Sunday, June 05, 2005

Real achievers

From the book Wizards and Their Wonders: Portraits in Computing, the following is part (edited for length) of the Inventors chapter:

Wizards and Their Wonders: Portraits in Computing is a tribute by The Computer Museum and the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) to the many people who made the computer come alive in this century. It is unabashedly American in slant: the people in this book were either born in the United States or have done their major work there. With the exception of the Forerunners listed in the first section, the book concentrates on living innovators in computing, comprising: the Inventors, who created the work; the Entrepreneurs, who drove the work; the Communicators, who shaped the work; and the Venture Capitalists, who funded the work.


"The best way to predict the future is to invent it." --Alan Kay

One of the benefits of the fast rate of computer development is that many of the industry's primary inventors are still very much alive and active, and could be photographed and interviewed for this celebration. It is perhaps the first technology in which we hae the luxury of actually meeting the people who created its key inventions, in this case, the mouse, the laser printer, the Internet, the World Wide Web, the word processor, teh Ethernet, the spreadsheet, and the graphical user interface. Though some of the people in this chapter will be well-known to many readers, you may be pleasantly surprised to connect a face with a name for the first time. In this chapter you will meet the people who helped create the wonders we use every day - the inventors of the modern computer.

Marc Andreessen

Marc Andreessen is Senior Vice President of Technology for Netscape Communications. Andreessen developed the idea for the NCSA Mosaic browser for the Internet in the fall of 1992 while he was an undergraduate student at the University of Illinois. He was named one of the top 50 people under age 40 by Time magazine in 1994.

"Marc Andreessen had barely come of age when he co-wrote the program that is helping to tame the Internet... he is often cited as one of the few people who have a road map for the 'infobahn.'" --Time Magazine.

Andreas Bechtolsheim

While a graduate student at Stanford University in 1981, Andreas Bechtolsheim designed a workstation for himself using off-the-shelf parts. Using $25,000 of his own money to build prototypes, he soon attracted the attention of Vinod Khosla and Scott McNealy, two Stanford University M.B.A. students. The trio then recruited Bill Joy, principal architect of the Berkeley Standard Distribution (BSD) Unix operating system, and founded Sun Microsystems. The name Sun originally stood for "Stanford University Network".

Tim Berners-Lee

Tim Berners-Lee, World Wide Web developer, trained in physics at Oxford. In 1990, he was working at the Swiss-based European Particle Physics Laboratory (CERN) when he wrote the specifications for the global hypermedia system, using the then innocuous acronyms HTTP, HTML, and URL. In 1994, Bernes-Lee left CERN to found the World Wide Web Consortium, a non-profit group of research institutions, Web technology users, and providers based at MIT's Laboratory for Computer Science. In commenting on the World Wide Web, Berners-Lee has said "The Internet, specifically the Web, is moving from appearing as a neat application to being the underlying information space in which we communicate, learn, compute, and do business."

"Web' [stands for the Web's] decentralized nonhierarchical topolgy, which is key, and 'World Wide' goes better with 'Web' than does 'global' ... I got a lot of grief for making an acronym with more syllables than the name itself." Tim Berners-Lee, on naming the Word Wide Web.

Dan Bricklin

Dan Bricklink, an electrical engineering graduate from MIT in 1973, began workign for Digital Equipment Corporation as a programmer. He later left Digital to enter Harvard Business School. In the late 1970's, he teamed up with old MIT friend Bob Frankston to create thew world's first electronic spreadsheet, VisiCalc. The software was inspired by Bricklin's personal experience at Harvard with "running the numbers" to determine company financial health by performing many laborious computations. VisiCalc first appeared for the Apple II computer, greatly accelerating that computer's sales. By 1983, over 500,000 copies of VisiCalc had been sold.

Bob Frankston

Bob Frankston did most of the coding for VisiCalc, the world's first electronic spreadsheet, after Dan Bricklin proposed the idea. Working in his attic at night, Frankston created a working version of the program in four weeks. Released in October 1979, the first commercial version of VisiCalc was 20K bytes and available only for the Apple II computer. He holds four degrees, all from MIT: Bachelor's degrees in mathematics and electrical engineering (1970), an engineering degree, and a Master's degree in electrical engineering (1974).

Vint Cerf

Cint Verf, known as the "father of the Internet," is the co-developer of hte computer networking protocol TCP/IP, now the transmission standard for data communications on the Internet. Much of Cerf's early work was undertaken during hte period from 1976 to 1982, when he worked on the DARPA project for the Department of Defense. He holds a B.S. degree in mathematics from Stanford University and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from UCLA. Cerf is now Senior Vice-President of Internet Architecture and Engineering at MCI Corporation.

"We're a society that wants everything, and we want it now. I think that's what the Internet is responding to."

Fred Brooks, Jr.

Fred Brooks, Jr., was 29 when he joined IBM and was put in charge of System/360. He shared the National Medal of Technology in 1985 with Eric Bloch and Bob Evans. He is the author of The Mythical Man-Month (1975), an important book about software engineering incorporating Brook's Law, which states that, "Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later." According to Bob Metcalfe, "Mr. Brooke saw his law operating at IBM in the late 1960's, when the joke was that if IBM asked its programmers to jump a 100-foot gorge, a hundred of them would each jump one foot."

Ed Catmull

At Lucasfilm, Ed Catmull created special effects for the movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. He was a key developer of Renderman software, used in such Hollywood films s The Abyss, Terminator II, Jurassic Park, Jumanji, Beauty and the Beast, Batman II, and Toy Story. In 1996, he received an Academy Award from the Academy Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for scientific and technical engineering contributions to the evolution of computer graphics in filmmaking.

John Cocke

At IBM, John Cocke developed the concept of reduced instruction set computer (RISC) technology, a cornerstone of high-speed computer design, relying on minimal instruction set and highly efficient compiler design. He was a multifaceted talent at IBM, working on compilers, and inventing the concept of "look-ahead" for the IBM Stretch computer. He has inspired generations of engineers. He has won both the National Medal of Technology (1991) and the National Medal of Science (1994), as well as the ACM Turing Award (1985) for this innovation. He graduated in 1956 from Duke University with a Ph.D. degree in mathematics.

Douglas Engelbart

Douglas Engelbart is best known for his pioneering work during the 1960s and 1970s developing computing technologies that have since become commonplace -- the mouse, hypertext, windows, cross-file editing, and mixed text and graphics files. In partnership with Sun Microsystems and Netscape Communications, he is pursuing his long-standing interest in boosting human intelligence. In describing Engelbart's contributions, EECS Department Chair Randy Katz (UC Berkeley) says that Engelbart's ideas "are aimed not so much at creating new technology, but at making people's lives better -- the ultimate accolade for an engineer."

Richard Stallman

Richard Stallman simultaneously earned a magna cum laude degree in physics from Harvard University and served as a system programmer for Russel Nofsker's Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT. Stallman's guiding principle was "The Hacker Ethic," the philosophy that software should be distributed for free. He worked on the development of EMACS, and editing program allowing limitless customization by users. Stallman, a "lone ranger" for "The Hacker Ethic," was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship to stay at MIT and to continue programming.f

James Gosling

For many years, James Gosling has designed satellite data acquisition systems, several compilers, mail systems, window managers, and the EMACS UNIX editor. He was the Lead Engineer for Sun Microsystems' Java/Hot Java project and is presently a Vice-President and Fellow at Sun. He has received a B.S. degree in computer science from the University of Calgary (1977) and a Ph.D. degree, also in computer science, from Carnegie-Mellon University (1983).

Dennis Ritchie

Dennis Ritchie is best known as the author of The C Programming Language and as part of the famous team of Ritchie and (Ken) Thompson. Together, they formed the driving creative force behind Bell Telephone Laboratories' legendary computer science operating group. In 1969, they created Unix, an open operating system for minicomputers. Unix helped users with general computing, word processing, and networking, and soon became a standard language. Ritche also co-wrote Plan 9, the next-generation operating system created as the natural descendant of Unix by Thompson and Bell Labs colleague Rob Pike. Interestingly, Ritchie's favorite computer language is Alef.

Ken Thompson

Ken Thompson co-invented the Unix operating system with Dennis Ritchie at Bell Telephone Laboratories. It was a scaled-down version of the Mutlics operating system, hence the pun in the name "Unix." Thanks to the development of the C programming language by Ritchie, Unix became portable over many computer platforms. He received B.S. and M.S. degress from the University of California, Berkeley. He is an amateur pilot, and once traveled to Moscow to fly a MiG-29.

Donald Knuth

Donald Knuth is perhaps best known for having written the classic, multi-volume series, The Art of Computer Programming, the "Bible" of computer science pedagogy. He has written dozens of books and hundreds of articles on mathematics and computer science, and has influenced the thinking of countless students of computer science. He als invented the typesetting language TeX, which remains a worldwide standard for technical publishing. In The Art of Computer Programming, Knuth wryly compares a computer program to a recipe by quoting from McCall's Cookbook.

"I am now a happy man." -- Donald Knuth after giving up the use of email in 1990.

Bjarne Stroustrup

Bjarne Stroustrup is the designer of the C++ software language and the author of The C++ Programming Language and The Desing and Evolution of C++. Stroustrup is the recipient of the 1993 ACM Grace Murray Hopper award and an ACM fellow. His non-research interests include general history, light literature, and music. He received a Ph.D. degree in computer science from Cambridge University, England.

"C makes it easy to shoot yourself in the foot. C++ makes it more difficult, but when you do you blow your whole leg off."

Charles Simonyi

At the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) during the 1970s, Charles Simonyi led a team of programmers in developing Bravo, the first WYSIWYG ("what you see is what you get") word processor. Simonyi is now Chief Architect of Microsoft Corporation.

Ivan Sutherland

Ivan Sutherland's 1963 dissertation, Sketchpad: A Man Machine Graphical Communication System, is one of the starting points of computer graphics. Teaching at Harvard University, he experimented with three-dimensional computer graphics, building a head-mounted graphics display in 1966 (a forerunner in today's virtual reality systems). In 1968, he co-founded Evans & Sutherland, a computer graphics company. He is a holder of twelve patents.


Alaa said...

hmm interesting, sure would like to take a look at that book.

two books I love about the history of computing and the people behind it are Steven Levy's Hackers documenting the underground that brought us the personal computing revolution, and Out Of Their Minds which is about some of the most interesting scientists in the field.

Mohamed said...

Yeah, interesting stuff. This book though only has a paragraph about each one with a big picture. Its nice though just to flip through it.

programmer craig said...

Heh... and how quickly we forget! Now, Al Gore created the Internet, and we are back to the days of human wave software development, much the same as it was done at IBM in the 1970s!

Alaa, those are two great books. I haven't read this one Mohamed is talking about yet, but I think I will. I sure do miss the 80s and early 90s. I got hoooked on the PC in the 80s, and have been working as a C/C++ programmer since 1990. It was a lot more fun when all this stuff was new, and the industry was small. Seems like everything has gotten pretty stagnant and hidebound to me now. We need another generation of pioneers to come up with some new ideas, but I don't see them on the horizon. No worries though. It'll happen. The computer industry has gotten stuck in ruts before.

The only critique I have of those blurbs is the Java guy. He doesn't belong in there with the others. Java killed Sun Microsystems, and wasted a lot of peoples time when they jumped on the Java bandwagon. It's an ultimately over-hyped and unimportant technology.

Alina said...

I must admit I was one of the people who had no idean CERN was home of the World Wide Web. What can I say, thank God Dan Brown wrote the Da Vinci Code!

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