Randy Cook and the Thorny
Path that Began with TRSDOS 2.0

In the primeval dawn of microcomputers (way back in 1978), Radio Shack creat-ed the skeleton of the TRS-80 Model I in hardware. They contracted with Microsoft to give the creature BASIC language and life functions. To give it the option of su-per intelligence, they. contracted with Randy Cook, a young minicomputer pro-grammer, for a disk operating system.

Minimally, a disk operating system (DOS) coordinates I/0 between the disks, ROM, interpreter and programs. When it is in use, a DOS controls and orders a micro’s thought processes.

If there were a chronicle of the TRS-80, Randy Cook would surely be listed as the father of disk operating systems. Tracking the history of his DOS in the micro market is like going down a path overgrown with brambles and sour grapes. It began with Radio Shack and TRSDOS 2.0, the first DOS they released. After TRSDOS 2.1, Cook brought out a more sophisticated operating system, VTOS, under his own Virtual Technology label.

Then, around January of 1979, a sepa-rate manufacturer, Apparat, Denver, CO, produced NEWDOS. It was a patched and enhanced version of Cook’s work for the Shack.

In November, 1980 Cook signed a con-tract with Lobo Drives International, Goleta, CA giving them “nonexclusive” but “total” rights to VTOS, according to company spokesmen. They will be selling LDOS, a reassembled DOS incorporating several parts of the source code of Cook’s VTOS.

Brilliant, but Frustrating

Cook’s operating systems have come to be known both for their underlying bril-liance and for user frustration. TRSDOS 2.1 was riddled with bugs. In a recent let-ter to 80 Harv Pennington, the author of TRS-80 Disk and Other Mysteries, wrote that when TRSDOS 2.1 was the only avail-

able operating system, “we saw the mes-sage ‘NO SYSTEM’ almost as often as we saw ‘DOS READY,’ ” Later, the write-pro-tect feature, which made it difficult to make back-up copies of VTOS 3.0, frus-trated users. And VTOS 4.0 still lacks a user’s manual.

Pennington took a close look at VTOS in TRS-80 Disk and Other Mysteries. He has reflected since then, “I liked VTOS ex-cept for the protection features that made it so hard to use on an every day basis and the difficulty in recovering a disk once it had been eaten by the system. I did not recommend the use of VTOS 3.0 for those reasons.”

"People who have
marketed Cook's
operating systems
consistently point out his
lack of support."

“That has changed. VTOS 4.0 has none of the shortcomings of 3.0. It is vastly im-proved and reliable. It is my opinion that this is a DOS for serious applications and software development. It retains all of the excellent design features of the original TRSDOS and its added features are as-tounding.” Pennington, however, is for-tunate to have the knowledge to wade through the DOS without a manual.

People who have marketed Cook’s op-erating systems consistently point out his lack of support. On the other hand, Cook counts the times he’s been ripped off by marketers. “If you’re looking for a quote, I wish you would quote me. Everybody out there thinks, ‘There’s Randy Cook. How

much did they pay him?’ $3000 – that’s all I received from Radio Shack. I’d like the public to be aware of that. They think I’m a recluse, just sitting here raking in the money. it’s not true.”

At 32 Randy Cook is currently working for Mostek, Carrollton, TX in strategic marketing. He has been living in the Dallas area since leaving his home state of Oklahoma in 1968.

At horne Cook has a mini and several micros. "Everything talks to each other through a central processor.” By “every-thing” he means the oven, the thermostat, the doorbell, etc. “I like chains; I like to combine it – I’m a systems person,” he says.

“As much as I like systems, I’m ap-palled by Big Brother. At times it scares me that I might be contributing to that. I hope not. It depends on how the systems are used.”

Simultaneous and remote access truly fascinate him. “Take something like MicroNet,” he says. “Right now people can hook up to the system and play games against the central computer. Well, imagine that some day people will hook up and play games with one anoth-er – that’s simultaneous access.”


But business problems and user ques-tions do not go away. Chronologically, the story begins in 1978 with Radio Shack and TRSDOS 2.0. Shugart contracted with Radio Shack to provide disk drives for their computers. Part of the deal included Shugart taking the tab for a disk operating system. Cook was working on a DOS for: minis with Xerox when Shugart contacted him. He began working on a "minimal DOS to meet Shugart’s specifications, h explains.

According to Cook, he gave Radio Shack DOS 1.2 through 2.0 as preliminary versions. "TRSDOS 2.1 was the first ver- .

sion I meant to go out of house,” Cook says. But 2.0 reached the market with an announcement that it still had bugs, ac- cording to sources at Radio Shack. Sever- al months later TRSDOS 2.1 reached Radio Shack outlets. Customer feedback pointed out that there were still problems. Following 2.1, Cook claims he con- tracted directly with Radio Shack to pro- vide “an exact number of features for 2.2 at a set price.” in the meantime, he says, Microsoft was having problems with the size constraints of ROM. ROM modifica- tions meant more DOS changes. In addi- tion, Cook says he was asked to add more features. “Miscommunications” became a problem, according to Cook.

Van Chandler, the senior manager of software development at Radio Shack, re- marks that “We agreed to pay him a flat fee, and everything went down hill from there.” Whatever the cause, Radio Shack and Randy Cook.parted company, and TRSDOS 2.2 was redeveloped in-house. Randy started Virtual Technology, his own company, before he left Radio Shack. He explains that the company is “the mar- keting arm” of Custom Micro Systems. Cook claims he has “sole proprietorship of Virtual and Custom Micro Systems” and that he is sole owner of his DOS copy- right.

It was through Virtual Technology that Cook brought out a DOS on his own. An agreement was also made.with Ricky Steele of Automated Computer Software, Nashville, TN for its distribution. It was advertised as “TRS-80 DOS 3.0 by the original author.” Reportedly, Automated Computer Software went bankrupt. ‘Ac- cording to one source,’Steele, who owned the company, “got no support for the sys- tem from Randy, so he held back on pay- ments. Then Randy quit doing any work.” Steele was unavailable for comment. Cook’s one comment on the episode was, “They took me for over a million dollars and then went bankrupt.”

Following the fiasco with Automated Computer Software, Cook released VTOS 4.0. A distribution agreement was made with Dennis Brent of Quality Software Distributors, Dallas, TX in 1980. A manual to accompany the disk was to be provided by Small Business Systems Group, West- ford, MA.

“We were going to split profits in a way that we both thought was fair,” Cook said. Brent explains the agreement was “all on handshake.”

Problems developed almost at once. Randy contends he did not receive payments for product deliveries. Brent argues that he could get no support and tried to get bugs corrected on his own.

Brent listed patches on the MicroNet bulletin board on a regular basis. Dis-agreements also developed over the man-ual;

In the midst of this turmoil, Lobo Drives international, Goleta, CA approached Cook privately. In November of 1980, Lobo signed a contract ‘with Cook for “nonex-clusive” but “total” rights to VTOS. They have reassembled parts of the VTOS source code and incorporated it in a new code that they are selling as Lobo Disk Operating System (LDOS).

"Cook is still concerned
about rojalties he
believes should be paid
by Radio Shack for
TRSDOS ... and ... by
Apparat for NEWDOS."

"Cook is still concerned about royalties he believes shauld be paid by Radio Shack for TRSDOS... and... by Apparat for NEWDQS, "

Cook complains that LDOS will be “head-on” competition for VTOS, and is not what he expected from the agreement. Before the product reached the market, he called the whole affair “another stab in the back.”

Lobo’s president Roger Billings and Bill Schroeder, who is working on the LDOS project for Lobo, both believe the contract gives the company the right to use Cook’s code, in part or in whole, in a variety of their own products They point out that the company will be paying Cook royalties no matter how or where they use his material.

Another person at Lobo, who wished to have his, name withheld, expressed his overview of Cook. In his opinion, Cook’s biggest problem has always been an in-ability to polish and finish his work. He could not say if payment problems caused the lack of support, or if the lack of support caused the pay disputes. But now Lobo has done the finish work and signed a contract to pay Cook royalties for the first time since his product has been around.

“In my estimation we are providing Randy Cook a huge favor: We are going to make him a very rich man.” Lobo, he con-cedes, stands to make some money on the deal as well.

Cook is still concerned about royalties he believes should be paid by Radio Shack for TRSDOS 2.2 and 2.3, and royalties by

Apparat for NEWDOS. “I own the copy-right on the DOS and all its derivative DOSs,” he says.

Cook believes that the heart of the question of copyright infringements is a distinction between patching the object code and reassembling the source code. Without accessing the source code, de-bugging: and other changes can be ef-fected by adding jumps in the object code. Cook claims, “Anybody can buy the ob-ject code (by simply buying the program) and apply patches to make it jump back.”

He continues to say that “NEWDOS, in my opinion‘, was version 2.1 TRSDOS plus a few patches. NEWDOS has not been re-assembled.” He believes the same is true of TRSDOS 2.3. “When I look at these pro-grams, what I see is that people are mak-ing jumps.”

To emphasize his point, Cook suggests booting up your system with NEWDOS. Type BOOT/SYS.WHO and hold down the 2 and 6. Cook’s copyright message ap-pears on the screen, beginning with this sentence: “This operating system was de-signed by and is the sole property of Ran-dy Cook.” On TRSDOS 2.3 and up, the same command brings up a Tandy Corp. copyright message.

At Apparat, company general manager, Edward Krahmer responds, “We have not removed his copyright so people still have knowledge of the original product. We do not like to see anybody’s software boot-legged and we like to see credit given.”

Krahmer also said, “We have never said anything else but that all we did was pro-vide some additional support in the form of patches and enhancements to Radio Shack’s TRSDOS. To our knowledge we have never marketed an operating sys-tem. We gave credit and tried to make sure the customer had purchased TRSDOS. And we have studiously avoided selling to anybody who does not have TRSDOS. Our concern was that we would not violate Radio Shack’s rights.”

Krahmer added that he had never had any contact with Randy Cook. He would like to avoid a controversy and says, “If there are differences of opinion, it’s se-mantics, because there are no philosoph-ical differences.” Copyright protection, in Krahmer’s opinion, is vital to all people in the microcomputing market. Whether or not Apparat and Tandy have actually infringed on Randy Cook’s copy-right is debatable. Whether or not Randy Cook can support his DOS progeny is also debatable. The conflicts raise some inter-esting legal questions for the entire micro market.

by Nancy Robertson 80 Staff