I believe this story will be of interest to most folks here. It's tangentially on-topic, in that it deals with business ethics, management, and computers ... which of course all of us here use; and we all certainly have to deal with business ethics (witness the current thread about the problems with a JD dealership who won't/can't help a guy out with his steering problems.)
Steve Gibson, programmer extraordinaire, personally gave me permission to post the text of, and/or a link to, this article he recently wrote in a software development newsgroup he hosts. I'll stick in both, in case the link doesn't work for some folks.
I had mentioned that I had been a beta tester for Peter Norton back in the old days when Norton was still a good name ... which is to say, a very long time ago.
Steve replied that he was always glad he had said no when Peter wanted to buy the famous "SpinRite" program.
Someone else replied that he had never heard this story, so Steve retold it ... in all it's rather amazing detail.
The reason for the silly title of "another minor one" was that I had reported a minor issue with the newest development cut of SpinRite 6, which Steve of course fixed immediately. [img]/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif[/img]
The link to the original article is:
Subject: Re: another minor one
Date: Wed, 18 Feb 2004 11:57:34 -0800
From: Steve Gibson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
[Robert Wycoff] wrote . . .
> I've been here 4 years, and this is the first mention I
> have heard about Peter trying to buy SpinRite.
Really? I'm sure that I've talked about it before ... but
perhaps I'm thinking of the many times I've mentioned it in PC
user group meetings.
When SpinRite was quite new and just really beginning to take
off Peter invited me up for lunch with him and a few techies in
Santa Monica. I had never met him in person, but he had given
us a huge boost by raving about my previous product (and first
product for the PC) called "FlickerFree" in his PC Magazine
column. That mention put us on the map overnight, and I thanked
him a lot for that at the beginning of lunch.
Peter said that they had done surveys of their Norton Utilities
owners, and the number ONE thing that virtually every one of
them said that they wanted most was "SpinRite" added to the
Norton Utilities product line.
I told Peter the I was flattered and all, and that I could see
perhaps someday doing some sort of bundling deal with him when
SpinRite had matured and was past its peak. But that I was sure
that he would never be willing to pay me what I expected the
product to earn for us over its foreseeable lifetime. He knew
that too, so numbers were never even discussed. But he said
that they really needed it, one way or another. That comment
always struck me as a really odd statement ...
.... which I never understood until my main technical guy, James
Ralph, took a look inside "Norton Calibrate" which appeared not
a long time afterward, and found our SpinRite code there inside
it, largely unmodified.
Jim looked inside Calibrate because he became immediately
suspicious when "Norton Calibrate" was released. It looked SO
MUCH like SpinRite on the outside, that everyone in the industry
just assumed we had licensed SpinRite to Peter Norton Computing.
But, of course, we had done no such thing.
I'll never forget the meeting Peter and I had after lunch that
day, with a "heart of darkness" guy named "Ronald Posner". Ron
is one of those ultra-slimeball business-manager type people
whom, when they are added to the "management team" of a company
with great fanfare, cause all of the original worker employees,
who built up a company from scratch, to lose heart and want to
quit. It's a sad day when a company brings in the "Ron Posners".
I was very active in the PC industry at the time, writing my
weekly column in InfoWorld, having breakfast with Borland's
founder Philippe Kahn one morning each Comdex, hanging out,
drinking and partying with Microsoft's Steve Ballmer, speaking
on Comdex panels and at various PC industry conferences, and
so forth. So I had heard of Ron Posner from his "work" over
at Wordstar, where he was apparently largely responsible for
(a) taking the company public, thus making its founders
(and himself) a lot of money, and (b) ruining the product by
bundling a bunch of crap with it to "increase its value and
traction" ... and price.
When Peter and I walked into Ron's office, he clearly knew who
I must be, though we'd never met. Ron looked up brightly at us
and said "So, we have a deal?" Peter looked like he'd been a
bad boy who had disappointed his father as he replied: "No."
And I'll never forget the way Posner's face changed in that
moment ... like a dark cloud had passed over the sun outside.
And, in that moment, in his mind, I could see that we went from
being "fake friends" (who he was probably going to try to screw
as best he could while smiling) to being enemies who he was
definitely going to screw, only more honestly now. He asked,
somewhat incredulously, "How can that be?" ... and Peter just
shrugged. What he said next I don't recall, because it was a
veiled threat which freaked me out at the time. But I knew they
would never pay what SpinRite was worth to me, so I wasn't about
to sell it for less than tens of millions of dollars ... which
was a lot less than it would have taken them to write their own.
But I didn't know HOW much less it would cost because ...
Sadly, Ron Posner reportedly handed a copy of SpinRite v1.2b to
one of their programmers with the verbal instructions to "go
home, stay there, and don't come back until you have this
functionality in a product of our own." This story was told
during a subsequent interview of a Norton programmer to a John
Goodman, PhD., who wrote the SpinRite book. We even knew what
version of SpinRite Ron had apparently handed to this programmer
in order to create Calibrate, since there were some weird
special-case bugs that we had fixed subsequently ... but which
Norton's Calibrate duplicated exactly.
What I remember most clearly about what Jim showed me inside of
Calibrate was that there was an interrupt 13 function call that
was unsupported in some early BIOSes. But there was no direct
means for determining whether or not the function was supported.
So the approach I had taken was to load the processor registers
with some arbitrary data, call the function, and see whether the
function's actions had changed the contents of the registers.
Inside of Norton's Calibrate, the EXACT SAME ARBITRARY VALUES
were being loaded into the function and called. It was
immediately apparent that SpinRite had been reverse engineered
by Norton, with pieces of its code stolen by a programmer who,
not knowing or understanding what he was seeing, simply
duplicated large pieces of my original code verbatim lest he
disturb something he didn't understand.
It was a sobering moment.
Jim very much wanted us to take legal action and call them on
what they had done. But there was no way I wanted to divert my
little company's time and financial resources to such a battle.
By that time, I had served as an expert witness in a number of
technical trials and I knew, first hand, how unreliable our
legal system is in dealing with highly technical arguments.
I could imagine Ron on the witness stand, painting a very
believable picture of me as some jealous wannabe who was trying
to unfairly get what they had earned by claiming that they had
stolen my precious work ... and the judge or jury thinking "what
a nice suit and tie that nice and impressive man was wearing."
I knew Peter, and I knew that he had probably taken no part in
this. I couldn't believe that he would ever condone such action
and I doubted that he knew what old Ron-baby had probably done
behind his back.
I'm sure that we were damaged and hurt by Calibrate's presence
in the Norton Utilities. But in an odd twist of fate, we ended
up selling copies of SpinRite to Norton's unhappy customers ...
because Norton's technical support folks were unable to provide
technical support for, or solve problems with, Calibrate. (Gee,
I wonder why?) At the time I had a significant technical support
staff of eight or nine people who reported that they were
getting a constant flow of calls -- referred to us by Norton's
support -- saying that Calibrate wasn't working for them and that
Norton's people had said that SpinRite would probably work better.
So that's the story of Peter Norton's attempt to purchase
SpinRite from me about thirteen years ago. Needless to say,
I'm really glad I said "no thanks Pete!" [img]/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif[/img]
Steve Gibson, at work on: < SpinRite v6.0 >
Super Star Member
Re: Interesting story
Ah Trev; about all I could make out was your name.
I'm so short I have trouble seeing over small grains of sand.
Fortunetly most here are very much taller.
Re: Interesting story
Re: Interesting story
Gibson is a great guy. If you are interested by this type of stuuff, he has written a long story about an attack he received at his website (grc.com). You may have heard about "Denial of Service" attacks (DoS). He had a big one, and then went on to figure out how they work to defend himself. Very interesting that a 13 year old kid could inturrupt his business for a number of days. Here's a link to the story:
The Strange Tale of the DoS Attack
Re: Interesting story
</font><font color="blue" class="small">( Gibson is a great guy. If you are interested by this type of stuuff, he has written a long story about an attack he received at his website (grc.com). You may have heard about "Denial of Service" attacks (DoS). He had a big one, and then went on to figure out how they work to defend himself. Very interesting that a 13 year old kid could inturrupt his business for a number of days. Here's a link to the story:
The Strange Tale of the DoS Attack
Yeah, great story, and extremely well-written. I heard that this was the number ONE page on the Internet for a few days after he released it. He's one of the few people I know who can explain technical issues to the rest of us. He's also just a heck of a neat guy! [img]/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif[/img]