[TUHS] Algol68 vs. C at Bell Labs

Clem Cole clemc at ccc.com
Fri Jul 1 10:38:56 AEST 2016


I mostly agree but you have a little history out of order.  Apple and
Franklin really are important here.  More inline...

On Thu, Jun 30, 2016 at 7:16 PM, Marc Rochkind <rochkind at basepath.com>

> Clem Cole: "IBM allowed the system to be cloned"
> I never looked at it that way. To discourage cloning, IBM published and
> copyrighted the BIOS source code.
​Hang on that it was not quite that simple.   In fact IBM did publish
everything because that was what all the PC folks did at the time.   As did
IBM themselves in their mainframes.   Remember when the PC was originally
developed, Judge Green has not yet left IBM from its bondage.​   So IBM was
very careful in those days to follow industry norms.   The PC folks (like
Apple, Altair, Cromemco et al) published the schematics and the ROM
listings.  The OS's and higher level tools were closed but the rest tended
to be generally available so IBM followed suit.

> ​....​
>  A few outfits sprang up to do clean-room BIOS clones, including an outfit
> called Phoenix, which had the best. Compaq's internal BIOS was also
> excellent.
​This post the Franklin Computer case.​  Clones of Apple II sprung up, with
CPU motherboards coming from Taiwan.   Hey I made an Apple II clone, as
well as an Xerox 820 clone in those days myself (I may still have the

Franklin Computer of Philadelphia started to sell their Apple II to run
Visacalc - which was the "killer app" of the day (note a theme here).  Jobs
did not like it and took them to court.  I actually knew the main attorney
for Franklin at the time (one of the few big cases he even lost).   Apple
won because it was the contents of the ROM (bit for bit) that was found to
be identical.   The question became could you "copyright" the bits. [There
is a whole side discussion about what the memory chip guys of that day did
to try to keep people from copying them BTW].

Anyway, once that became case law, the concept of a "clean room" was
created.  As you say, Phoenix did a remarkable job.   BTW:  in an
interested side note, years later, IBM sold Phoenix its BIOS and started to
use theirs when the Phoenix BIOS became the gold standard.

> As for the computer hardware, it was just Intel parts
​Motorola, WD, and TI parts originally.​

> For the clones, no copyrighted code was used, the programmers had never
> seen the code, and the function of the BIOS wasn't copyrightable. So, IBM
> really had no way to prevent the clones.
​If they had not published the original material, I suspect it would have
been far, far harder and less attractive.   But also remember, clone in the
IBM land was already around.  Amdahl was selling like hot cakes.  IBM had
learned that with the clone market, they sold more of their own product.
It was an interesting business view.   The pie was getting bigger faster,
so they got a larger amount of pie, even though the percentage of the pie
got smaller.​  So IBM made more money.

This was a lesson a lot of companies, particularly computer firms, never
quite understood.   Having a weak, buy alive competitor is better than no

> There were a lot of PCs in the early 1980s that weren't clones.
​Absolutely.​  But if the OS has been reasonable and had be able to hide
the differences (and you not be able to go directly to HW addresses etc..)
this would have been less of an issue.

> ​...
> DEC, which had their own weird version of a PC, was the worst.
​No doubt.​

> One might ask why we had such a primitive system with 384K, when UNIX had
> been developed over 10 years before on a smaller system. Simple: UNIX had
> swapping.
​Truth is folks built systems that swapped to floppies (and cassette tape
et al) in those days.  Originally Magix was going to be in that same camp
when it was a "G-job" by Roger and myself.  When our boss funded its the
first thing we did was add a 10M disk.​

> ​... ​
> To get the screen speed on a PC, the application had to own the hardware.
​That was a deficiency of the PC HW design.   Other systems, such as the
Magnolia and later Apollo/Masscomp/Sun, showed you could have fine speed
with out having to do that.  Also in "PC land" consider when the '20 Mac
came out and Apple started to get religion (as did NeXT shortly there

You could do it, but the original PC designs were sloppy and did not care
-- the feeling was that extra HW (and SW to support) was unnecessary.   In
many ways, the original PC guys were right given how far and how long those
systems lived.   But it was painful for the SW building as you pointed out.
   You should not have had to do such "unnatural" or "unsafe" acts.

> UNIX insists on standing between the application and the hardware.
​As it should ;-) ​It required  good HW under the covers and then UNIX
drivers that did the the right things.  In the same time frame as the PC
was developed it was definitely possible and would not have cost more.​

> In PC land that would be unacceptable.
​Only because the HW sucked and the OS did not have the right types of
structures to make it work.​

Seriously, Marc I get it and you are better man for dealing with the craziness
of the day.  Many of the rest of us would not at the time, and until we got
"real HW" did not mess that much with it.  Then again, I did not care to
run a VisaCalc or a Word Perfect :-)

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://minnie.tuhs.org/pipermail/tuhs/attachments/20160630/9cfcde67/attachment.html>

More information about the TUHS mailing list