Author Topic: Halt and Catch Fire (AMC Series based on the founding of Compaq)  (Read 12848 times)

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Offline Stonent

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Has anyone heard of this? I just saw the trailer today.  It's a new series on AMC about the ex-TI Engineers and the founding of Compaq and their quest to find a way to legally reverse engineer and clone the IBM PC.

One thing I read about it specifically said "Ask anyone where the computing industry as we know it was born and the'll likely say Silicon Valley, but they'd be wrong, it was Texas"

To those who aren't familiar with how Compaq started, they figured since the IBM PC was built with standard commonly available parts, that it shouldn't be too hard to clone and sell, but the key was the BIOS ROM which was proprietary and copyrighted software.  So they had to figure out how to clone its function without cloning its software.

It's probably one of the greatest electrical engineering stories of the 20th century and the ensuring legal case opened up the doors to the entire PC industry as we know it today.





« Last Edit: August 24, 2014, 03:34:15 pm by Stonent »
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Offline jh15

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Re: Halt an Catch Fire (AMC Series on the founding of Compaq)
« Reply #1 on: May 08, 2014, 03:43:48 pm »
I haven't seen it but I hope it gets the concept across that copyright breaks innovation.

Why doesn't the broken patent system really screw up and make patents last until 75 years after the patent's originator, person or factory.
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Offline Stonent

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Re: Halt an Catch Fire (AMC Series on the founding of Compaq)
« Reply #2 on: May 08, 2014, 04:10:34 pm »
I found this video on youtube where the real founders in the 1980s are talking about the company being founded.

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Offline Richard Crowley

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Re: Halt an Catch Fire (AMC Series on the founding of Compaq)
« Reply #3 on: May 08, 2014, 04:40:12 pm »
The DMCA would likely make the action of reproducing the BIOS functionality illegal today.
Phoenix had to use a "Chinese Wall" or "Clean Room" method to reverse-engineer IBM's original PC BIOS.
And then they had to take out a multi-million dollar insurance policy to reassure their customers.

Quote
One thing I read about it specifically said "Ask anyone where the computing industry as we know it was born and the'll likely say Silicon Valley, but they'd be wrong, it was Texas"
Well, you could make a strong case for Boca Raton, Florida where the IBM group lead by Bill Lowe and Don Estridge developed the IBM 5150 (aka. the first "PC")
 

Offline dfmischler

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Re: Halt an Catch Fire (AMC Series on the founding of Compaq)
« Reply #4 on: May 08, 2014, 08:15:34 pm »
Well, you could make a strong case for Boca Raton, Florida where the IBM group lead by Bill Lowe and Don Estridge developed the IBM 5150 (aka. the first "PC")
I would disagree.  That was just another proprietary machine.  Quite a few other companies were building something like it at the time; some of them with the same chips.  The key was that it got popular, and somebody figured out a more-or-less legal way to clone it.  The existence of an "open standard" is what propelled the industry to where it is now, for good or ill.
 

Offline London Lad

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Re: Halt an Catch Fire (AMC Series on the founding of Compaq)
« Reply #5 on: May 08, 2014, 08:25:23 pm »
Not 100% accurate but a good time line of how this (British) invention developed http://www.computerhope.com/issues/ch000984.htm
 

Offline Stonent

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Re: Halt an Catch Fire (AMC Series on the founding of Compaq)
« Reply #6 on: May 10, 2014, 10:46:05 am »
I just noticed, the actor that plays the main character in this show played King Thranduil in The Hobbit.

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1195855/?ref_=tt_cl_t1

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Offline Legion

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Re: Halt and Catch Fire (AMC Series on the founding of Compaq)
« Reply #7 on: May 23, 2014, 09:34:07 am »
You can watch the first episode on AMCs website here: http://www.amctv.com/full-episodes/halt-and-catch-fire/3571290828001/i-o-full-episode

It was fantastic. Highly recommended.
 

Offline SirNick

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Re: Halt and Catch Fire (AMC Series on the founding of Compaq)
« Reply #8 on: May 23, 2014, 10:40:48 am »
Hope it's better than The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad.  At this point, I've associated AMC with over-hyped and tedious original programming.  Also: Their first album was better, you kids get off my lawn, so on so forth.

I definitely see the value behind patents, copyright, and trademarks, however....  As long as someone stands to profit, these concepts will be drawn into the realm of absurdity.  Disney keeps indefinitely extending the trademark term, people actually have to pay royalties for singing Happy Birthday, and you can't invent anything these days without stepping on a patent landmine.  I don't think that kind of abuse was the intent of any of those protections.

There should be a reward mechanism to allow innovators to recoup their costs, but what we have now is not the right solution.  At least not anymore.
 

Offline Rasz

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Re: Halt an Catch Fire (AMC Series on the founding of Compaq)
« Reply #9 on: May 23, 2014, 11:06:51 am »
The DMCA would likely make the action of reproducing the BIOS functionality illegal today.

No it wouldnt. DMCA is about DRM, not APIs.

Util a month ago US had a very good case law established by Oracle vs Google stating that APIs are NOT copyrightable. Judge learned Java just to know whats up during the case!

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2012/jun/01/oracle-google-api-decision-free

Sadly we cant have nice things when big corporations are free to bribe everyone, so clueless appeals court reversed it

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2014/05/oracles-java-api-code-protected-by-copyright-appeals-court-rules/
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Offline Richard Crowley

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Re: Halt an Catch Fire (AMC Series on the founding of Compaq)
« Reply #10 on: May 25, 2014, 04:19:18 am »
The DMCA would likely make the action of reproducing the BIOS functionality illegal today.

No it wouldnt. DMCA is about DRM, not APIs.
I was referring to the mere ACTION of attempting to REVERSE-ENGINEER the functionality in order to reproduce it. Even the ACTION is made illegal by DMCA. Or at least that is how I understand various explanations of the incomprehensible legal mumbo-jumbo.
 

Offline Rasz

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Re: Halt an Catch Fire (AMC Series on the founding of Compaq)
« Reply #11 on: May 25, 2014, 01:15:54 pm »
The DMCA would likely make the action of reproducing the BIOS functionality illegal today.

No it wouldnt. DMCA is about DRM, not APIs.
I was referring to the mere ACTION of attempting to REVERSE-ENGINEER the functionality in order to reproduce it. Even the ACTION is made illegal by DMCA. Or at least that is how I understand various explanations of the incomprehensible legal mumbo-jumbo.

No it is NOT. DMCA makes illegal act of reverse engineering DRM for the purpose of breaking it.
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Offline echen1024

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Re: Halt and Catch Fire (AMC Series on the founding of Compaq)
« Reply #12 on: May 25, 2014, 04:53:44 pm »
This show is actually really quite good.
I'm not saying we should kill all stupid people. I'm just saying that we should remove all product safety labels and let natural selection do its work.

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Offline TheRevva

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Re: Halt and Catch Fire (AMC Series on the founding of Compaq)
« Reply #13 on: August 18, 2014, 07:54:50 pm »
I wonder how many people out there who, in the 'spirit' of true hacking, have already downloaded and watched all 10 episodes released to date before being aired in their local country?
I'm willing to bet a small pile of Mike-Rowe-Soft CDs (aka 'holographic beer coasters') that it's a fairly significant number!
 

Offline VK3DRB

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Re: Halt and Catch Fire (AMC Series on the founding of Compaq)
« Reply #14 on: August 18, 2014, 09:39:52 pm »
Actually IBM stuffed up with the PC.

It was originally to be marketed to hackers to fill a small niche market of those who were into microcomputers, like many of us here. But quickly they realised the product had wider merit because it became the defacto standard for hackers and spread into the general corporate world. They had no vision of how it would change the much of the world.

They used the Intel 8088 micro - a segmented addressing nightmare and crappy architecture in comparison to the superior Motorola 68000.

The biggest screw up is that IBM published the complete BIOS listings and the circuit diagrams, so that other companies could make option cards like graphics cards etc. IBM made a gross miscalculation. Instead the more lucrative market was in cloning the IBMPC. Even though most of them were crap quality, the prices of IBM Clones were a fraction of the IBM machines.

IBM got greedy for money with big fees on Microchannel architecture and the overpriced OS/2 Warp operating system.

If they had one ounce of innovative marketing skills, they would have given every university student on the planet a fee copy of OS/2 Warp, and Microsoft would have amounted to not much. But they paid for their ineptitude because now OS/2 is dead and buried. The funny thing is IBM thought the world would accept OS/2 if all the employees were forced to use it. In fact IBM employees were forced to use OS/2 ("Orrible System 2") because they thought the religion would spread. In the days of the dodgy Louis Gerstner, IBM employees were forced to use OS/2, when the real world was embracing Windows. Incidentally Microsoft wrote OS/2, not IBM. And only 16 bit applications could run on OS/2's pathetic Windows shell, not 32 bits.


« Last Edit: August 18, 2014, 10:49:19 pm by VK3DRB »
 

Online macboy

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Re: Halt an Catch Fire (AMC Series on the founding of Compaq)
« Reply #15 on: August 19, 2014, 02:48:34 am »
I was referring to the mere ACTION of attempting to REVERSE-ENGINEER the functionality in order to reproduce it. Even the ACTION is made illegal by DMCA. Or at least that is how I understand various explanations of the incomprehensible legal mumbo-jumbo.

No it is NOT. DMCA makes illegal act of reverse engineering DRM for the purpose of breaking it.
More generally it makes it illegal to circumvent copy protection, or to show someone else how to do it (e.g. distribution of decryption keys or proprietary algorithms).

The PC BIOS was undoubtedly copyrighted, but was not copy protected; no encryption or obfuscation was used. It was just raw machine code in a ROM chip.
 

Offline Richard Crowley

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Re: Halt an Catch Fire (AMC Series on the founding of Compaq)
« Reply #16 on: August 19, 2014, 03:25:03 am »
The PC BIOS was undoubtedly copyrighted, but was not copy protected; no encryption or obfuscation was used. It was just raw machine code in a ROM chip.
Which is why practically any modern piece of hardware/firmware/software you use required that you agree to not reverse-engineer it.
Of course that doesn't prevent anyone from reverse-engineering (or disassembling, or whatever).  It just provides their attorneys something to hit you with.\

The BIOS for the original IBM PC clones were written from scratch in a "clean room" based only on the interface specs.
But I can't remember. Is there STILL a court case (or three) about whether published API specs are "protected" from reverse-engineering?
« Last Edit: August 19, 2014, 03:27:37 am by Richard Crowley »
 

Online nctnico

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Re: Halt and Catch Fire (AMC Series on the founding of Compaq)
« Reply #17 on: August 19, 2014, 03:53:13 am »
Hope it's better than The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad. 

What's wrong with Breaking Bad. I've been enjoying it on DVD in the last few weeks. I think it is really very good. I doubt Gus Fring (Mr Big) would be so familiar with (and to) his employees and I expect the drug business is a little too stylised for TV. But it is well written with interesting (if not very likable) characters.

But to return to topic. Where is HACF showing? I assume Foxtel. Which I don't have.
Just download from your favorite download site.
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Offline SirNick

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Re: Halt and Catch Fire (AMC Series on the founding of Compaq)
« Reply #18 on: August 19, 2014, 11:53:54 am »
What's wrong with Breaking Bad. (...) But it is well written with interesting (if not very likable) characters.

All very subjective, and of course, I speak for myself alone:  <rant>

That's part of what baffles me about Breaking Bad's popularity.  None of the characters are likable, so at most you relate to their actions for a short time, then they're back wallowing in their own self-made misery.  I didn't find the writing to be all that stellar.  Same squabbles, a bunch of tired cliches...  ("But the character arc!"  Yeah, yeah...)

I only made it through the first two seasons because everyone was always saying how great it was, so I kept waiting for it to get better.  It didn't.  For some reason, I stuck it out to the very end since I had already invested myself that much.  I felt relieved it was over.  It wasn't quite the masochistic humanity-sinking experience that Nip/Tuck was, but it was close.

Similarly, The Walking Dead was mildly interesting through the second season for the moral questions it raised.  I continued to watch most of the 3rd season despite feeling the plot was getting repetitive; partway through the 4th, I finally gave up.  Just WAY too tedious, and everyone's always miserable.  What's entertaining about that?

I see a little of that "AMC-ism" in HACF too -- the dingy camera filters, the constant bickering, the lack of a truly likable character (Donna's usually alright, and props for the genuinely smart female role) -- I guess they think dreariness makes it "gritty."  But the subject matter is interesting enough that I'm giving it a shot.  We'll see.

</rant>

Interestingly, I had this conversation with another group of forum-goers elsewhere and mentioned Dexter and Homeland as examples of similar, but IMHO, far superior dramas.  It seems our taste was 180-deg out of phase on that one.  I also thought The Newsroom was (is) excellent.  May be just a different cup of tea.
 

Offline Richard Crowley

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Re: Halt and Catch Fire (AMC Series on the founding of Compaq)
« Reply #19 on: August 19, 2014, 12:09:48 pm »
Yeah, what Sir Nick said.  Never could figure out why people liked that show.    :-//
 

Online westfw

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Re: Halt and Catch Fire (AMC Series on the founding of Compaq)
« Reply #20 on: August 19, 2014, 01:33:15 pm »
Quote
The PC BIOS was undoubtedly copyrighted, but was not copy protected; no encryption or obfuscation was used.
I watched part of the first episode and got pretty disgusted.
There wasn't much to "reverse-engineer" in the IBM PC.  It was a very vanilla design with no custom parts.  The full specs AND SOURCE CODE for the BIOS were published (I think I still have that notebook around somewhere.)  The problem was the copyright; if you wanted to duplicate the BIOS for your own clone, you had to find someone who could WRITE the BIOS from the specs, who had never looked at the IBM Source (thus "clean room")  This was a different and easier problem.  A boring problem, actually.

And then it seemed to have 2000-era business ethics and considerations that I don't remember existing in the early 1980s (not that I was involved in a PC compatibles business, but ... all the customer and trade press buzz was about features and costs and "maybe personal computers will hit mainstream" rather than the legal and "big profits!" issues.)

Bah humbug!
 

Online coppice

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Re: Halt and Catch Fire (AMC Series on the founding of Compaq)
« Reply #21 on: August 19, 2014, 05:22:08 pm »
Actually IBM stuffed up with the PC.

It was originally to be marketed to hackers to fill a small niche market of those who were into microcomputers, like many of us here. But quickly they realised the product had wider merit because it became the defacto standard for hackers and spread into the general corporate world. They had no vision of how it would change the much of the world.

Er, no. The PC for a niche market was the one before the IBM PC we all recognise today. It had a proprietary IBM CPU and you could only use an interpreter on it (some kind of BASIC, I think). The IBM PC we all know was a result of IBM worrying about the number of small businesses who found they could do their basic accounts and database activities on the Z80 based CP/M machines which were becoming popular. IBM made a sort of "next generation" CP/M machine, with a 16 bit core. They wanted a 16 bit CP/M on it, but when Digital Research didn't play ball, they got a CP/M clone from Microsoft - MSDOS.

They used the Intel 8088 micro - a segmented addressing nightmare and crappy architecture in comparison to the superior Motorola 68000.

The screwup here was Motorola's. The 68008 was so late it was irrelevant when it appeared. There was no way a full 16 bit bus or the huge expensive 64 pin ceramic package of the 68000 was going into this simple machine. If the 68008 had been properly planned into the release of the 68000, in a low cost 40 pin package, the IBM PC would probably have used it.

The biggest screw up is that IBM published the complete BIOS listings and the circuit diagrams, so that other companies could make option cards like graphics cards etc. IBM made a gross miscalculation. Instead the more lucrative market was in cloning the IBMPC. Even though most of them were crap quality, the prices of IBM Clones were a fraction of the IBM machines.

That was actually a very smart move by IBM. They didn't want to stop competitors. Anti-trust concerns meant they only wanted to slow their competitors down. They did enough to ensure that, while making the machine open enough that third party cards flourished, and the PC ended up in all sorts of unexpected applications, broadening its market.

IBM got greedy for money with big fees on Microchannel architecture and the overpriced OS/2 Warp operating system.

Microchannel was a very stupid idea, but OS/2 Warp wasn't around in those days. The original OS/2 was a screwup, mostly because it was locked to IBM's microchannel  hardware. That is what seriously limited its appeal. I don't remember it being very expensive. The whole machine was more expensive, as a full scale OS like OS/2 needed a lot more memory than was being fitted to most machines at that time.

If they had one ounce of innovative marketing skills, they would have given every university student on the planet a fee copy of OS/2 Warp, and Microsoft would have amounted to not much. But they paid for their ineptitude because now OS/2 is dead and buried. The funny thing is IBM thought the world would accept OS/2 if all the employees were forced to use it. In fact IBM employees were forced to use OS/2 ("Orrible System 2") because they thought the religion would spread. In the days of the dodgy Louis Gerstner, IBM employees were forced to use OS/2, when the real world was embracing Windows. Incidentally Microsoft wrote OS/2, not IBM. And only 16 bit applications could run on OS/2's pathetic Windows shell, not 32 bits.
OS/2 was IBM's design and product. Microsoft were just body shop contractors helping the pool of IBM developers. At that time there were only 16 bit Windows apps, so I am not sure what your last sentence is supposed to mean.

OS/2 had a lot of good qualities, but its key problem was it was seen as an attempt by IBM to lock people in. Most of us thought "the only reason they aren't putting Unix on that thing is because they want to screw around with us" and we mostly ignored it. Strangely, when Microsoft launched NT some time later, and there really were 32 bit Windows apps, many people had a very different attitude. They saw it as the dawn of low cost versions of things which had always run on Unix, like super expensive CAD tools. They had no justification for why that massive price reduction should occur, when it changed nothing in the cost structure of the applications supplier.
 

Online westfw

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Re: Halt and Catch Fire (AMC Series on the founding of Compaq)
« Reply #22 on: August 19, 2014, 06:13:07 pm »
Quote
They used the Intel 8088 micro - a segmented addressing nightmare
8088/8086 wasn't so bad.  Position independent code for free.  For that 1M max address space.  The 286 was a nightmare attempt add more address space.  (but Intel apparently adapted faster than Motorola, and ended up winning in the end.)

Quote
and crappy architecture in comparison to the superior Motorola 68000.
Well, yeah.  Except perhaps hardware-wise.

Quote
The screwup here was Motorola's.  There was no way a full 16 bit bus or the huge expensive 64 pin ceramic package of the 68000 was going into this simple machine.
Apple and Commodore (Amiga) didn't seem to have many problems.  There's no particular reason that IBM couldn't have used the 8bit expansion bus with 16bit main memory.  The original MBs ended up with 32x memory chips anyway (4*64k*8) in the most popular configuration.  (of course, those 68k systems were a couple years (and a couple Moore Generations) later than the original PC design.)  SUN was doing 68k systems in the early 80s, but they were much more expensive.

Quote
If the 68008 had been properly planned into the release of the 68000, in a low cost 40 pin package, the IBM PC would probably have used it.
The 68008 was a 48pin package when it finally came out anyway.

If HCF had been about the whole mainframe/workstation/pc religious battle, it would have been more interesting.  To have made it all about "cloning the PC" was silly.  In that timeframe, vendors were still proudly building MSDOS non-IBMPC systems (I owned an HP150, for instance.)
 

Offline george graves

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Re: Halt and Catch Fire (AMC Series on the founding of Compaq)
« Reply #23 on: August 19, 2014, 06:31:24 pm »
I'm in the US, and even I had issues with the AMC website.  Turned it was adblock plus.  Turn if off for that page (and the eevblog of course!) and all is good.

So far it seems like Mad Men with a touch of the Social Network.  But without the amazing dialog of Aaron Sorkin.  Also if you're into great dialog, and not an American hater  - check out "The Newsroom"....






Online coppice

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Re: Halt and Catch Fire (AMC Series on the founding of Compaq)
« Reply #24 on: August 19, 2014, 07:26:21 pm »
Quote
The screwup here was Motorola's.  There was no way a full 16 bit bus or the huge expensive 64 pin ceramic package of the 68000 was going into this simple machine.
Apple and Commodore (Amiga) didn't seem to have many problems.  There's no particular reason that IBM couldn't have used the 8bit expansion bus with 16bit main memory.  The original MBs ended up with 32x memory chips anyway (4*64k*8) in the most popular configuration.  (of course, those 68k systems were a couple years (and a couple Moore Generations) later than the original PC design.)  SUN was doing 68k systems in the early 80s, but they were much more expensive.
As you said, the Suns were expensive machines, but so was the original Apple Lisa. The Apple Mac was launched 2.5 years after the IBM PC, and was still not a low cost machine. They crippled it with too little RAM and disk space to try to keep its price bearable (yes, it had a lot more RAM than original IBM PC, but the Mac launch after a massive fall in memory prices). The Amiga came 1.5 years after the Mac, and another massive fall in costs. By that time the IBM PC AT was out, with 16 bit RAM and I/O, and the cost structure of the original IBM PC was no longer relevant.
 


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