software engineer

Dave Cutler (software engineer)

David Neil Cutler, Sr. (born March 13, 1942) is a noted American software engineer, designer and developer of several operating systems including the RSX-11M, VMS and VAXELN systems of Digital Equipment Corporation and Windows NT of 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 to Inside Windows NT.

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" Sometimes even his error messages turn out to have a double meaning.

David is also an avid auto racing driver. He has previously competed in the Atlantic Championship from 1996 to 2002, scoring a career best of 8th on the Milwaukee Mile in 2000.


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 Lippman 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 of the VAX 11/780 computer and the VAX/VMS operating system.

At DEC he is widely credited for terminating the 1979-80 Desktop RSTS project and scrapping the manufacturing prototype. Compared to the subsequently announced IBM-PC, RSTS had 40,000 running applications, ANSI languages, and a DBMS. RSTS had a reputation as a robust, stable and reliable multi-user, multi-tasking operating system. RSTS also had a virtual operating mode that allowed it to faithfully emulate other operating systems such as RSX-11M and RT11. But it's not fair to blame Cutler for this loss; it was Ken Olsen who refused to understand the idea of anyone wanting to have his/her own computer on the desk.

Prism and Mica projects

DIGITAL began working on RISC technology in 1986 and Cutler, who was then working in DEC's DECWest facility in Bellevue, Washington, was elected to head Prism, a project to develop the company’s RISC machine. Its operating system, code named Mica, 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 running 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 for Microsoft in October 1988 and led the development of 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. After the demise of Windows on Alpha (and DEC) Cutler was instrumental in porting Windows to AMD's new 64-bit AMD64 architecture. He was officially involved with the Windows XP Pro 64-bit and Windows Server 2003 SP1 64-bit releases, as well as Windows Vista. He moved to working on Microsoft's Live Platform in August 2006. Dave Cutler was awarded the prestigious status of Senior Technical fellow in Microsoft.


  • Tomonobu Itagaki, creator of the Dead or Alive video game series, mentioned Cutler as the programmer he admires the most.
  • Accidentally or otherwise, the initials for Windows NT, "WNT", are a 1-step transposition of "VMS", and VMS was the DEC operating system that greatly influenced Cutler's later development of Windows NT. (Similar to "HAL" allegedly standing for "IBM" in '2001: A Space Odyssey'.)
  • When confronted by a legal aide at Microsoft several years into the NT project with the above coincidence Cutler is reported to have replied: 'so it took you that long to figure that out?'
  • Recognized among 2007 National Medal of Technology and Innovation Laureates, announced August 25, 2008 which were awarded on September 29th in a White House ceremony.


  • Zachary, G. Pascal (1994). Showstopper! The Breakneck Race to Create Windows NT and the Next Generation at Microsoft. Warner Books. ISBN 0-02-935671-7.

External links

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