Digital Research

Last updated

Digital Research Inc. (DRI)
Industry Software
FateAcquired by Novell
Founded1974;46 years ago (1974) in Pacific Grove, California, United States
Founder Gary Kildall
Key people
Products Compilers, operating systems, graphical user interfaces
  • US$45 million (1983) [1]
  • US$36.2 million (1989) [2]
  • US$40.9 million (1990) [2]
  • US$45.5 million (1991) [3]
Number of employees
  • 2 (1976) [4]
  • 9 (November 1978) [4]
  • 24 (August 1980) [4]
  • ca. 82–100 (1981) [5]
  • ca. 200 (summer 1982) [4]
  • ca. 280 (1982) [5]
  • 530 (1983) [5]
  • ca. 500 (1984) [5] [6]
  • ca. 300 (1985) [6] [7]
  • 240 (1986) [7]
  • 273 (1990) [2]
  • 290 (1991) [3]

Digital Research, Inc. (DR or DRI) was a company created by Gary Kildall to market and develop his CP/M operating system and related 8-bit, 16-bit and 32-bit systems like MP/M, Concurrent DOS, FlexOS, Multiuser DOS, DOS Plus, DR DOS and GEM. It was the first large software company in the microcomputer world. [8] Digital Research was originally based in Pacific Grove, California, later in Monterey, California.



In 1972, Gary Kildall, an instructor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, began working at Intel as a consultant under the business name Microcomputer Applications Associates (MAA). [9] By 1974, he had developed Control Program/Monitor, or CP/M, the first disk operating system for microcomputers. In 1974 he incorporated as Intergalactic Digital Research, with his wife handling the business side of the operation. [9] The company soon began operating under its shortened name Digital Research. [9]

The company's operating systems, starting with CP/M for 8080/Z80-based microcomputers, were the de facto standard of their era. Digital Research's product suite included the original 8-bit CP/M and its various offshoots like MP/M (1979), a multi-tasking multi-user version of CP/M.

The first 16-bit system was CP/M-86 (1981, adapted to the IBM PC in early 1982), which was meant as direct competitor to MS-DOS. There followed the multi-tasking MP/M-86 (1981), and Concurrent CP/M (1982), a single-user version featuring virtual consoles from which applications could be launched to run concurrently. [10]

In May 1983 Digital Research announced that it would offer PC DOS versions of all of its languages and utilities. [11] It remained influential, with US$ 45 million in 1983 sales making Digital Research the fourth-largest microcomputer software company. [1] 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. [12] 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." [13]

Successive revisions of Concurrent CP/M incorporated MS-DOS API emulation (since 1983), which gradually added more support for DOS applications and the FAT file system. These versions were named Concurrent DOS (1984), with Concurrent PC DOS (1984) being the version adapted to run on IBM compatible PCs.

In 1985, soon after the introduction of the 80286-based IBM PC/AT, Digital Research introduced a real-time system, initially called Concurrent DOS 286, which later evolved into the modular FlexOS (1986). 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.

Other successors of Concurrent DOS were Concurrent DOS XM (1986) and the 32-bit Concurrent DOS 386 (1987), and finally Multiuser DOS (1991).

Digital Research's multi-user family of operating systems was sidelined by single-user offsprings DOS Plus (1985) and DR DOS (1988). The latter system was marketed as a direct MS-DOS/PC DOS replacement with added functionality. In order to achieve this, it gave up built-in support to run CP/M applications and was changed to use DOS-compatible internal structures. It became a successful product line in itself.

Digital Research was purchased by Novell for US$80 million [14] [15] [3] in 1991, [16] [17] [18] [2] [19] [3] primarily for Novell to gain access to the operating system line. FlexOS had already been adopted as the basis for Siemens S5-DOS/MT, IBM 4680 OS and 4690 OS, whereas Multiuser DOS evolved further into independent products like Datapac System Manager, IMS REAL/32 and REAL/NG. Continued development of the DR DOS line led to non-DRI products such as Novell PalmDOS, Novell DOS, Caldera OpenDOS and Dell RMK.

In a parallel development Digital Research also produced a selection of programming language compilers and interpreters for their OS-supported platforms, including C, Pascal, COBOL, FORTRAN, 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

At the time the IBM Personal Computer was being developed, Digital Research's CP/M was the dominant operating system of the day. IBM asked Digital Research 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. Digital Research, uneasy about the conditions related to making such an agreement with IBM, refused.

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, an OEM version of MS-DOS, which was developed from 86-DOS, which Microsoft had acquired for this purpose. By mid-1982, MS-DOS was also marketed 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 , [20] and from the point of view of Gary Kildall's friends and coworkers in The Computer Chronicles . [21]

Digital Research developed CP/M-86 as an alternative to MS-DOS and it was made available through IBM in early 1982. The company 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 better 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. [22]

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

In one beta release of Windows 3.1, Microsoft included hidden code (later called the AARD code) that detected DR DOS and displayed a cryptic error message. [23] [3] Although this code was not enabled in the final version of Windows 3.1, it gave the wrong impression that DR DOS was incompatible with MS-DOS and Windows among testers. 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 Digital Research out of the PC operating systems business. [24] [25]

Digital Research's successor Caldera raised these disputes in a 1996 lawsuit, [24] [25] [26] [27] but the case was settled one day before the trial in 2000. As a condition of the settlement Microsoft paid Caldera an undisclosed sum, which in 2009 was revealed to be US$280 million [28] [29] [30] [31] and Caldera destroyed all documents it had produced in connection with the case. [32] [33] Although a costly settlement to Microsoft, this eliminated some of the evidence of Microsoft's anti-trust behaviors, and allowed Microsoft to control and dominate this sector of the marketplace and without concerns about any further serious competitor. [32] [33]

Notable employees

Apart from founder Gary Kildall several notable employees worked at Digital Research, some of which later made important contributions to the IT industry, such as Gordon Eubanks, Tom Rolander, Lee Jay Lorenzen, Don Heiskell, John Meyer, and Ed McCracken.


See also

Related Research Articles

Gary Kildall American computer scientist and entrepreneur

Gary Arlen Kildall was an American computer scientist and microcomputer entrepreneur who created the CP/M operating system and founded Digital Research, Inc. (DRI). Kildall was one of the first people to see microprocessors as fully capable computers, rather than equipment controllers, and to organize a company around this concept. He also co-hosted the PBS TV show Computer Chronicles. Although his career in computing spanned more than two decades, he is mainly remembered in connection with IBM's unsuccessful attempt in 1980 to license CP/M for the IBM Personal Computer.

CP/M Discontinued family of computer operating systems

CP/M, originally standing for Control Program/Monitor and later Control Program for Microcomputers, is a mass-market operating system created in 1974 for Intel 8080/85-based microcomputers by Gary Kildall of Digital Research, Inc. Initially confined to single-tasking on 8-bit processors and no more than 64 kilobytes of memory, later versions of CP/M added multi-user variations and were migrated to 16-bit processors.

Drive letter assignment process of assigning alphabetical identifiers to volumes

In computer data storage, drive letter assignment is the process of assigning alphabetical identifiers to volumes. Unlike the concept of UNIX mount points, where volumes are named and located arbitrarily in a single hierarchical namespace, drive letter assignment allows multiple highest-level namespaces. Drive letter assignment is thus a process of using letters to name the roots of the "forest" representing the file system; each volume holds an independent "tree".

DR-DOS Computer operating system for x86 processors

DR-DOS is an operating system of the DOS family, written for IBM PC-compatible personal computers. It was originally developed by Gary A. Kildall's Digital Research and derived from Concurrent PC DOS 6.0, which was an advanced successor of CP/M-86. As ownership changed, various later versions were produced with names including Novell DOS and Caldera OpenDOS.

GEM (desktop environment) operating environment created by Digital Research, Inc.

GEM is an operating environment which was created by Digital Research (DRI) since 1984 for use with the DOS operating system on Intel 8088 and Motorola 68000 microprocessors.

MP/M is a discontinued multi-user version of the CP/M operating system, created by Digital Research developer Tom Rolander in 1979. It allowed multiple users to connect to a single computer, each using a separate terminal.

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Novell, Inc. was an American software and services company headquartered in Provo, Utah. Its most significant product was the multi-platform network operating system known as Novell NetWare, which became the dominant form of personal computer networking during the second half of the 1980s and first half of the 1990s. At its high point, NetWare had a 63 percent share of the market for network operating systems, and by the early 1990s there were over half a million NetWare-based networks installed worldwide. Novell technology contributed to the emergence of local area networks, which displaced the dominant mainframe computing model and changed computing worldwide. Novell became instrumental in making Utah Valley a focus for technology and software development.

CP/M-86 Discontinued computer operating system for x86 processors

CP/M-86 was a version of the CP/M operating system that Digital Research (DR) made for the Intel 8086 and Intel 8088. The system commands are the same as in CP/M-80. Executable files used the relocatable .CMD file format. Digital Research also produced a multi-user multitasking operating system compatible with CP/M-86, MP/M-86, which later evolved into Concurrent CP/M-86. When an emulator was added to provide PC DOS compatibility, the system was renamed Concurrent DOS, which later became Multiuser DOS, of which REAL/32 is the latest incarnation. The FlexOS, DOS Plus, and DR DOS families of operating systems started as derivations of Concurrent DOS as well.


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Virtual DOS machines (VDM) refer to a technology that allows running 16-bit/32-bit DOS and 16-bit Windows programs when there is already another operating system running and controlling the hardware.

Multiuser DOS Family of CP/M- and DOS-compatible multi-user multi-tasking operating systems

Multiuser DOS is a real-time multi-user multi-tasking operating system for IBM PC-compatible microcomputers.

IBMDOS.COM System file (DOS kernel) in PC DOS and DR-DOS

IBMDOS.COM is the filename of the DOS kernel. Loaded and initially invoked by the DOS BIOS in IBMBIO.COM during the boot process, it contains the hardware-independent parts of the operating system, including the embedded FAT12, FAT16 and, in newer versions, the FAT32 file system code, as well as the code to provide the DOS API to applications.

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FlexOS is a discontinued modular real-time multiuser multitasking operating system (RTOS) designed for computer-integrated manufacturing, laboratory, retail and financial markets. Developed by Digital Research's Flexible Automation Business Unit in Monterey, California, in 1985, the system was considered to become a successor of Digital Research's earlier Concurrent DOS, but with a new, modular, and considerably different system architecture and portability across various processor families. Still named Concurrent DOS 68K and Concurrent DOS 286, it was renamed into FlexOS on 1 October 1986 to better differentiate the target audiences. FlexOS was licensed by several OEMs who selected it as the basis for their own operating systems like 4680 OS, 4690 OS, S5-DOS/MT and others. Unrelated to FlexOS, the original Concurrent DOS system architecture found a continuation in successors like Concurrent DOS XM and Concurrent DOS 386 as well.

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Further reading