications and the FAT filesystem, were labelled Concurrent DOS, Concurrent DOS XM and Concurrent DOS 386.

In May 1983 Digital announced that it would offer PC DOS versions of all of its languages and utilities.[2] It remained influential, with $45 million in 1983 sales making Digital the fourth-largest microcomputer software company.[3] Admitting that it had "lost" the 8088 software market but hoped to succeed with the Intel 80286 and Motorola 68000, by 1984 the company formed a partnership with AT&T Corporation to develop software for Unix System V and sell its own and third-party products in retail stores.[4] Jerry Pournelle warned later that year, however, that "Many people of stature seem to have left or are leaving Digital Research. DR had better get its act together."[5]

In 1985, soon after the introduction of the Intel 80286, Digital introduced a real-time system, initially called Concurrent DOS 286 and subsequently FlexOS. This exploited the greater memory addressing capability of the new CPU to provide a more flexible multi-tasking environment. There was a small but powerful set of system APIs, each with a synchronous and an asynchronous variant. Pipes were supported, and all named resources could be aliased by setting Environment variables. This system was to enjoy enduring favour in point-of-sale systems and was adopted by the IBM 4690 OS.

Digital Research was purchased by Novell in 1991, primarily for Novell to gain access to the operating system line.

DR produced a selection of programming language compilers and interpreters for their OS-supported platforms, including C, Pascal, COBOL, Forth, PL/I, PL/M, CBASIC, BASIC, and Logo. They also produced a microcomputer version of the GKS graphics standard (related to NAPLPS) called GSX, and later used this as the basis of their GEM GUI. Less known are their application programs, limited largely to the GSX-based DR DRAW, Dr. Halo for DOS and a small suite of GUI programs for GEM.

CP/M-86 and DOS[edit]

At the time IBM Personal Computer was being developed, DR's CP/M was the dominant operating system of the day. IBM asked DR to supply a version of CP/M written for the Intel 8086 microprocessor as the standard operating system for the PC, which would use the code-compatible Intel 8088 chip.[citation needed]

Microsoft seized this opportunity to supply an OS, in addition to other software (e.g. BASIC) for the new IBM PC. When the IBM PC arrived in late 1981, it came with PC DOS, which was developed from 86-DOS, which Microsoft had acquired for this purpose. By mid-1982, it was marketed as MS-DOS for use in hardware-compatible non-IBM computers. This one decision resulted in Microsoft becoming the leading name in computer software.

This story is detailed from the point of view of Microsoft and IBM in the PBS series Triumph of the Nerds,[6] and from the point of view of Gary Kildall's friends and coworkers in The Computer Chronicles.[7]

Digital Research developed CP/M-86 as an alternative to MS-DOS and it was made available through IBM in early 1982. DR later created an MS-DOS clone with advanced features called DR-DOS, which pressured Microsoft to further improve its own DOS.

The competition between MS-DOS and DR-DOS is one of the more controversial chapters of microcomputer history. Microsoft offered the best licensing terms to any computer manufacturer that committed to selling MS-DOS with every system they shipped, making it uneconomical for them to offer systems with another OS, since the manufacturer would still be required to pay a license fee to Microsoft for that system. This practice led to a US Department of Justice investigation, resulting in a decision in 1994 that barred Microsoft from "per-processor" licensing.[8]

DRI (and later its successor Caldera, Inc.) accused Microsoft of announcing vaporware versions of MS-DOS to suppress sales of DR-DOS.[citation needed]

Microsoft refused to support DR-DOS in Windows. In one beta release of Windows 3.1, Microsoft included code that detected DR-DOS and displayed a warning message, although this code was not enabled in the final version of Windows 3.1. It is said that other versions of Windows deliberately crashed the system if DR-DOS was detected so as to give the impression that DR-DOS was unstable. These activities came to light when the discovery process of the subsequent lawsuit uncovered emails from senior Microsoft executives that showed this time bomb plant was part of a concerted program to drive DRI out of the PC operating systems business.[citation needed]

DRI's successor Caldera raised these disputes in a 1996 lawsuit, but the case was settled without a trial. As a condition of the settlement Microsoft paid Caldera $150 million ($227 million in 2013 dollars[9]) and Caldera destroyed all documents it had produced in connection with the case. Although a costly settlement to Microsoft, this eliminated the most damning evidence of Microsoft's anti-trust behaviors, and allowed Microsoft to control and dominate this sector of the marketplace with an iron fist and without concerns about any further serious competitor.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cole, Maggie (May 25, 1981). "Gary Kildall and the Digital Research Success Story". InfoWorld. Palo Alto, CA: Popular Computing. 3 (10): 52–53. ISSN 0199-6649. 
  2. ^ Hughes, George D. Jr. (July 1983). "The New View From Digital Research". PC Magazine. p. 403. Retrieved 21 October 2013. 
  3. ^ Caruso, Denise (1984-04-02). "Company Strategies Boomerang". InfoWorld. pp. 80–83. Retrieved 10 February 2015. 
  4. ^ Shea, Tom (1984-02-20). "New devlopments may decide battle over Unix". InfoWorld. pp. 43–45. Retrieved 25 February 2016. 
  5. ^ "Program Editing Breakthrough!". BYTE (advertisement). March 1983. p. 326. Retrieved 19 March 2016. 
  6. ^ Triumph of the Nerds, PBS
  7. ^ The Computer Chronicles
  8. ^ Elizabeth Corcoran (1994-07-17). "Microsoft Settles Case With Justice". Washington Post. Retrieved 2014-03-14. 
  9. ^ Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Community Development Project. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved October 21, 2016. 

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