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Programmers At Work, 22 Years Later 136

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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  • Re:wow (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ShatteredArm ( 1123533 ) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @04:28PM (#22507290)
    My favorite part is the use of the word "weblog." The whole thing has a very appropriate reminiscent theme.
  • Peter Norton (Score:2, Interesting)

    by El Lobo ( 994537 ) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @04:45PM (#22507488)
    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@gmail . c om> 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?
  • Re:wow (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 21, 2008 @05:06PM (#22507752)
    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.
  • 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 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 [], the programmer behind the wildly popular Pinball Construction Set []. 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 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.

  • by justasecond ( 789358 ) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @05:25PM (#22508034)
    "Swaine", not "Swine" ! But yes it is an excellent book.
  • Re:Peter Norton (Score:5, Interesting)

    by alphafoo ( 319930 ) <> 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.
  • by Firebones ( 1236508 ) on Friday February 22, 2008 @12:12AM (#22511430) Homepage Journal
    This guy, Charlie Anderson [], 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 [] 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 Tuesday Night Football [].
  • Re:"At work" (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Firebones ( 1236508 ) on Friday February 22, 2008 @12:26AM (#22511532) Homepage Journal
    There's another great book, Founders at Work [], 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 [] 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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 22, 2008 @02:02AM (#22511976)
    I have been programming continuously since 1970 and I'm not retired yet. Yeah, I started with mainframes. Want a list?

    CDC 1604, IBM 1401, CDC 6400, IBM 360, CDC Cyber 73, UNIVAC 1106/1108, Honeywell 200, UNIVAC 1110, UNIVAC 90/30, VAX 11/780, CDC Cyber 720, Cray 1

    and each of those in native assembly language, in addition to a variety of higher level languages. Yeah, technically the VAX was a mini. Of course I got into micros too. Another list:

    M6800, 6502, i8080, M680X0, PPC (601, 603, 604, G3, G4), AMD29k, MIPS

    and all of those in native assembly as well, in addition to other languages, but mostly C of course.

    I was once visited by students I had known that couldn't believe that I was still programming being over 40. Well, that was more than 10 years ago and I'm still at it.
  • 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 [] 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.

Would you people stop playing these stupid games?!?!?!!!!