News • Science & Tech
Traf-O-Data: The company before "Microsoft"
Before Windows... Before DOS... Before BASIC... there was... Traf-O-Data
November 03, 2023
post photo preview

If I asked you “What is the first piece of software that Bill Gates and Paul Allen (the founders of Microsoft) made commercially?”… what would you say?


In fact… neither.

Before Microsoft was even a gleam in Bill Gates’ eye, he and Paul Allen started another computer company: Traf-O-Data.

The original Traf-O-Data logo.

It all started back in the early 1972 at Lakeside High School in Seattle, WA. Bill Gates was currently a Junior, and Paul Allen had graduated the year before.

To give you a visual, here are the two friends in those early days.

That little kid? That’s Bill Gates (13) in the 8th grade. The guy at the terminal? Paul Allen (15) as a High Schooler. Photo, taken in 1968, courtesy of Lakeside School, Seattle WA.


Gates and Allen in 1970 at the Lakeside High School computer club.

In 1972, those two boys (17 and 19 years old) had an idea for a business that just might make them some sweet, sweet moolah. Using computers. Which worked for them. They liked computers.

You see, the Washington State Department of Highways (which was later folded into the Department of Transportation in 1977) regularly counted the amount of traffic on key roads around the greater Seattle area — to optimize traffic flow and whatnot.

This was done by counting the number of axles that rolled across a series of pressure sensitive rubber tubes — then, every 15 minutes, that number would be punched onto a paper tape as a pattern representing a 16 bit number.

Those paper tapes would then be sent to local contractors who would read the data from the tape, write it out, and analyze the information — which would then be sent back to the Department of Highways.

This is the area and roads that traffic was being measured for. The picture shows modern traffic flow. Courtesy: WSDOT.

By Paul Allen’s account, “The process was monotonous, inefficient, and murder on the eyes.”

Gates and Allen created software to analyze the traffic data using a computer at the University of Washington (Allen’s father was a librarian at the University, and both Gates and Allen had used the computers there — via their school computer club — in the past).

What computer did they use?

Well, there were two options available to them at that specific time, at the University of Washington. The first option was a Scientific Data Systems Sigma 5 mainframe via a connected teletype terminal.

Fun facts of the SDS Sigma 5:

  • The base memory was 16K 32-Bit words (equivalent to 64K Bytes) with a maximum memory of 128K words.

  • The Sigma 5 was the slowest of the Sigma series, and was one of only two models in the Sigma line that had no virtual memory.

  • The base model sold for $300,000. Want an extra 16K words of memory? That’ll run you an extra $50,000.


An SDS Sigma 5 mainframe. Ain’t she a beauty?

A very cool machine. One that I wouldn’t mind using to decorate my living room.

But… it wasn’t the SDS Sigma 5. (But, hey, great excuse to look at that gorgeous machine, eh?)

Instead, Gates and Allen were using the CDC (Control Data Corporation) 6400.

Fun facts of the CDC 6400:

  • 10 Mhz 60 bit processor (you read that correctly… 60 bit CPU).

  • 64k of 60-bit core memory (with optional extended memory available).

  • Optional disk storage, typically around 10 Million “Words”.

  • Developed by none other than the legendary Seymour Cray. Yes. That Cray. Of Cray Supercomputer.


A CDC 6400 being worked on by some hardcore, late 1960s nerds.

There was just one problem:

The paper tape with the traffic data was a custom solution (storing 16 bits). The computer they had access to couldn’t read that in. (The CDC 6400 supported input via punch cards.)

How did Gates and Allen get around this problem?

They hired some kids.

Not joking.

They hired some of Gates’ fellow High School students to translate the 16 bit traffic data tape to the punch cards. By hand. They paid those kids 50 cents per tape to do the work that the two Microsoft founders really didn’t want to do.

Gates and Allen then fed the cards into the computer, and their custom software would create charts that they could then sell back to the Department of Highways.

Now, the question: How to improve on this system?

Gates and Allen needed to be able to cut out both the need to hire High Schoolers to translate the tapes (child labor just doesn’t scale well for this sort of project)… as well as remove the reliance on the University of Washington computer systems.

What they needed was… a computer of their own. One with a custom tape reader that could handle the traffic data directly.

Remember: This is the early 1970s. You couldn’t just walk down to Best Buy and grab a PC. Computers were so uncommon that people were renting computer time at Universities.

Luckily they found a schematic and instructions, in a computer magazine, on how to build a computer around the recently released Intel 8008 microprocessor — which would work nicely as the base system.

Note: It is unknown in which magazine Gates and Allen found the schematics for an Intel 8008 computer to base the Traf-O-Data system upon. If anyone has this information, I would love to find it and archive it.

Unfortunately, neither Gates nor Allen had any experience with designing hardware or building computers.

Enter: Paul Gilbert.

Gilbert was introduced to Gates and Allen by a mutual friend and he got to work building the Traf-O-Data machine. From parts. Including an 8008 processor purchased for $360 (in 1972 dollars… that’s over $2,500 in 2022 dollars).

The end result is this beauty:

The Traf-O-Data computer, based on an Intel 8008.

Custom tape reader. Cool blinking lights. An Intel 8008… what’s not to love?

What sort of specs did the Traf-O-Data computer have? A great question! According to Gates:

“[We] took these very tiny Intel memory chips -- I forget if they were 256-bit or 1K-bit, -- I think 1K-bit Intel chips in this 8008 and created a system and we did special software. 8008 wasn't capable of running a BASIC Interpreter. That had always been my Holy Grail because I had played around writing a little bit of a BASIC Interpreter on a PDP-8, and a Data General machine. But the 8008 is basically an 8-bit machine with no programmable stack. Doing this traffic analysis software was pushing the limits.”

Side note: Gates states that the “8008 wasn't capable of running a BASIC Interpreter”.

Is that true?

Gates is correct in the sense that an 8008 is an incredibly limited chip and presents many challenges for creating many pieces of software (including a BASIC interpreter).

That said… a dialect of Tiny BASIC was developed for the 8008, in 1974, by a small team from the University of Illinois. They initially used an 8008 simulator running on an IBM System/360.

Before their custom 8008-based computer was even complete, Gates & Allen got to work building software for this new computer that could read in the tape and create traffic reports. How did they do it? By creating an 8008 simulator on an IBM System/360 — which they also used at the University of Washington.

Simulating an Intel 8008 on an IBM System/360 was apparently not uncommon in those days.

An IBM System/360 Model 20.

Their ultimate goal was to produce and sell these Traf-O-Data computers to government agencies who wanted to automate their traffic data analysis.

Gates and Allen scheduled a time to demo the machine with their first potential client of the computer, King County (where Seattle is located). Unfortunately, according to Gates:

“When the guy from the County that Seattle's in came to see it, it didn't work.”

That’s right.

This was Bill Gates’ very first commercial demo… and his hardware & software didn’t work.

If that isn’t epic foreshadowing, I don’t know what is.

Bill Gates after a Blue Screen of Death during a Windows 98 demo.

In the end, Traf-O-Data managed to net a total of around $20,000 before closing down in 1975… when Gates and Allen formed Micro-Soft with the purpose of developing a BASIC interpreter for the Altair 8800.

A “Traf-O-Data” business card on display at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science.
community logo
Join the Lunduke Community
To read more articles like this, sign up and join my community today
What else you may like…
GNOME bans Manjaro Core Team Member for uttering "Lunduke"

The GNOME team has censored -- and deleted the account -- of the maintainer of Manjaro Linux GNOME Edition. Why? Because he linked to a Lunduke article.

GNOME bans Manjaro Core Team Member for uttering "Lunduke":

More from The Lunduke Journal:

GNOME Ousts Elected Board Member in Secret, Tells Nobody for 2 Months

Secret meetings. No transparency. Total chaos at the GNOME Foundation as they remove Sonny Piers, one of their Board Members, without telling anyone. This all happens right as the GNOME Executive Director quits, GNOME announces dire financial circumstances, and a disastrous "5 year plan" focusing on DEI.

The article:

More from The Lunduke Journal:

Don't get cocky: CrowdStrike can happen to Linux & Mac too

I know. The Windows Blue Screen of Death is funny. I get it. But don't forget: Linux & macOS have seen some gnarly similar issues. Including some bugs that granted root access, completely broke graphical systems (like XOrg), and more.

November 22, 2023
The futility of Ad-Blockers

Ads are filling the entirety of the Web -- websites, podcasts, YouTube videos, etc. -- at an increasing rate. Prices for those ad placements are plummeting. Consumers are desperate to use ad-blockers to make the web palatable. Google (and others) are desperate to break and block ad-blockers. All of which results in... more ads and lower pay for creators.

It's a fascinatingly annoying cycle. And there's only one viable way out of it.

Looking for the Podcast RSS feed or other links? Check here:

Give the gift of The Lunduke Journal:

The futility of Ad-Blockers
November 21, 2023
openSUSE says "No Lunduke allowed!"

Those in power with openSUSE make it clear they will not allow me anywhere near anything related to the openSUSE project. Ever. For any reason.

Well, that settles that, then! Guess I won't be contributing to openSUSE! 🤣

Looking for the Podcast RSS feed or other links?

Give the gift of The Lunduke Journal:

openSUSE says "No Lunduke allowed!"
September 13, 2023
"Andreas Kling creator of Serenity OS & Ladybird Web Browser" - Lunduke’s Big Tech Show - September 13th, 2023 - Ep 044

This episode is free for all to enjoy and share.

Be sure to subscribe here at to get all shows & articles (including interviews with other amazing nerds).

"Andreas Kling creator of Serenity OS & Ladybird Web Browser" - Lunduke’s Big Tech Show - September 13th, 2023 - Ep 044

Found on the intartubez. The LISP keyboard.

post photo preview

LOL What if you could "skip ahead" during boring meetings, just like in video game exposition dumps? :D

Remeber the PineTab2 that I bought over a year ago? I finally got around to reflashing it. It not the quickest, but still nice to have a small Linux device I can carry around with me. Enjoy the pics. I posted them from the PineTab2.

post photo preview
GNOME bans Manjaro Core Team Member for uttering "Lunduke"
"Lunduke" has become the "He Who Shall Not Be Named" of Big Tech and Open Source

The GNOME team has censored -- and deleted the account -- of the maintainer of Manjaro Linux GNOME Edition.

Why would GNOME take such a drastic action for a person so important to the packaging and distribution of GNOME software?

Because that Manjaro Linux GNOME Edition maintainer... dared to post a link to an article published by The Lunduke Journal.

How to Get Banned from GNOME in 1 Easy Step

On July 21st, The Lunduke Journal published an article entitled "GNOME Ousts Elected Board Member in Secret... and Tells Nobody for 2 Months" -- covering the expulsion and banning of GNOME Board Member, Sonny Piers.

That article was then posted by Mark Wagie -- a member of the Manjaro Linux Core Team, and maintainer of the Manjaro GNOME Edition -- to a GNOME forum post, relevant to the topic.


Screenshot of the post prior to deletion.


Within roughly 1 hour, that post was flagged and hidden...


Screenshot of the post after it was hidden.


Shortly thereafter, the post was deleted entirely... as was Mark Wagie's account.

That's right.  GNOME deleted the account of a Manjaro Team Core Member, and a GNOME package maintainer.  All because he posted a link to an article that had the name "Lunduke" on it.

From Mark Wagie:


"Today, I dared sharing your article on the GNOME Discourse forum in the Updates to the GNOME Foundation Board of Directors Roster topic. It didn't take long before my reply was flagged as spam and hidden. My account was also deleted with no communication whatsoever. I was able to take screenshots before my account was deleted.


A fellow Manjaro forum user told me he messaged the GNOME Discourse Moderators and 'questioned the wisdom of banning the Manjaro GNOME maintainer from their forums.'"


This is, without question, incredibly peculiar.  Banning a prominent contributor?  All because he posted a link to an article relevant to a topic being discussed?

An article, I might add, that nobody has objected to based on the facts.

Is the leadership of GNOME so afraid of the truth of their actions being exposed, that they resort to banning anyone who simply links to articles about GNOME?

Or, perhaps, is the GNOME leadership filled with so much hatred and fear for all things "Lunduke" that they are willing to cut off their own nose to spite their face?

He Who Shall Not Be Named

Here's something truly crazy: This isn't the only instance of people being censored (and banned) from portions of the GNOME project for uttering the name "Lunduke"... this week.  This is simply the most ridiculous example.

While it's true that the GNOME Foundation operates with a high level of secrecy -- often ignoring members of the press entirely -- they appear to reserve the bulk of their animosity for anyone who dares to mention articles or shows from The Lunduke Journal.

And they are not alone.

Leadership throughout the Big Tech and Open Source world have hard "Do not mention Lunduke" policies -- with some within the Open Source industry regularly screaming, bullying, and threatening anyone who dares to link to The Lunduke Journal.

One prominent Linux distribution even went so far as to add automatic censorship to their forum -- which instantly changed the word "Lunduke" to "violates forum rules".




Likewise, members of the Fedora (Red Hat) Linux Marketing Team speak openly about the need for hard censoring anything related to "Lunduke".  (The Fedora Marketing Team also likes to call Jewish men "Nazis", apparently.)




The fact is... they fear the word "Lunduke".

Why?  Because, when you do shady things, the truth makes you look bad.  Wikipedia, Red Hat, The Linux Foundation, Google, Microsoft, and, yes, even GNOME (and so many others).  They fear the truth.

The Lunduke Journal reports the truth.

All of which has resulted in "Lunduke" becoming the Big Tech and Open Source equivalent of "Voldemort" or "Beeltejuice".  Should that name be uttered a little too loudly -- or, perhaps, three times in a row -- Lunduke will appear and wreak havoc.

And, you know what?

I'm ok with that.

Because here's a fun secret about being "He Who Shall Not Be Named"...

Everyone instantly knows exactly who you are talking about.

Read full Article
post photo preview
GNOME Ousts Elected Board Member in Secret... and Tells Nobody for 2 Months
Secret meetings. No transparency. Total chaos.

The chaos at the GNOME Foundation continues, as it is revealed that an elected GNOME Board member was forced out in a secret meeting... held two months ago, but withheld from the public until now.

Chaos and Secrecy within GNOME

As you may remember, GNOME recently announced that they were in dire financial circumstances... followed immediately by the resignation of their Executive Director (who had only been on the job for 9 months, with almost nothing to show for her time).

Now, the GNOME Foundation Board has announced that they have removed one of their recently elected Board Members... in a "Special Meeting"... held on May 17th.

Yet this fact was kept secret until July 17th -- two months later -- when they made the following statement:


"The GNOME Foundation Board voted to remove Sonny Piers as a member of the Board of Directors for cause, at a Special Meeting on May 17th, 2024, following the procedure outlined in the GNOME Bylaws, and remove him from all committees. Effective May 25th, 2024, his seat is now vacant, and in accordance with the Bylaws will be filled for the remainder of its term by an appointment made by the Board.


A Code of Conduct complaint was also made against Sonny Piers. The Foundation is engaged in a mediation process with him, which is still ongoing and so we are unable to share more information at this time."


Sonny Piers, first elected less than a year earlier, was forced out of his seat on the GNOME Board.  Unexpectedly.

Why?  That information is not provided.  In fact the meeting minutes for this May 17th "Special Meeting" are incredibly vague... providing almost zero information.

Almost total secrecy about the reason for this Board Member being forced out of the GNOME Foundation.


May 17th, 2024 "Special Meeeting" Minutes


This forced removal was not limited to the seat on the GNOME Board... the GNOME accounts of Sonny Piers all have (seemingly) been blocked or banned.  Including source control.


The ousted Board Member was even blocked from all source control.


Who is Sonny Piers?

There are multiple things which makes this incident extremely peculiar.  Not least of which is the fact that Sonny Piers is one of the most effective and prominent members of the GNOME project: Being the creator and developer of GNOME Workbench, and one of the orchestrators of the 1 Million Euro Sovereign Tech Fund grant from late last year (one of the only pieces of positive news from GNOME in quite some time).

If you were to create a list of the 5 most important, influential, and effective people within GNOME... Sonny Piers would make that list.  Easily.

According to a July 21st statement from Sonny Piers, his ousting from the GNOME Board was a "shock" to him:

"I am no longer a member of the board of directors of the GNOME Foundation since May 2024. The process and decision shocked me. I know people are looking for answers, but I want to protect people involved and the project/foundation. It was never an interpersonal conflict for me."

While we can read between the lines on some of this statement... there are very few details here about what, exactly, transpired.

GNOME Does Damage Control

After this news began to spread within the GNOME world (and after The Lunduke Journal reached out to him for comment), the GNOME Foundation President, Robert McQueen was forced to make a public statement:

"This has also been an unprecedented situation for the Foundation. The Directors have met 15-16 times this year so far already and directed a great deal of time and attention into making this decision and trying to find the least worst outcomes, considering our legal and moral obligations to the community, the staff, and the Foundation — obligations which have sometimes felt in tension."

Least worst outcomes?  Legal and moral obligations?

A secret vote to oust an elected official.  Followed by keeping it a secret from the voters.  How is that a "moral obligation"?

While we're not getting many details from GNOME about why they ousted an elected Board member... the words chosen raise many, many additional questions.

"Regarding the Board decision; whilst the Board did receive a report from the CoCC, removal of a Director is a separate process as set out in the Bylaws and solely at the authority of the Board. The Board considered it separately and independently as we are required to do, and made our own autonomous decision by a significant majority. We took outside legal advice on the situation and the process at multiple points, and it was duly followed. For the purposes of limiting legal liability, that advice also included making the announcement very terse and factual. I appreciate this is at tension with the transparency that the community would hope to see, but Directors are also obligated to look after the Foundation’s legal requirements and financial interests."

We know that the GNOME "Code of Conduct Committee" was involved in some way. 

According to that "Code of Conduct Committee" there were only two "incidents" which were "actionable".  Based on their reporting (which is incredibly vague and secretive), that incident would be one of the two items listed in this report.


Code of Conduct Committee Report


No names.  No details.  Complete secrecy.

Likewise, outside legal counsel was saught by the GNOME Foundation on whatever this matter was.

And why did the GNOME Foundation keep all of this a secret for two months?  Their statement on the matter seems rather... weak.


"Regarding the timing; the previous Board was intentionally refraining from announcements while we made arrangements for mediation mentioned in the announcement. Subsequently during the election period we did not want to appear to be interfering in the election which runs autonomously with its own timeline, and since the election the new board has only had its first official meeting (i.e., duly notified, with quorum, able to make votes) to approve this announcement on Wednesday before GUADEC."


To be clear: The GNOME Foundation subverted the votes of the GNOME Foundation Members, by ousting an elected board member (in secret)... and the reason they didn't tell anyone about it for two months is... that they were making "mediation arrangements"?

And they only, just now, felt the need to tell people what they had done... because people would find out anyway at their annual conference (GUADEC)?


I'll be honest here... I don't buy it.  The GNOME statement, quite simply, doesn't hold water.

So Many Questions

These events raise so many questions and concerns regarding the GNOME Foundation.

  1. Why was Sonny Piers ousted from his elected seat on the GNOME Foundation Board?
  2. Why was this action done entirely behind closed doors, with absolutely zero documentation regarding this vote?
  3. Why was this undocumented vote, in this "Special Meeting", kept secret for two months?
  4. Why does GNOME only feel the need to tell people what actions they take, in secret, when their secret activities are on the verge of being discovered?
  5. Why was "legal advice" necessary?
  6. Does the ousting of Sonny Piers have anything to do with the other events happening within GNOME during the same time period (the removal of the "GNOME Shaman" Executive Director, the massive flop of the "5 Year Plan", and the announcement of financial difficulties)?

Will GNOME answer any of these questions?  If their past (and current) dedication to secrecy are any indication... probably not.  Heck.  GNOME bans critical tech journalists from even asking questions in their forums.

Thoughts From Lunduke

If I were a voting member of the GNOME Foundation, I would find this all deeply troubling.

If the GNOME Foundation can get rid of undesirable board members -- 100% in secret, without ever giving justification... and not even telling GNOME voters that they did it for multiple months -- then that means GNOME Members have absolutely no power within the Foundation.  Their votes simply do not matter.

It should be noted that The Lunduke Journal reached out to multiple people with questions and a request for comment on this story, including:

  • The entire GNOME Foundation Board
  • The GNOME Foundation Code of Conduct Committee
  • Sonny Piers

Several hours after reaching out, both Sonny Piers and the GNOME Foundation President posted the statements outlined earlier in this article.  Yet, as of the publishing of this article, not one representative from GNOME has directly responded.  And the public statements failed to answer any of the questions asked above.

GNOME is a critically important suite of software -- used by numerous prominent, consumer-focused, open source operating systems... as well as relied upon by all of the major Linux Enterprise corporations.  What happens to GNOME can have a significant impact on the entire Linux, BSD, and Open Source ecosystem.

The extreme levels of secrecy within the GNOME Foundation -- coupled with their repeated chaos and failures -- raises significant concerns.

The GNOME Chaos Timeline

There's so much going on within GNOME... it can be hard to keep it all straight.

Here is a timeline, covering roughly the last year, of some of the key events discussed within this article (along with some of the other events relating to the GNOME Foundation).

What will happen next?  More chaos, disaster, drama, and secrecy?  We'll find out.

Read full Article
post photo preview
Last week at The Lunduke Journal (July 7 - July 20, 2024)
Fedora's Empty Diversity Event, GNOME Shaman Out, Firefox's Data Collection

The Tech News insanity continues!  GNOME's Shaman Executive Director is out, Firefox gets into the data collection business, a Tech Journalist speaks out in favor of assassinating President Trump (seriously), Microsoft lays off some DEI staff, Fedora holds a Diversity event... and nobody shows up to it.

Plus all the CrowdStrike craziness.

Wild.  Just plain wild.

The Videos

The Articles

Previous Few Weeks

Reminder: Check out The Lunduke Journal Link Central page for all the handy URLS.  Podcast RSS feeds, contact info, direct links to some of the big shows and articles and a bunch of other goodies.  And be sure to subscribe to The Lunduke Journal to help support the work... and make sure you don't miss out on anything.

Read full Article
See More
Available on mobile and TV devices
google store google store app store app store
google store google store app tv store app tv store amazon store amazon store roku store roku store
Powered by Locals