Tuesday, July 30, 2013

IBM insider: How I caught my wife while bug-hunting on OS/2

Part one The unholy alliance of IBM and Microsoft unleashed OS/2 25 years ago with a mission to replace Windows, Unix and DOS. Back then, I was a foot-soldier in that war: a contract bug hunter at Big Blue. Here's how I remember it.

By cruel fate, an even crueller editor has decreed that a quarter of a century later I must write an article on whether you should still bet your career on Microsoft. And I am struck by the way that those who've not read history have condemned themselves to repeat it.

'In some ways my work has been to make life hard for Microsoft'
In the late 1980s, most PCs still ran one program at a time, although some were infested with Terminate and Stay Resident hacks that fought among themselves. Graphical user interfaces appeared on desktops - but Windows apps tended to screw with one another big time: even if you simply turned on a Windows PC and didn't do anything further, there was a good chance it would crash all by itself.

Then preemptive multitasking operating systems that could protect apps from each other became viable on Intel chips, thanks to new microprocessor features and improved performance. The idea of a super-DOS arose and was quickly seen as having potential to deliver something more special, for which they needed me...

IBM was pathologically secretive. My job interview consisted largely of the manager asking "so Dominic, tell me about yourself" with no indication of what they'd want me to do. I'd been involved in Microsoft's Intel x86 Unix, though not in any useful way, so I replied: "In some ways my work has been to make life hard for Microsoft." The recruitment pimp had told me that IBM bosses usually "took their time" to make decisions, but this time the offer was on my answering machine before I got home.

So I turned up and was paid to do no work. I was in IBM UK's lab in Hursley, near Winchester, but no one seemed to want me to actually do anything. I had signed a contract with a non-disclosure clause (which has now expired I should made clear), but apparently that wasn't good enough. I offered to sign another one but no one knew where to get it.

Eventually this was resolved, and I was assigned a PC but not even given an email account to use because I was a contractor, an untermensch. The only way for me to get email was to pretend that I was the contractor who used to sit at my desk and so I used his ID for the next three years.

Read more: The Register
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