The story is a bit dubious, and I suspect it's just standard Slashdot
trolling. The situation as I understand it was that Cutler had a collection of
ideas about what the next generation VMS should be like. DEC however wasn't
interested in spending the money on developing it, but wanted to continue
improving the existing versions. That was probably the right decision for them,
given that they were primarily a hardware vendor who wanted to continue to
support their customer base. They weren't interested in entering the PC market
(which is where they went wrong). Cutler then started shopping around for a new
employer that would let him do what he wanted.
Developing a new OS is a
big job, and it's unlikely that DEC management would have approved the funds and
headcount for it unless they were behind the idea from the beginning. It's not
something that you can do under the radar and then pull it out finished and
ready to go. Where Cutler may have done something dubious is with respect
to what extent he took designs from DEC with him. If he had taken a significant
amount of code with him to Microsoft, the case would have devolved into a simple
open and shut copyright case, which isn't what happened. Instead it appeared to
involve trade secrets and other rather nebulous "intellectual property".
What made Windows NT successful was that it was cheap (for its day)
software designed to run on cheap commodity x86 hardware. VMS ran on expensive
VAX hardware. The proprietary Unix vendors all charged an arm and a leg, and
most of them targeted their own very expensive hardware. Most BSD developers
weren't interested in anything that wasn't a "real computer" (i.e. a
mini-computer or expensive unix workstation). Microsoft sold something that was
good enough, ran on the cheapest hardware available, and they provided a
migration path for existing DOS and Windows 3.x users and developers. It was
(and still is) rubbish, but it was better than DOS or Windows 95, and for most
users that was good enough.
There seems to be a trend in the computer
industry that the companies that dominate one phase or era don't succeed in the
next. That doesn't necessarily mean they disappear (although some do), but that
some new companies tend to overtake them and then dominate the new era. It was
IBM for mainframes, DEC for minis, Digital Research (CP/M) for 8 bit business
PCs, Microsoft in 16+ bit commodity PCs, and now Android (Google) for
"appliance" (phones/tablets) systems.
Microsoft was in the right place
at the right time to succeed, but there was no technical reason why Windows NT
in particular was needed for success. As long as Microsoft had something which
would do the job (32 bit, multi-tasking, memory protection) and provided a
migration path for their existing Windows 3.x users, it would have succeeded.
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