Programmers who defined the technology industry: Where are they now?

The future of the computer... circa 1986.

By , ITworld |  Development, Bill Gates, Charles Simonyi

Bill Gates, BASIC on the Altair

2009: Bill Gates announces the $255 million challenge grant to Rotary leaders at a conference in San Diego.
Image credit: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Then: In 1986, Bill Gates was already "considered one of the driving forces behind today's personal computing and office automation industry" (at least when being interviewed for Microsoft Press) and lamented that he didn't have time to write code personally anymore.

On programming: "We're no longer in the days where every program is super well crafted. But at the heart of the programs that make it to the top, you'll find that the key internal code was done by a few people who really knew what they were doing.

It's not quite as important now to squeeze things down into a 4K memory area. You're seeing a lot more cases where people can afford to use C, instead of using assembly language. Unfortunately, many programs are so big that there is no one individual who really knows all the pieces, and so the amount of code sharing you get isn't as great. Also, the opportunity to go back and really rewrite something isn't quite as great, because there's always a new set of features that you're adding on to the same program."

On software performance: "It's true that we're going to allow programs to be a little fatter than they have been. But in terms of speed, it's just laziness not to allow something to be as fast as possible, because users, even though they might not be able to say so explicitly, notice programs that are really, really fast. In the most successful programs, the speed of execution is just wonderful."

On the future of programming: "People still get great satisfaction out of the fact that a compiler, like the C compiler, still can't write code as well as a human being. But we may mechanize some parts of the process quite a bit over the next three or four years. People will still design algorithms, but a lot of the implementation could be done by machines. I think that within the next five years we'll have tools that will be able to do as good a job as a human programmer."

On Microsoft's future: "Even though there'll be more and more machines, our present thinking is that we won't have to increase the size of our development groups, because we'll simply be making programs that sell in larger quantities. We can get a very large amount of software revenue and still keep the company not dramatically larger than what we have today. That means we can know everybody and talk and share tools and maintain a high level of quality."

On the future of computing: "One of the new areas we're focusing on at Microsoft is compact-disk applications. CD ROM is the technology we're going to use to get personal computers into the home.... CD ROM is totally different. We hope with CD ROM you'll be able to look at a map of the United States, point somewhere, click, zoom in and say, "Hey, what hotels are around here?" And the program will tell you. And if you're in the encyclopedia and you point to one of Beethoven's symphonies, the computer will play the song. It's a new interface; it's got nothing to do with productivity tools like word processors or spreadsheets."

Today: Duh.

Next page: Charles Simonyi, Multiplan, Alto Bravo, and Hungarian Notation

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