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Programming IT Technology

Programmers At Work, 22 Years Later 136

Posted by kdawson
from the still-crazy-after-all-these-years dept.
Firebones writes "In 1986, the book Programmers at Work presented interviews with 19 programmers and software designers from the early days of personal computing including Charles Simonyi, Andy Hertzfeld, Ray Ozzie, Bill Gates, and Pac Man programmer Toru Iwatani. Leonard Richardson tracked down these pioneers and has compiled a nice summary of where they are now, 22 years later."
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Programmers At Work, 22 Years Later

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  • wow (Score:5, Funny)

    by rucs_hack (784150) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @04:21PM (#22507174)
    killer site design....
    • Re:wow (Score:5, Insightful)

      by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohnNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday February 21, 2008 @04:25PM (#22507250) Journal

      killer site design....
      Yes, crummy.com certainly is crummy. But you must admit that it is still up after going live on the front page of Slashdot. Can your image laden, flash driven, AJAX-ified, web 2.0 site claim that?

      It's also licensed under the creative commons and has not one ad. Can your site say that?

      Sometimes, a bulleted list of black text on a white background is a godsend to these old eyes and more than gets the jobs done.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ShatteredArm (1123533)
        My favorite part is the use of the word "weblog." The whole thing has a very appropriate reminiscent theme.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Works for Drudgereport. Always has.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          It works for Drudge because one click down it's somebody else's content.

          Not that I like websites laden with flash and other malware, mind you.
      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        still the site is getting really slow,
        so here is a mirror: http://crummy.com.nyud.net/2008/02/17/0 [nyud.net]
      • But you must admit that it is still up after going live on the front page of Slashdot.
        Up, but ridiculously slow. The first time I tried to load it, it didn't respond.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by fmobus (831767)
        I see some imediate design errors that could be corrected without images or clumsy javascript, just css:

        * text is too wide, 66 characters is said to be the ideal. At my resolution, I got lines with >150 chars,
        * some separation between each post would help,
        * some background color or border separating the menu and the header area from the body would help
        • Re:wow (Score:5, Insightful)

          by ipb (569735) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @05:18PM (#22507908) Homepage

          * text is too wide, 66 characters is said to be the ideal. At my resolution, I got lines with >150 chars,
          That's not a bug, that's a feature.
          I absolutely loathe sites that don't expand to match the width of my browser.
          On a 1920x1200 screen any site that only lets me see 66 characters will earn my wrath forever.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Chris Mattern (191822)
            You don't *have* to maximize your browser window, you know. Letting the text flow to the window is the right solution. Text lines too long for you? Resize your window!
            • by Dannkape (1195229)
              But what to do when they only assign a 400px column (can't risk those running 800x600 missing the ads on the sides...)? Sometimes when reading a lot it's good to increase the font size for comfort/speed, but that doesn't really help when you end up with 5 words per line. (or less if there are lots of long words)

              (PS. don't say "use opera", I like my firefox extensions thank you very much...)
            • by Tablizer (95088)
              I've heard complaints about this both ways. I don't think any solution would make everyone happy. It's a personal preference. I personally find wide lines harder to read and don't want to have to resize every page I visit. The only "real" solution I can think of is to have a convention whereby your preferred width is stored with your browser settings and web servers could read that preference and format it to your preferences. Not gonna happen.
              • by darthflo (1095225)
                If by "resize" you're referring to the browser window or tab, you could be interested in the Ctrl + MWheel combo. A lot faster than manually adjusting window width to your likings.
                Also, in Opera, the "7" and "8" number keys allow you to to instantly zoom +/-100%. Even faster than the other way round and it's quickly back to normal ("Ctrl + 0" resets to 100% if you forget how many ticks you're in or out).
            • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

              by ipb (569735)
              I don't maximize it.

              But when many have large high resolutions screens it's ridiculous to expect users to have a window that only covers a quarter of their screen.

              I haven't had a screen smaller than 1600x1200 for years and it's not like web developers can't create a site the sizes to match my window, they just have arcane ideas about what's 'right'. There's nothing like going to a website that pops up and uses half of my window to display nothing. Do that and unless forced to I won't be coming back.

              A
            • by ErikZ (55491) *
              Yeah, you don't *have* to maximize your browser window, but I always do. I run many programs at once, and I find it distracting when I can see them, or the desktop while web browsing.

              I've never had text lines too long for me, the only irritation I've had are text boxes with no margins. So the text is crammed right up on the edges.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Darinbob (1142669)
            Or sites that don't shrink to match the width of my browser. I shouldn't be forced to use the horizontal scrollbar to read text.
            • by Yetihehe (971185)
              Or sites that change size of my browser window to that of screen. My browser is actually maximized, but they will demaximize it and change size to match size of screen (sometimes few pixels smaller).
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          If the width of the text is at all affixed with anything other than a percentage, it is a poorly marked up site.

          That's what HTML is. It's content markup. Not 'code.'
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by darthflo (1095225)
            Is that "width of the text" as in font-size or as in width of the element containing said text?

            In both cases, I disagree. The former would render the text far too small to be comfortably read on (windowed) SVGA while producing huge letters on (fullscreen) WSXGA. The latter also has it's share of problems, think rasterized images that ought to stretch the text's width, think ads embedded besides the text (requiring a given width in pixels).

            Also, to be pedantic: Any markup specifing the width of text is
      • by rdradar (1110795)

        But you must admit that it is still up after going live on the front page of Slashdot. Can your image laden, flash driven, AJAX-ified, web 2.0 site claim that?
        Seems to be down now. :)
      • I'll take dry content over almost any other website I visite these days, including Slashdot. Loads instantly, no crap to distract me, works in any browser.
      • To be fair, an intelligently designed AJAX site can delay load content and, as a result, consume less bandwidth than a static site. Although, I admit that you rarely see this in practice.
      • Re:wow (Score:4, Insightful)

        by multisync (218450) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @06:49PM (#22508960) Journal

        Sometimes, a bulleted list of black text on a white background is a godsend to these old eyes and more than gets the jobs done.


        Works just fine in lynx, too ;)
      • Re:wow (Score:4, Insightful)

        by DarkOx (621550) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @06:52PM (#22509002) Journal
        I take it your comment implies there was something wrong with it? Lets look at if from a perspective of communication they way we might critique any work of language print or otherwise. I will pose the questions to you but answer from my perspective?

        Did you experience any difficulty or distraction while trying to acquire and understand the message the author was trying to send?

        I did not.

        Did the presentation cause confusion or ambiguity of any kind?

        I don't think it did.

        This one is a little machine specific, did you have to use any special tools or software such as specific browsers, decoders, certain display resolutions?

        Nope not me and it looks like it would render fine even for someone using links, but I did not try.

        Has the media proven robust?

        Well its a website and so far its stood up to slashdot traffic, so its fairly tough, probably thanks to its small size. It would be easy to cache for the likes of Google to sense it has no external files, like css sheets, graphics etc.

        All and all I think it was an excellent solution to for making the information available that as the author wanted to do so and deliver it to a broad audience. Its a real shame more of the web is not like that. Ok now go back to your visual studio Silverlight, script ridden abortion now.

      • by popmaker (570147)
        You mean he's not talking about amazon?
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Dude - you don't get it. He is like totally recreating the internet experience of 22 years ago. DARPANet rules!
    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I never RTFA, but with all the insults about the site I just had to check. And guess what? I really like the look. It's clean. I'm so fed up with all the "rich" content on the Internet. Hypertext is supposed to be *text*. Just gimme the information!
      Seriously, that page is what the Web should still look like.
    • by Vexorian (959249)
      Yeah, I agree. That site's design pretty much rocks.
    • by Nazlfrag (1035012)
      I'm having flashbacks!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 21, 2008 @04:23PM (#22507224)
    If you like reading about the earlier days of personal computing, I'd also recommend Fire in the Valley [amazon.com] by Freiburger and Swine which has a ton of cool anecdotes and dramatic confrontations.
  • Moved down a spot (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    The author of TFA ought to read slashdot a bit more often:

    Bill Gates. Then: founder of Microsoft, popularizer of the word "super". Now: richest guy in the world.
    But the richest guy in the world is now Carlos Slim [slashdot.org].
    • I think they meant rich in the ironic sense... you know, as in, "that's rich, coming from you."
    • > The author of TFA ought to read slashdot a bit more often

      But he's already being considered a no-life for getting his story posted.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 21, 2008 @04:23PM (#22507236)
    So, like 8 years ago when I was a sophomore in High School, my friend and I used Yahoo! people search to find Andy Hertzfeld, then used Dialpad.com (back when it was free...) to call him.

    We left a really, really long voicemail message on his answering machine saying how "insanely great" we thought he was and stuff. He never called us back but changed his phone number to an unlisted one shortly thereafter...

    I hereby declare myself the biggest Mac "fanboy" ever. and first post.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Bill Gates, and Pac Man programmer Toru Iwatani
    One's super rich, the other's a floating pair of eyes looking for a box.
  • Bill Gates. Then: founder of Microsoft, popularizer of the word "super". Now: richest guy in the world. After a stint in the 90s as pure evil, semi-retired to focus on philanthropic work.
    Not even second-richest any more .. http://www.stockmarketsview.com/mukesh-ambani-becomes-worlds-richest-man/22/ [stockmarketsview.com], http://money.cnn.com/2007/08/03/news/international/carlosslim.fortune/index.htm [cnn.com]

    A billion ain't what it used to be ...

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by syousef (465911)
      Bill Gates popularized the word super????

      !@#$@ off!!!

      Superman comics were out in the 1930s. Credit where credit's due.

      Bill Gates popularized the phrase "blue screen of death" by demonstrating it at CES.
  • by snoyberg (787126) <snoyberg@users[ ... t ['.so' in gap]> on Thursday February 21, 2008 @04:30PM (#22507314) Homepage
    I recognize most of the names on the list, but who is this Bill Gates character?
  • Informative (Score:5, Funny)

    by peipas (809350) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @04:39PM (#22507414)
    I've always wondered whatever happened to Bill Gates.
  • Nice! (Score:3, Informative)

    by nexuspal (720736) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @04:41PM (#22507442)
    I have this book, by chance, because a professor left it out on a table and wrote, free books. A really good read, shows that to get to the top you need skill, dedication, and some luck. Oh, and in the case of CS, a burning desire to know how the machine operates at all levels...
    • I own this book too. It's a good read and definitely worth picking up second-hand. (It's out of print, so that's all you can do...) Speaking of what you might need to be a good programmer, I thought it was interesting that a lot of them flew planes as a hobby. And then I realized that a few of my good programming friends also have their pilot's license -- something I couldn't say for any of my friends in other professions. I wonder if there's a strong correlation compared to other professions? - sm
  • Peter Norton (Score:2, Interesting)

    by El Lobo (994537)
    Another big name (often forgotten). Last time I heard about him, he was an art collector and trader.
    • Re:Peter Norton (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Orion Blastar (457579) <orionblastar@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Thursday February 21, 2008 @04:59PM (#22507652) Homepage Journal
      I heard he still takes the time to get his picture taken for Symantec products that have the Norton name on them. They still pay him royalties over using his name, though his original software has been rewritten a lot since he sold it to Symantec and he cannot claim ownership of it anymore.

      I think Peter Norton ran out of ideas, but had made so much money that he decided to buy a small island and start buying art with his billions for investment purposes should the world economy collapse due to something like, oh I dunno, crappy commercial software having so many security holes in it that everyone gets their identities stolen by hackers who withdrawal all money from bank accounts and cash in stocks from data stolen from commercial database servers they installed some trojan on when the system administrator clicked on one of their web ads while he was looking for how to fix the problem of the server crashing 12 times a day on some web forum. Then whole nations' economies collapse, except for some small island nation that Peter Norton bought and stores his art collection on?
      • I think Peter Norton ran out of ideas, but had made so much money that he decided to buy a small island and start buying art with his billions for investment purposes should the world economy collapse due to something like, oh I dunno, crappy commercial software having so many security holes in it that everyone gets their identities stolen by hackers who withdrawal all money from bank accounts and cash in stocks from data stolen from commercial database servers they installed some trojan on when the system administrator clicked on one of their web ads while he was looking for how to fix the problem of the server crashing 12 times a day on some web forum. Then whole nations' economies collapse, except for some small island nation that Peter Norton bought and stores his art collection on?

        What a coincidence! Why, that happened to me just yesterday!

      • Re:Peter Norton (Score:5, Interesting)

        by sconeu (64226) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @05:13PM (#22507830) Homepage Journal
        I heard he still takes the time to get his picture taken for Symantec products that have the Norton name on them. They still pay him royalties over using his name,

        Can he sue Symantec for defamation of character? The real Norton Utilities were lean, mean, useful, and essential. The current Norton-branded crap from Symantec is slow, bloated, is DRM-laden, and doesn't play well with either itself or with others. Kind of like the Anti-Norton Utilities.
        • by jank1887 (815982)
          speed disk and calibrat FTW!
        • Back in the Windows 3.1 days, I built some small utilities and put them out in the 'freeware' boards as the 'Ed Norton Utilities.'

          The program names were 'Captain Video', 'Vest', 'Floppy Hat', and 'Bowling Ball'.

      • by Kjella (173770)

        I think Peter Norton ran out of ideas, but had made so much money that he decided to buy a small island and start buying art with his billions for investment purposes should the world economy collapse due to [crappy commercial software]. Then whole nations' economies collapse, except for some small island nation that Peter Norton bought and stores his art collection on?
        Would this island be called Magrathea by any chance? Plus he needs a stasis chamber.
        • "Would this island be called Magrathea by any chance? Plus he needs a stasis chamber."

          Yeah I think that's it! You win a cigar from Fidel Castro, go to Cuba to claim it.
    • Re:Peter Norton (Score:5, Interesting)

      by alphafoo (319930) <loren@boxbe.com> on Thursday February 21, 2008 @07:21PM (#22509270) Homepage
      I was on a panel with Peter at a conference a few weeks ago. He still looks just like he did on the box covers in the 80s. Our talk was on The Future of Software and Technology or Something Like That, and of the 8 people on the panel, I found Peter's remarks to be the most eccentric and Sci Fi. He was talking about head's up displays in our eyeglasses and things of that nature.

      After we all had our say, the moderator asked if anyone of us had anything to add. The mod looked at Peter, at which point Peter, who was sitting with his arms crossed looking either bored or disgusted (I couldn't tell), stated, "Yes, I have something to say. I am out of here. See ya." So he got up and left.

      Most of the audience did not come from tech backgrounds, so I don't think even 10% of them had any idea who he was, or how much of a name he had in the olden days.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Tablizer (95088)
        He still looks just like he did on the box covers in the 80s.

        Lucky bastard. Hell, I look like the box itself now.
           
      • There is a 'Peter Norton' book on Linux. I like to try to visualize what kind of person would buy that book. Undoubtedly it would be somebody who listens to Kim Commando every week and is struggling to get their zip drive mounted on a Linux box.
      • Re:Peter Norton (Score:4, Insightful)

        by syousef (465911) on Friday February 22, 2008 @12:33AM (#22511572) Journal
        The guy wrote some damn nice utilities in the old days. Credit where it's due. However, I don't know what he was like as a person back then but if what you're saying is true he sounds like an asshole today. No amount of expertise excuses it. When I hear about Gates and Jobs abusing people or bullying people I don't think "wow I wish I could see it first hand". I think "Wow, what an asshole! Nothing you do gives you the right to treat your staff that way. Thank the flying spagetti monster I don't work for you!".

      • Displays in our eyeglasses sounds pretty tame compared to Vernor Vinge or Ray Kurzweil.
        http://www.kurzweilai.net/articles/art0518.html?printable=1 [kurzweilai.net]
        "Vernor Vinge's Hugo-award-winning short science fiction story "Fast Times at Fairmont High" takes place in a near future in which everyone lives in a ubiquitous, wireless, networked world using wearable computers and contacts or glasses on which computer graphics are projected to create an augmented reality."

        Hans Moravec was talking about "magic gl
  • by Notquitecajun (1073646) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @04:53PM (#22507576)
    Wow, it's the original Duke Nukem Forever dev team!
    • Original and current baby!

      I think most of them are just waiting for Raskin and Kildall to get off their asses and finish their assignments. They're good programmers so it should be any time now.
  • by kisrael (134664) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @05:01PM (#22507666) Homepage
    This was a very good book. Probably my favorite bit was hearing the history of Pac-Man
    Best Quote:
    "I thought that one of the things women like to do is eat. So I started working on a game concept based on eating."
    --Toru Iwatari, inventor of Pac-Man

    Hearing about the SwyftCard idea was cool too.

    Some of the best things were the artifacts, from in house materials to source code to random sketches and napkin plans:
    I made some banners for The Gamers Quarter with the early sketches of Pac-Man:
    http://kisrael.com/viewblog.cgi?date=2007.11.13 [kisrael.com]
  • It's a revealing statement about the age group that drove the industry in that era that only two of the people profiled are now known to be dead this many years later.

  • by RobertB-DC (622190) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @05:16PM (#22507880) Homepage Journal
    As a teenager in the early '80s, I wasn't terribly aware of the people who were actually getting paid to do what I and my friends were figuring out how to do on the TRS-80 and Apple ][. But one name that percolated up was Bill Budge [wikipedia.org], the programmer behind the wildly popular Pinball Construction Set [wikipedia.org]. It was probably the closest thing you could get to The Sims on a 6502.

    Oddly enough, I don't think I ever played it myself. Or rather, I never built anything -- I probably played some of my friends' creations. His name stuck in my mind thanks to a list in some computer magazine about "Opcodes we'd like to see". (That's an assembler term, for you High-Level Language junkies.) The only one I still remember was "PBB -- Program like Bill Budge".
    • by mattack2 (1165421)
      Umm, isn't http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Computer_People [wikipedia.org] "the closest thing you could get to The Sims on a 6502."?

      • Umm, isn't http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Computer_People [wikipedia.org] "the closest thing you could get to The Sims on a 6502."?

        Cool! I had no idea. I wonder if I'd have been interested if I'd known about it?

        I think my problem is that I wasn't the buy-a-game kind of geek, but more of the write-a-game kind of geek. In 1985, I was doing hardware-level stuff, like breadboarding a Radio Shack voice modulator chip to work from the TRS-80 Model 100's parallel port. As a result, I probably missed out on a lot of what
  • While thousands more still toil away unnoticed, beacuse they are honest and didnt get to lean on mommies and daddies money when they first started out.

    • There may be some truth in this remark for some of these people, espec. billg, but your "Booth was a patriot" .SIG is laughable. Booth was part of a substantial conspiracy to take down a President who was committing the ultimate act of treason in the U.S. -- remaining free from corruption. For more, check out Jim Bishop's "The Day Lincoln Was Shot".
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by nurb432 (527695)
        Booth was willing to give his life for his country. That makes him a patriot. Wont debate if he was right or wrong in his actions as that isnt my intent. The intent is to make people think, which you have done.

        And back on topic i wasn't speaking just of Mr Gates, a lot of the 'big players' that made it out of the 80's either had help, ( like rich parents) or really good luck ( location, location, location ). ( actually, that goes for most people that have made it big, they often build on the success of
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by justthinkit (954982)
          I agree about successful people having help -- rich parents, or powerful connections. What is even more annoying is that those who genuinely innovate (someone like Dan Bricklin comes to mind) will often have their work stolen/copied/sidelined by someone in a more powerful position. The corruption of the system always approaches 100%.

          All we little people can do is try to give credit to the true innovators, geniuses and hard workers. In the latter category I would place David Harris of Pegasus fame. Ph
  • by jpellino (202698) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @05:18PM (#22507906)
    ... they just as regularly roll their eyes when they see the gian head of Bill Gates.

    Then they just as regularly come back and thank me.

    Good to see a recap that these people made a difference and are (mostly) still doing so.

  • I'd much rather know where I'll be in 22 years...
  • Let me add my praises to all the others. It's a very good book and a very interesting book.

    And the material on Bill Gates is an interesting read in his own right. (And yes, Bill Gates was a programmer).

    _Inventors At Work_, also published by Microsoft Press (and regrettably out of print), by a different author, is excellent, too.

    I wonder if there are any other titles in the same series?

  • by EdgeOfEpsilon (756307) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @05:25PM (#22508026)
    >Jef Raskin. Then: Macintosh project creator, founder of Information Appliance. His excellent web site is still up. Author of well-respected book The Humane Interface. The project he's working on in PaW, the SwyftCard, was a minor success.

    RIP Jef. On a lighter note, check out his son's work at Humanized [humanized.com]

    Edit: Looks like he just updated it. I guess someone informed him of Raskin's departure...
  • IHNTA, IJLTS"Spreadsheet of Dorian Grey"
    • by popmaker (570147)
      IHNIWYJS, HAAWTOIAW?
      • by adavies42 (746183)
        It's a usenetism--"I have nothing to add, I just like to say" (i got as far as "i have no i what you just said, how about a" before getting stuck. care to reciprocate?)
        • by popmaker (570147)
          Ok, hehe. I just thought the acronyms got a little too thick to navigate through, it was a little bit of a sarcastic outburst.

          Mine read: "I have no idea what you just said", "how about actually writing..." uh, well I actually forgot the rest of it. But it's not important.
  • the White Collar Holler.
  • on various islands in the Caribbean and Pacific. (as long as they can get wifi)
  • "At work"? Seems most of them are retired or hobbying around under obligatory wages.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Firebones (1236508)
      There's another great book, Founders at Work [amazon.com], that covers entrepreneurs. What's striking to me is the difference between the relatively humble and down-to-earth programmers of the early personal computing era compared to the egos on display from the post-bubble entrepreneurial bubble. More here [firebones.com] on that contrast. A few of the founders, like Joshua Schacter and James Hong, seem to be cut from the same mold as the Programmers at Work guys, but they're the stark exceptions.
  • it wants its site back
  • by tompaulco (629533) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @11:47PM (#22511294) Homepage Journal
    My question is. Retired how? Obviously a few are fabulously rich. But of the others, how many were forced into retirement by an ungrateful company? How many quit in disgust when profit motive sucked all the life out of programming? I am fortunate to have in my employ several employees who worked on exciting and challenging technology at Bell Laboratories, working on various aspects of switching systems which are still in use around the world today. However, Lucent forced all of them into early retirement. I know of other highly skilled technical people who couldn't take the annoyances any more and have quit to work at places like Home Depot (I'm not talking the IT department either).
    Maybe it's just me, but I don't feel that the IT industry appreciates the people who made them great. I'm not an old codger bemoaning my fate either. I'm under 40, but I'm just observing what I feel is an injustice done to the greats of my dad's generation. I don't hold great hope for my generation either. I work in IT, and I love IT, but IT treats me like crap, so I'm building up my inventory of rent houses, and one day I will abandon my abusive lover and work quietly at home doing my own programming projects for the sheer joy of it just like I did back in 6th grade.
  • This guy, Charlie Anderson [charlieanderson.com], wasn't a big enough success to warrant inclusion in Programmers at Work, but his basic source code for Tuesday Night Football on the Apple II was some of the first code I ever had a chance to read. Be sure to visit his virtual PC museum [charlieanderson.com] and check out the 1980 letter he preserved that showed his royalty arrangement for what had to be about 500-1000 lines of Basic source code for the game. I'd love to see the source again, but wasn't able to track it down. I'm still looking for [firebones.com]
  • by An dochasac (591582) on Friday February 22, 2008 @06:34AM (#22512958)

    O.K. I know "PC" is now well integrated into the popular vocabulary as an X86 machine which runs Microsoft Windows and for most outside the Slashdot readership, "programmers" now means those who understand Visual Basic and Excel and "FOSS" means something with a linux kernel under the hood.

    But once there was a time when home computers had no DRM, corporations or hobbiests would document the hardware interfaces and share their knowledge and source code via tapes, printouts and magazines such as Compute! I was surprised that http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Butterfield [wikipedia.org] and other Commodore/Amiga/Atari... hackers were not on this list.

    I'll never forget the article Jim wrote for one of those classic computer magazines where he showed how to copy the Commodore 64 BASIC interpretor into volatile RAM, fix a bug with a 1 byte poke and tell the CPU to use that RAM based interpretor.

    The bug was that a program-stopping error occured any time you tried to access the ASCII value of a null string:

    e.g. print asc("")

    I found that this one byte bug existed on nearly all versions of BASIC available on small computers at the time. Atari, Apple, Amiga, Vic 20, IBM-PC junior. What do these machines have in common? They all purchased parts of their BASIC interpretor from a company called Microsoft.

    Jim Butterfield is no longer with us but the optimism and excitement he brought to the world of computers is far more real and lasting than the slash and burn corporate domination brought upon us by the likes of Bill Gates.
  • by Brett Johnson (649584) on Friday February 22, 2008 @04:50PM (#22520156)
    I remember reading that book a couple of decades ago. I think I was given a copy by Jon Sachs. I am amazed at how many of these people I actually worked with, or even had meaningful conversations with in my life:

    Gary Kildall: I never met him in person, but corresponded with him by telephone and email a bit back in 1982-3 when I was working on CP/M and MS-DOS BIOS for 3R Computers' TC-1 and TC-100. I really shouldn't speak ill of the dead, but Kildall was an ass.

    John Warnock: I really only met him twice at some Adobe functions. Adobe was next door to Verity, and they embedded some Verity technology into Acrobat, so we were over there a bit.

    Dan Bricklin: I met him once at some small conference where he was pushing his prototyping product "Dan Bricklin's Demo Program". I remember being interested because I was doing a bit of rapid prototyping with NeXT's InterfaceBuilder.

    Bob Frankston: Was kept locked in a secret room at Lotus in the mid-to-late 80's when I was working on Lotus Manuscript. I met him twice. I believe his official job title was "I'm Bob Frankston, dammit! I invented the friggin VisiCalc. Have you heard of it? Now get me a sandwich ... and some more virgins."

    Jon Sachs: Sachs actually started the Lotus Manuscript project, so I worked with him extensively from 1986-1988. I also met him briefly in 1981 (82?) at Data General (I was hired about 2 weeks before he left). Of all the people on the list I have met, Sachs was definitely the most modest and the coolest. Even though he was worth like $130M at the time, he used to drive this beat-to-crap old Jeep. When that finally gave up the ghost, he bought an Audi Quattro - used.

    Ray Ozzie: Another Lotus Manuscript contact. Ray was running Iris, developing Notes for Lotus. They wanted to use the same printer driver technology that Manuscript used. I also remember Ray when he worked at Data General in the early 80's. Although I didn't work with him directly, I do remember him playing Snake ... a lot. I like Ray, and communicate with him once or twice a year, even tho he works for Microsoft.

    Not mentioned above, but just as significant:

    Mitch Kapor: Founded Lotus with Sachs and was still running it when we were developing Manuscript. I first met him at some big Lotus gala featuring the Pointer Sisters or the Pips or someone like that. I think they were celebrating the one-millionth wheelbarrow full of money they had dumped into the Charles River because they had just too damn much money. I spent much more time talking to him when I met Kapor at some conference pushing his uber-calendar project, Chandler. Chandler can best be described as the "Black Hole of Calendaring" - it is so massive that not even light can escape its gravitational attraction. I've seen many good programmers sucked into that black hole.

    Steve Jobs: Like Kapor, Jobs is not a programmer, so not featured in the book. My experience with the Steve occurs during his time at NeXT Computer. I was an early adopter of NeXT. I was won over when Steve demo'ed the system at Lotus in 1988, and have been using NeXTStep/OpenStep/MacOSX as my primary development environment since. Steve once offered me a job after I gave detailed feedback on some broken app with suggestions on how to make it better. I've spoken to him only once since he returned to Apple.

    Steve Wozniak: Woz lived in the next town over when I was in Sunnyvale. I met him once when he was promoting his tech-heavy school for kids. He was a major influence to my "give back to the community when you have been fortunate" ideals. If life were Star Trek (it isn't?) then Woz is the result of some "Enemy Within"-style transporter accident -- with the evil Bill Gates materializing shortly after. Woz is definitely the funniest and coolest person on this list.
    • Upon reflection, I actually believe I obtained the book from David Glazer, who I worked with on Lotus Manuscript, now at Google.

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