Tag Archives: research

Was the Microsoft Empire Built on Stolen Goods?

The history of the computer industry is filled with fascinating tales of sudden riches and lost opportunities. Take that of Ronald Wayne, who cofounded Apple Computer with Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs but sold his shares for just US $2,300. And John Atanasoff, who proudly showed his digital computer design to John Mauchly who later codesigned the Eniac, typically recognized as the first electronic computer, without credit to Atanasoff. Perhaps the most famous story of missed fame and fortune is that of Gary Kildall. A pioneer in computer operating systems, Kildall started the company Digital Research and wrote Control Program for Microcomputers (CP/M), the operating system used on many of the early hobbyist personal computers, such as the MITS Altair 8800, the IMSAI 8080, and the Osborne 1, before IBM introduced its own PC. Kildall could have been the king of personal computer software, but instead that title went to his small-time rival Bill Gates. For years, rumors have circulated that the code for the original DOS operating system sold by Microsoft is actually copied from the CP/M operating system developed by Digital Research.

A couple years ago we took it upon ourselves to search out the original code and use CodeSuite to determine the truth once and for all. Our research was summarized in a popular (and not-so-popular) article in IEEE Spectrum entitled Did Bill Gates Steal the Heart of DOS? If you haven’t read it, you should. It’s a fun read but it only summarizes our exhaustive results using our tools and procedures for finding copied code. The article generated a lot of controversy and we always intended to publish the full technical details of our analysis, but it’s surprising how many people don’t like our conclusion and wouldn’t publish my paper. But now the full academic paper entitled A Code Correlation Comparison of the DOS and CP/M Operating Systems is available online in the Journal of Software Engineering and Applications. If you want to know the details, and you want to know the truth, it’s in the article and the details are in the paper.

Job Opening: Software Forensic Engineer

Zeidman Consulting, a leading research and development company (and sister  company to SAFE Corporation), is looking to hire a full-time software forensic engineer. Acting as a high-tech sleuth, this person will analyze and reverse-engineer software using CodeSuite® and other state-of-the-art software tools, helping to resolve lawsuits involving hundreds of millions or billions of dollars. The employee will also work on one of several ongoing cutting edge research projects. These projects often lead to publication in academic journals, presentations at conferences, patents, and new product spinoffs. Past and ongoing projects include:

  • CodeMatch®, a program for comparing and measuring the similarity of different programs.
  • CodeGrid®, a computer grid-enabled version of CodeMatch®.
  • HTML Preprocessor™, a tool for breaking complex HTML pages into components consisting of text, pure HTML, JavaScript, images, etc.
  • RPG, a tool for automatically generating expert reports for copyright, trade secret, and patent litigation.

A successful candidate will need the following attributes:

  • At least a bachelor’s degree in computer science or equivalent. Advanced degree is preferred.
  • Excellent programming skills in one or more programming languages.
  • Ability to work independently on projects that are not well-defined.
  • Excellent verbal and writing skills for creating detailed specifications and reports.
  • Ability to work on multiple projects simultaneously and to switch projects suddenly as the need arises.
  • Enjoys working long hours on interesting projects, including weekends when projects hit critical periods.
  • Enjoys free time when projects are not in critical periods.

Zeidman Consulting pays above average salaries with profit-sharing and provides health insurance and paid time off for holidays, vacation, and illness. To apply, please email a resume to Info@ZeidmanConsulting.com.

Be a Pioneer in the Field of Software Forensics

I hope you’re all aware of my book The Software IP Detective’s Handbook: Measurement, Comparison, and Infringement Detection. It’s the first book on Software Forensics, a field that I pioneered at Software Analysis and Forensic Engineering and Zeidman Consulting. Whereas Digital Forensics deals with bits and files, without any detailed knowledge of the meaning of the data, Software Forensics deals with analysis of software using detailed knowledge of its syntax and functionality to perform analysis to find stolen code and stolen trade secrets. The algorithms described in the book have been used in many court cases. The book also describes algorithms for measuring software evolution, particularly as it relates to IP changes.

If you are a teacher, this is a great time to incorporate the materials in the book into your courses on software development, intellectual property law, business management, and computer science. There’s something for everyone in the various chapters of the book. Your students and you will be at the forefront of an important and very new field of study.

If you’re interested, please contact me.

Wikipedia: reliable reference or biased blathering?

When I began writing my book on software intellectual property, I often needed definitions of terms, lawsuit citations, technical references, and historical facts. In those long ago pre-Internet times, this meant reserving whole days at local libraries to sort through catalogs, walk through mazes of bookshelves, run my fingers along Dewey Decimal-coded book spines, pull heavy volumes off the shelves, spread them across big wooden tables, flip back and forth between indexes and pages, and skim dense paragraphs of text. Now I just Google, and usually it’s Wikipedia that comes up.

As I wrote my book it became filled with references from Wikipedia. Some of the information I knew was correct but I needed a formal reference and Wikipedia seemed good enough. Other information I could verify at multiple sites, but the Wikipedia definition was always concise. I had been told by many attorneys that Wikipedia references were not considered legitimate in court, and I never use them in expert reports for litigation, but I figured it was good enough for my book. It was only when one of the reviewers pointed out that using Wikipedia would hurt the reputation of my book, especially among lawyers, that I gave it a second thought. I went back and found alternate references and though the main concepts that I was referencing in Wikipedia were essentially correct, it was the details that Wikipedia often got wrong.

And I knew this fact already. My Cornell roommate Rob Smigel had gone on to be a fairly famous comedy writer for Saturday Night Live. The Wikipedia page originally said he had graduated from Cornell. I figured this needed correction, because Rob dropped out (before nearly failing out) and transferred to NYU where his dad sat on the board. Rob’s story is actually that old cliché where his dad insisted he become a dentist like himself, but Rob only wanted to be a comedian, a career that his dad strongly disapproved. My corrections to the page were regularly removed because I couldn’t document this fact with external references, yet most of the other information in the bio was unreferenced.

This points out one significant problem with Wikipedia. In the early days, people entered what they wanted with little if any fact checking required. Eventually those early pages, and there are probably millions of them, became accepted as incontrovertible fact. I have at least one friend whose Wikipedia page was created by colleagues as a joke, yet it gets quoted as true.

Later I submitted a reference to a Rolling Stone interview with my roommate Rob Smigel where he mentions not completing a degree at Cornell, but somehow a Wikipedia editor did not find even this credible enough and edited my sentence into a short phrase that has since been removed. In fact, as of today all references to Cornell have been removed from Rob’s bio even though he attended for two years.

So this points out yet another significant problem with Wikipedia. There are now editors who have taken it upon themselves to be the correctness police. They go about removing edits of others if they don’t conform to their own beliefs. Many of these editors boast tens of thousands of page edits. Wikipedia has set up rules for editing, but there is only a long process and many level of effort to disputing an edit, that still rely on these same biased Wikipedia editors who do not necessarily have any expertise in anything let alone the subject under consideration. In fact, although my company and my software is the most widely used copyright infringement detection software in court cases, even simple links to our website in Wikipedia have all been eventually removed by an editor who says this is self-promotion. Why is self-promotion bad if the facts are provably true?

Even Wikipedia states that the information on its site may be incorrect, as confirmed in this Wikipedia page about using Wikipedia1:

Wikipedia’s most dramatic weaknesses are closely associated with its greatest strengths. Wikipedia’s radical openness means that any given article may be, at any given moment, in a bad state: for example it could be in the middle of a large edit or it could have been recently vandalized…

Where does Wikipedia stand in courts? There have been many references to Wikipedia in court cases, but the rule is that it’s a bad thing to do. Recent studies have shown that courts are allowing Wikipedia references much less than in the past2, 3, 4, 5.

So my advice is that Wikipedia is great for cocktail party banter, but don’t rely on it for critical facts. The anonymity of its contributors, the poor fact-checking on the early contributions, and the bias of unqualified volunteer editors make it an increasingly inaccurate source that is losing its initial attraction for many.

1. Wikipedia:Researching with Wikipedia
2. The Citation of Blogs in Judicial Opinions
3. Badasa v. Mukasy, 2008
4. Bing Shun Li v. Holder, 2010
5. Cohen v. Google, 2010