A commonly repeated (and commonly debunked) legend describes how Gary Kildall blew his chance at writing the operating system for the IBM PC. Examples include the following:

…legend has it that Kildall's company blew their chance to write the PC's OS because Kildall decided to spend the day IBM's reps wanted to meet with him enjoying the perfect flying weather in his private plane (The Jargon File, 1990)

In 1980 IBM was out looking for an operating system for its coming PC. The legend is that Kildall missed a meeting with IBM because he was out flying one of his planes. He could never live down that legend, but it wasn't entirely true. ("Gary Kildall The DOS that wasn't", Forbes, 1997)

The legend is that when the IBM “chess” team called on DRI, Kildall snubbed them, taking off on his private plane and leaving his wife to negotiate. She refused to sign a confidentiality agreement, and the deal was off. In reality however, it wasn’t Kildall who flaked. ("IBM's First System Failure", New York Magazine, 2004)

Regardless of whether or not this legend is true, what's the earliest known source for it? That is, who was the first person to (possibly erroneously) claim that Gary Kildall blew a contract with IBM because he snubbed a meeting to go flying, and where and when did this claim first appear in writing? It must have been earlier than 1990 because by that year the Jargon File was already reporting it as a well-known legend.

  • 1
    I also read that Kildall's used his plane to deliver software to a customer. It's unclear if IBM representatives ever met Kindal that day. Some says he came late to the party, some says he never saw them. What is clear is there was no agreement that day and that signing NDA (as required by IBM) was an issue.
    – tigrou
    Commented May 30 at 16:19
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    This has been up before. Kildall wanted a per-copy price, and IBM wanted a fixed price. Bill Gates found a way to do that but also sell it themselves. Commented May 30 at 16:44

1 Answer 1


Another common variant around Silicon Valley in the early days was that Kildall (or his wife) was unwilling to sign IBM's nondisclosure on the spot.

Thinking about where I was when I heard some of these, they had to be circulating by about 1980.

And also the one that I've never confirmed that a copyright notice from the CP/M source code, in a binary block made it into PC-DOS 1.0.

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