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  1. #1
    Platinum Member Trev's Avatar
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    Default Interesting story

    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:

    Steve's Article

    -------

    Discussion Group
    grc.spinrite.dev
    Subject: Re: another minor one
    Date: Wed, 18 Feb 2004 11:57:34 -0800
    From: Steve Gibson <support@grc.com>

    [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."
    No thanks.

    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 >

  2. #2
    Super Star Member Egon's Avatar
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    Default 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.

    Egon

  3. #3
    Veteran Member
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    Default Re: Interesting story

    Interesting story.

  4. #4
    Silver Member
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    Default 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

    -Frank

  5. #5
    Platinum Member Trev's Avatar
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    Default 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

    -Frank )</font>

    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]

    Bob

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