Subject: RE: Successful FSBs
From: "Larry M. Augustin" <lma@lmaugustin.com>
Date: Thu, 31 Oct 2002 20:13:31 -0800

> From: Rich Bodo [mailto:rsb@ostel.com]
> 
> > One thing that is interesting is that the BIOS listings themselves
did
> > not contain any copyright or other license notice.  None.  When was
the
> > last time you saw a source code listing with no copyright or license
> > reference?
> 
> The whole thing is kind of weird.  So if their strategy was to
> encourage third party products but not PC manufacturers, why release
> the BIOS source at all?  To appease the hobbyists?  I suppose it
> didn't matter much.  It would have been reverse engineered and a BIOS
> market would have sprung up anyway.

Up until sometime in the mid-80's, source code and hardware schematics
were a standard part of the documentation all customers received with
computers.  IBM was just following their standard practice.  Remember,
up until PCs became widespread, computer operators were expected to be
able to read the schematics and source code.  I'm sure there are plenty
of people on this list who remember having schematics with their 11/780s
and PDP-11s, and remember having the source code to IBM's VM on
microfiche.

The kind of open documentation that I think everyone on this list would
like to see was at one time very common.  It was also very hard to copy
the hardware.  It required a huge investment and so only a few companies
could attempt it.  IBM could go after those few companies with patent
and/or copyright infringement lawsuits and control the competition.

The software wasn't any good without the hardware, and since the
hardware was easily controlled, there wasn't much need for software
controls.

Enter the era of the PC.  Virtually anyone could buy the off-the-shelf
parts to build a PC.  Anyone remember building a PC from Heathkit?  The
hardware became easy to clone.  "Computer operators" became "users" and
no longer had to have electrical engineering degrees.  Only a very small
percentage of computer owners now cared about the schematics, but the
schematics were incredibly useful to the clone makers.  So schematics
went away.  (Once IBM realized what they had done, they tried to put the
genie back in the bottle by releasing a new hardware architecture that
they controlled: MCA.  But by then it was too late.)

Companies could no longer control the software by controlling the
hardware.  A company's software was now useful without its hardware; you
could run it on clone hardware.  Hence, software piracy was meaningful
and companies put controls on their software too.  No more source code
listings.

This is, of course, a highly simplified view of history.  Many people
forget is that it was once common to get source code, and that the IBM
PC was a major catalyst for closed source.

Larry

--
Larry M. Augustin, lma@lmaugustin.com
Tel: +1.650.966.1759, Fax: +1.650.966.1753