Gary Kildall was a visionary whose contributions to the personal computer industry has been slowly forgotten or reduced to footnotes in history. His company, Digital Research Inc. (DRI) was one of the most successful computer companies of the 1970s and 1980s. There’s a popular story that’s floated around for decades about how Gary went flying the day IBM came to make a deal with his company so they then went to Bill Gates and made the deal with Microsoft instead. As it turns out, that wasn’t what really happened at all. Yes, Gary was flying that day but he was delivering software to a big client and did make it back to the meeting with IBM and did close the deal. Unfortunately, IBM gave Microsoft the better end of the stick as they sold PC-DOS for $40 and Gary’s OS for a whopping $240 which was big bucks back then. Naturally, everyone chose PC-DOS and the rest was history.
Gary became bitter over this raw deal but he did enjoy major success when Novell acquired DRI for millions of dollars. Still, things could have been radically different if his OS became the default OS instead of Microsoft’s.
Gary also became the co-host of one of the first computer TV shows in 1983 with The Computer Chronicles with Stewart Cheifet for about six years. He always enjoyed coming up with innovative new technologies such as the CD ROM and multi-tasking OS, among many other ideas.
He died at the age of 52 after a fall in a bar. The details are not known what happened but no matter what the circumstances, a brilliant visionary died too young. His contributions to the personal computer industry should never be forgotten.
Here’s an excellent special on Gary Kildall as hosted by his former Computer Chronicles partner, Stewart Cheifet.