6

In the first season of the AMC show Halt & Catch Fire, the protagonist "Cameron Howe" is introduced.

Cameron portrays a rookie engineer who is recruited for being extraordinarily talented, and is tasked by her new employer to perform a cleanroom reverse-engineering of the IBM PC BIOS. Who was the actual Engineer(s) who first accomplished this feat, and what evidence do we have to document their achievement?

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12

Even just restricting discussion to the first season, before the same people apparently not only clone the PC but also create (facsimiles of) Sierra Online, McAffee, Netscape and Yahoo, she's not based on anybody real.

In real life the source code for the IBM BIOS was printed in the back of the manual. There was no Gordon inexplicably hand transcribing the assembly address by address. There was one team of technical writers that read the manual and the source and provided detailed specifications. Those specifications were handed to the legal team. The legal team handed them to a team of engineers. The engineers implemented them.

So she's a compound of a team, and I think the strange subplot about the friendly OS is completely fictitious; probably groundwork for Joe's discovery of the Apple Macintosh (i.e. that he was not a leader but a follower), and his ensuing crisis.

The people usually lauded from Compaq are the management, for successful execution of the machine; not any star engineer. But that sounds like boring television.

  • Should I read this answer as "It was a team of engineers at Compaq that first did the deed"? – Brian H Mar 2 '18 at 21:29
  • Yes. And also: the deed they did overlaps only partially with the deed depicted, hence the coverage of plot details. – Tommy Mar 2 '18 at 21:56
  • I moved some text around in the question so that the relevant bits are harder to overlook. – Brian H Mar 2 '18 at 22:13
9

Phoenix Technologies developed its ROM BIOS from IBM's using a cleanroom approach:

To develop its ROM BIOS software, Phoenix claims in its press release that it used a process that would assure that none of IBM's original code was wittingly duplicated. One group at Phoenix examined the BIOS software documented in IBM's Technical Reference Manual, and wrote a set of specifications that described how the program functioned without including any examples of actual code. This description was passed on to a single programmer who tried to write code that fulfilled its specifications.

Source: PC Mag, Jul 10, 1984, p. 56

The programmer was not identified but "He was a TI-9900 programmer" according to the article.

  • 2
    "It took us 3 months of memos to convince him to use registers at all". Funny! – Brian H Mar 3 '18 at 19:17
  • It's extra funny because the TMS9900 (I couldn't find anything about a TI-9900) didn't even have a stack! – Will Hartung Mar 4 '18 at 15:56

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