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By the end of 1980s, Digital Research had entered a death spiral and Kildall wave the white flag of surrender. He approached Gates and asked him to consider buying Digital Research for a fair price of $26 million. Gates rejected the offer and told Kildall the company might be worth only $10 million. A humbled Kildall had to look elsewhere to find a savior for his declining company.
Kildall’s hubris may be the culprit. Having fathered a revolution in personal computing, he assumed that all the other players would continue their childlike dependency on him. He thought that a dominant thing would always be dominant. Kildall was blind to how the delayed release of CP/M-86 had pushed IBM, Microsoft,and Seattle Computer Products to their breaking points.
He couldn’t imagine that all three companies might work around him to steal CP/M’s market. The irony is that the people at all three companies would have preferred to help Kildall and CP/M-86 succeed. Instead, they were forced to go to the extreme lengths of launching a competitor to CP/M-86, solely because Kildall left them no choice.
Kildall’s more fundamental mistake, however is he didn’t follow where the money is like Bill Gates. Kildall ridiculed IBM’s clumsy technology and overlooked its enormous market power, probably because technical subjects interested Kildall and marketing strategy didn’t.
Meanwhile, Bill Gates sets his priorities in exact opposite order. He was willing to hand IBM a shoddy product derived from other people’s work because what mattered most to Gates was that the mighty IBM get its project done on time.
Kildall, the innovator, followed his passion for technical excellence and was shocked at that IBM wouldn’t follow him. Gates, the imitator, took his cues from IBM every step of the way, because he believed that following IBM was the smartest way to follow where the money is. Gates guessed right, and became one of the richest in the world.
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