Dave Cutler

From Academic Kids

Dave Cutler (born March 13, 1942) is a noted software engineer, designer and developer of several operating systems including the RSX-11, VMS and VAXELN systems of Digital Equipment Corporation and Windows NT from Microsoft.


Personal history

David Neil Cutler, Sr. was born in Lansing, Michigan and grew up in DeWitt, Michigan. After graduating from Olivet College in 1965, Cutler went to work for DuPont. One of his tasks was developing and running computer simulations on Digital machines. He developed an interest in operating systems and left DuPont to pursue that interest.

Cutler's software career started at a small company he founded called Agrippa-Ord, located in Monument Square, Concord, Massachusetts (or possibly in Acton, Massachusetts), marketing software for the LINC and PDP-8 computers.

Cutler holds over 20 patents and is an affiliate professor in the Computer Science Department at the University of Washington.

David Cutler usefully summarised his own career in the foreword [1] (http://www3.sympatico.ca/n.rieck/docs/Windows-NT_is_VMS_re-implemented.html) to Inside Windows NT.

Cutler is featured prominently in the G. Pascal Zachary book ShowStopper!, which chronicles how the first version of NT was developed at Microsoft.

In addition to his engineering skills, Cutler is known for his sardonic humor. He generally referred to the RSX fork list as the "fork queue" [2] (http://groups.google.com.au/groups?selm=140220021224386931%25elliott%40yrl.co.uk). Sometimes even his error messages turn out to have a double meaning.


In April, 1975, DIGITAL began a hardware project, code named Star, to design on a 32-bit virtual address extension to its PDP-11. In June, 1975, Dave together with Dick Hustvedt, and Peter Lipman were appointed the technical project leaders for the software project, code named Starlet, to develop a totally new operating system for the Star family of processors. These two projects were tightly integrated from the beginning. The three technical leaders of the Starlet project together with three technical leaders of the Star project formed the "Blue Ribbon Committee" at DIGITAL who produced the fifth design evolution for the programs. The design featured simplifications to the memory management and process scheduling schemes of the earlier proposals and the architecture was accepted. The Star and Starlet projects culminated in the development the VAX 11/780 computer and the VAX/VMS operating system.

Prism and Emerald projects

DIGITAL began working on RISC technology in 1986 and Cutler, who was then working in DEC's Seattle facility, was elected to head Prism, a project to develop the company’s RISC machine. Its operating system, code named Emerald, would embody the next generation of design principles and have a compatibility layer for UNIX and VMS. The RISC machine was to be based on ECL technology and was one of three ECL projects DIGITAL was undertaking at the time. On the basis of the R&D cost involved in funding multiple ECL projects to yield products that would ultimately compete against each other, Prism was cancelled in 1988 in favor of a system runing Ultrix on processors produced by MIPS. Of the three ECL projects, the VAX 9000 was the only one that was commercialised...

Windows NT

Cutler left Digital and joined Microsoft in 1988 and became co-leader of the team that developed Windows NT. Later, he worked on targeting Windows NT to Digital's 64-bit Alpha computer (itself based on the Prism design), then on Windows 2000. According to Microsoft's website, Cutler is (as of 12 March 2005) working on the 64-bit version of Microsoft Windows.


  • "VMS and its RSX ancestors all the way back to IAS, I believe, have had a FoRK Queue, the source of at least 3% of Internals humor." Usenet FoRK discussion list (http://www.xent.com/FoRK-archive/august97/0399.html).
  • "I have many fond memories of how RSX-11M took shape, I had a rubber stamp made that proclaimed 'Size Is the Goal' and proceeded to stamp every last bit of correspondence to make sure that all the programmers and project managers understood" -- David Cutler
  • "Little did I know that I would be fortunate enough to develop several operating systems in my lifetime; developing one is a rare opportunity for anyone." -- David Cutler
  • "If any of you break this build, your ass is grass, and I'm the lawnmower." -- David Cutler to his programmers during the development of NT
  • "I won't pollute it [NT] with crap!" -- Cutler to Bill Gates, upon being told that NT was to have an OS/2 "personalilty" as an alternative front-end.


  • Zachary, G. Pascal. (1994). ShowStopper!. The Free Press. ISBN 0029356717.

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