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An Interview with Watts Humphrey, Part 10: The Fortune Interview, IBM Lawsuits, and Virtual Memory

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In this transcript of an oral history, Grady Booch interviews SEI Fellow Watts Humphrey. In Part 10, they discuss IBM in the mid-1960s, including Humphrey's unfortunate Fortune interview, teaching lawyers about programming, and making the decision to use Virtual Memory in the IBM 370.

This interview was provided courtesy of the Computer History Museum.

See the entire interview.

From the author of

The Fortune Interview

Humphrey:  Let me move on to another situation. This was the year I took over programming. They had these programming sort of technical meetings -- symposia kind of things -- where they get a lot of the technical people together for a meeting, and they would share presentations and that sort of thing. And so I was going to go up and be the host of this thing. I had just been in the job for a few months. But I was to go up and meet with them there, and Tom Watson was going to come and give a talk. So I was supposed to meet him at the airport, but I couldn’t meet him at the airport because they had set up an interview with Fortune magazine, and that was set up back in White Plains. So when Tom arrived I was in White Plains, and somebody else met him in my car, and it turned out I had a spare tire in the trunk and they had trouble getting Watson’s baggage into it.  But the guy apologized for me not being there because I was doing the Fortune interview. And Tom Watson absolutely blew up because there had been some quotes in Fortune that he had objected to, and he basically said, “We’re not talking to Fortune.” And of course, I didn’t know that. So I had the interview, and the people called me and said Tom had really blown up. So I called Dean McKay, who was the VP of Communications who had actually set up the interview, but fortunately he calmed Tom down, but that was an explosion at the time. So actually it was a big article on the 360, and I was interviewed as part of that in Fortune magazine. And what was a little bit odd was that I have a bigger picture in there than just about anybody else.

Also, as part of that same symposium, we had been working on improving the configuration management for the whole system, and there wasn’t a good configuration management system. So we had chartered Bob Rutheroff who ran the lab in Boulder, Colorado, a software lab. And his job was to put together a configuration-management control system that we would use across the whole software community. And so he put this thing together with the specs and everything. It was a very impressive story. So in my talk to the community I said that Bob Rutheroff was going to give a demonstration out at the pool this afternoon of his new system. He was going to walk across the pool because that’s what it sounded like, it would do anything. So that brought the house down.

Also I think towards the end of that year we had a meeting -- the TSS system had gotten into trouble, as I mentioned. We had gone and added a whole lot of function to it. And instead of coming out three months late, it was about six to seven months late with performance problems and everything. And so basically the system 360 was coming along and people were starting to buy it and they were happier with it. And so people had switched back from TSS to 360. So 360 was now starting to go full tilt. And the management decision, the division presidents and that whole crowd all said, “No, we’re going to kill TSS, period.” And I objected because I thought it was a system we should have available, but no -- they were going to shut it down. So they did shut it down. It cost us about $30 million. We did actually get the system running, and it was installed in a few places with the Model 67, but it was stopped. But it was the early virtual memory system, and it was really a very good responsive system, but it was not compatible with 360, and that was a real problem that people were concerned about, and it was out.

So in any event, I remember meeting in the board room. I was talking about software and software phase plans and the whole thing, and Tom Watson interrupted me at one point. I had gone through what the phase plans were and when you announce things and when you do various stuff and he said, “Watts, I’m confused now. You did a marvelous job with the FAA and you’re probably the best guy we’ve got to run software. I don’t understand. The FAA was such a tremendous success and you’re doing so very well with the 360.” He said, “How come TSS was such a disaster?” We had just closed it out at a $30 million loss. So I said, “Look, here’s where we announced the 360 schedule.” And I showed him we had running code, we had a whole lot of stuff in place -- at least the beginning code -- and we had plans, and the design was done, et cetera. And I said, “And here’s where we set the schedule for the TSS,” and it was way back at the beginning before we knew anything. And I said a big part of the problem on controlling this stuff is announcing things you don’t know how to build. We didn’t have a good foundation for a plan. So Tom understood that, fortunately. He was quite a guy. He could be really tough. I remember an executive making a presentation to him and he actually reduced the guy to tears at one point. But he was logical. And if you could understand what he was concerned about and really get to the point, he’d switch, and he was great. So that was that.

And I put down a note here on John Haanstra and Chuck Branscomb. I think I mentioned to you the Model 91 programming problems.

Booch: Yes.

Humphrey: And that was at the very beginning. John Haanstra was the president of the division at the time. And he had been president of the small system division -- the old, I think it was GPD, General Products Division -- and there was a DSD, Data Systems Division something like that. And George Kennard was the president of data systems division and that’s when I was in the FAA thing. And George was a prince. I worked with George multiple times. We still exchange Christmas cards, wonderful guy.

John Haanstra I didn’t know as well. He had been in the penalty box when GPD was canned, was broken up and put together in the center. But then John ended up running the big overall system division. He took that over. And he was a wild man. He had this enormous organization, and he thought he could do anything. So he would basically make up announcements. He’s the guy who basically said, “Announce the Model 91. We’re going to get that business.” I mean, he would call meetings at two in the morning. The place was a zoo. And he basically, as I say, he was very aggressive. He was moving fast, pushing hard, but he didn’t seem to understand much about programming. He was a very good hardware guy. So he actually was pulled out of the job and left IBM and actually ended up taking over as head of -- I think it was GE’s computer operation -- and went down to Phoenix -- I think it was that area somewhere. He also was a private pilot and he had a twin-engine plane he used to fly around. He wasn’t there a year when he was flying with, I believe, some of his family and the plane crashed. No one really understood what happened, but in any event, he died young and he didn’t continue. He was a marvelous and capable man, but he had no concept for any limitations on programming. He didn’t really appreciate it. And he was a big part of our getting tremendously overcommitted. At another point while I was running programming development -- you remember I talked about pricing earlier.

Booch: Yes.

Program Pricing

Humphrey: I already talked about the board meeting on program pricing. Now, a corporate committee was set up to actually study how we ought to price programming [software]. And people were now getting very concerned about the Department of Justice, the question about whether they were going to file a lawsuit or not. There had been a lot of discussions by then. They had been poking at us. And the lawyers were very concerned and the issue was bundling -- basically, connecting one product to another. So if you want this product you’ve got to buy that one. And this is essentially what Microsoft is doing now. And the lawyers at that time told us that if you are judged to be a monopoly, that is what they say is per se illegal directly counter to the antitrust laws. And I often wondered how Microsoft kept getting away with it. Of course, they are getting away with it here but not with Neelie Kroes, the European Union’s competition commissioner. So that is a problem, and the Europeans are nailing them. But it is a problem -- an antitrust problem -- where you tie one product to another, and so if you want this product, you’ve got to get that one.

Booch: Well, back then the legal system didn’t really understand software very much. What was the attitude that you saw among that community? Did they really understand software? What was their perspective?

Humphrey: They didn’t and I’ll come back to that.

Booch: Sure.

Humphrey: This was a meeting on programming pricing in about 1967. Howard Figuroa was from corporate staff -- a finance guy, basically -- very sharp. He was brought down. I was on the task force. And there was a marketing guy and a hardware executive. So there were about five of us, I think, in this meeting. And we were a task force. I think we spent a week or maybe two going through how would you price programming. And the question really was fundamentally how do you protect the priced asset? And one big debate was whether patenting was feasible, practical -- could we do it? We concluded it was not practical. Would the patent office be able to handle it? It was too confusing. I still think that the patenting of a lot of the software is nuts. It long-term shouldn't hold up. It's extremely hard to do anything with that.

And so we basically concluded that the fundamental choices were between trade secrets, patenting and copyright licensing. And the patenting, as I said, we felt was extremely hard to isolate it and to deal with things properly and all the featuring and all of that stuff. It would be a mechanical nightmare. And I think, for an operating system, no one has tried to patent the operating system, and I think that's valid. Otherwise, you're patenting little pieces and ideas, which is extremely difficult.

The trade secret idea was very attractive in principle, except the problem was once you lose it, it's gone. And so a secret is great as long as it's a secret. And the issue was the practicality of a widely-used product, how are you going to keep it secret and then, all of the details? And we concluded that was not practical. That trade secret protection might be okay for little stuff, but not for big systems where people had to get into them and do stuff to them. And would, whether you wanted them to or not.

And so we finally concluded the only real thing you could do was to have a license so that people could use it. But that meant you were licensing it to them. You weren't selling it to them. And so we had a real problem there, because it was essentially our product we were licensing people to use.

Booch: Because back then, the hardware itself, what was the legal mechanism whereby IBM got revenues? You were renting it to companies, was that the mechanism?

Humphrey: Well, yeah, that gets back into a bit of history. Let me come back to that in a minute.

Booch: Sure.

Humphrey: Let’s finish this. And that's something that I ought to talk about, because it was a big deal. I got involved in that and more in my corporate staff job in '72.

Booch: Well, there's a lot of fascinating history. I mean, you guys were breaking ground.

Humphrey: I was involved in a lot of it. I probably ought to even mention the Iran situation. I was involved in a lot of that stuff, too, Iran and the International stuff. Where would that be? That would also be down here in about '78. Yeah, let me put in that 1978. This is Iran and China.

Booch: Oh, that would be fascinating to hear, yes.

The IBM Law Suits

Humphrey:  So now we had the boardroom discussion. And that was in '63. Let me skip back a little bit. I had been running programmers, [since] probably, about 1967. The lawyers would tend to get very interested in programming. And Tom Barr and the people at Cravath, Swaine and Moore, and the IBM lawyers, they all wanted to know what programming was. And about 1967, they arranged to have a two- or three-hour meeting with me on what is programming all about. My staff put together this presentation -- again, flip charts. I must've had 80 flip charts. And just walking through what programs are, how they're developed, how they work, the whole nine yards. And so I started going through this. And lots of questions, and it was pretty obvious, real quick. I mean, I had a room full of people. Tom Barr, I remember, was sitting back in the corner. I had met him. I don't know if you know who Tom Barr is.

Booch: I've heard the name. But why don't you elucidate?

Humphrey: He was the top lawyer for Cravath, Swaine and Moore on all of our legal stuff. A brilliant lawyer, and he's been in the news multiple times since. But in any event, he was there, and there must've been about 30 people in the room. Basically, almost all lawyers, a couple of my staff were there. And so we started going through this thing. And lots of questions by lots of people. And Tom Barr, as I say, didn't say a word. And after about the first couple of hours, I saw where we were, and I said, "Look. This is going to take a hell of a lot more than two or three hours." I said, "If you want to get through this, at this rate, we'll be all day. And what do you want to do?" And I said, "I can change my schedule and be here all day. Can you?" And we took a break, and they all came back, "Yep." So we decided to spend the day.

So I went through a whole lot of things. And long about two o'clock in the afternoon, Tom Barr asked a question. He said, "Watts, at nine o'clock you said this. About 11 o'clock you said that. Now, here you just said this. Those sound inconsistent to me." He said, "What's the story?" And I thought, this guy, he had a steel trap memory. Here he'd never heard about programming before, and he had all his stuff together, and he knew exactly -- I couldn't believe it. It was just an extraordinary demonstration. I'll come back with another demonstration of something he did a little bit later. But it was just unbelievable that anybody could go through that and pick that up in that way. I thought there are some guys here that are just so extraordinary, and that was an example. I wrote a letter to The New York Times. People were questioning that he was getting $800 an hour, and there was a big plot going on. And so I wrote a letter to the Times about that and they published it. I was telling the story about this. I said, "This guy's extraordinary. Pay whatever you can get him for," and he really was.

Well, back in the timeline, another thing that came up was System Q. I mentioned I was working for George Kennard at this time, who was, you know, my boss. And Chuck Branscomb was Division President. George was the VP -- Division VP -- and I was the programming guy. And George asked us to put together a study of what would we do next with programming. And so I got the top lab directors, oh a whole bunch of guys, and very good people. And so we all went off and spent well over a week, and it must've been every bit of two weeks. We were holed up in some office -- some conference room somewhere. We had marketing people and the semiconductor people and the hardware people all come in and talk about future trends and what was going to happen. And I remember at one point during the discussion, we were talking about what future programming systems ought to be. And as you recall, the OS 360 was originally developed with an entry memory size of 16 kilobytes. We subsequently brought it up to 32 kilobytes. And when we had 128 kilobytes in a Model 65 and they actually got up to 256, that was considered [an] extraordinary amount of memory. We ended up talking about our new system -- the System Q -- ought to have a minimum memory of one megabyte. And they thought I was crazy. I was, basically, probably the least knowledgeable software guy in the room. But I was sure right on that. I way understated what we would eventually need.

We had no concept of how big this stuff would get. So we went through System Q and what it ought to be. And it was really a marvelous concept of a highly interactive system, communication based, virtual memory and that sort of thing. It was communications, all the elements we had updated, the compatibility and file interchange and all that stuff. We couldn't visualize the Internet, but it was the system you’d need for the Internet. It was a marvelous system. But we never could get to it. And they didn't leave me in place long enough. Along about there, they had another division re-organization, and I was made a VP. And I was given the architecture group, which had Dick Case. This is the group that Amdahl had run. And so I was getting that as well as the programming crowd. I had all the programming labs, and I had the hardware computer architecture stuff. Don Gavis ran the 360 stuff for me. Dick Bevier had all of the programming labs for me, and we had a couple of other system managers. Jim Frame had the small systems.

Booch: So where were you getting the people who had the skills to be programmers? Were you in touch as a corporation with the universities to help encourage this? Was IBM doing its own training internally? And where were the programmers coming from?

Humphrey: We were typically hiring the best people we could get out of college. You couldn't get good people trained in what we needed, so basically, anybody we hired, if they passed various tests and seemed to be smart, we put them through training. And so we were, basically, training all of our own people. And they'd go through and learn programming the way IBM did it. They'd learn the programming languages and work with our systems. So we, basically, had an education program. We trained people. And it was expensive and a problem. But early on, we were getting marvelous people.

We got top graduates from the best schools. But there wasn't much in the way of really good training. I mean, they'd come out knowing what computers were and that sort of thing. And they had some knowledge of programming, many of them. That got better and better as we went along. But we, basically, had a training program we put everybody through.

The Virtual Memory Decision

So I was made VP, and I had the architecture stuff. And as I said, Don Gavis had the OS 360 work. And he came to me -- I think it was in about 1969 – and said, "We've really got to go to virtual memory." And remember, the TSS was killed and the 360 didn't have virtual memory. And we had that big battle with Amdahl that… “just add more memory.”

But the programmers had concluded that virtual memory was probably the only way to go. We just had to do it, get out of the constraints of the physical memory. And just about that time, IBM was developing a newer version of 360 called the 370. We'd been out there for a while with the 360 systems, and people were beginning to catch up with us, in terms of performance and that sort of thing. And there was quite a lot of competition. It was still pretty vicious. And so they were coming up with upgrades and higher performance hardware and that sort of thing. And they decided to call it System 370. We were working on 370 development work. And so the recommendation was that we switch System 370 to be a virtual memory system.

Well, that was a radical change. Some hardware guys were happy to do it, but a bunch of them weren't. We had a bunch of microcode machines, which were fairly easy to switch. But the hard-wired, bigger systems were a much tougher problem. And right about that time, they had a re-organization, and a new Division President was brought in. And guess who was made the Division President? It was Bob Evans, the guy I'd had two previous battles with -- on both the timesharing stuff and on the FAA thing -- and I won both of them. And so Bob and I weren't on the best of terms. He'd gone down to run the Federal Systems Division, where they programmed the FAA system, if you remember. And he was brought back as Division President.

And so one of the first things we did was to go in to Bob with my programming team and the architects. The architects agreed that we ought to move to virtual memory. So we went to Bob. And of course, we were fighting with the hardware guys. And so Bob looked at it and went through the story. I mean, I have tremendous admiration for the way he was able to take a multibillion-dollar decision and make it in a day. I mean, he went through this, he looked at all the choices. And he said, "You're right. We'll do it." And here he'd been opposed to it, but he went through the logic and what the guys were talking about. And he was a very sharp guy. I had differences with him, but he knew what he was doing. He made that call and he was clearly right. So that's how we put virtual memory in 370. Bob made the call and it was, basically, Don Gavis that turned us around. Now, there's another story here. At about the same time, CDC had sued IBM -- antitrust lawsuit, big antitrust lawsuit. And I was…

Booch: Who was in charge of CDC at this time? Who were the folks you were negotiating with or fighting with at this time?

Humphrey: I really don't remember who was running CDC at the time. I think it was still the original management team, but I'm not sure. So I really wasn't deeply involved. I was really hunkered down in the development business. But in any event, I had to get deposed. And so they started these depositions. I think it was, like, six weeks of testimony. Just extraordinary. Like, 1,600 pages of stuff. And the lawyer for CDC would start off each day with this big pile of mail. And he'd refer to a piece of mail that somebody wrote and I was on the address copy list. And he'd say, "Here's what this guy said. What does that mean?" And if you remember, I didn't get any mail. I basically said, "No mail." And so these guys were really kind of upset, because I didn't see it. “And if you want to know what he meant, you're going to have to ask him." And so they basically got nothing out of me with six weeks of this stuff. It was an enormous waste of time. But it was amazing the amount of material they had. They must've gotten everything.

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