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An Homage to Gary Kildall

Op-Ed: July 1, 1997: An Homage to Gary Kildall

Scott, a software engineer, is Gary Kildall's son. He can be reached at [email protected]

One of DDJ's 1996 recipients of its Excellence in Programming Award was the late Gary Kildall, who among his many contributions, wrote CP/M, the first operating system for personal computers. His son, Scott, accepted the award for him at Software Development 1997 conference, and gave the following speech on his father's behalf.

I would like to thank Dr. Dobb's Journal for bestowing this honor upon my father. This award means a great deal to me and and know it would have meant a great deal to Gary as well.

Most people remember Gary for his technological achievements such as ground-breaking compiler research, pioneering work on CD-ROMs and of course, the first standard personal computer operating system, CP/M. However, what I admired in Gary, even more than his products, was his devotion to creating tools to help the world.

A perfect example of this dedication was a product called "Dr. Logo", an intuitive, non-abstract computer language geared towards teaching kids to learn how to program. Gary devoted so many hours to this project, not because he hoped it would be a big money maker, but because he believed in the mission of the product itself. Had it been widely distributed, Dr. Logo would have taught an entire generation of children to use computers as learning tools, not merely as game-playing machines. In the case of Dr. Logo and in fact with all of his creations, Gary consistently proved himself more inventor than businessman.

I remember many an afternoon spent at Digital Research when I was growing up. Though the business was fast-paced, even hectic at times, I never once saw Gary lose his temper. He always listened to his co-workers and treated them fairly because he valued both them and their opinions. Gary was unusual in that his business was guided by the same principles which governed his life.

Like other great inventors before him, Gary was greatly disappointed when he discovered that innovation clashes with the the business world. He learned the hard way that even in such a young industry, it is cutthroat business practices and not great products which guarantee success. It was simply not in Gary's nature to hoarde knowledge, to buy out his competition, or to take credit for work that was not his.

My father was devastated when he discovered that the computer industry was just as ruthless as any other. Referring to the demise of Dr. Logo in the mid-80s, he wrote in his personal memoirs, "It was then that I learned that computers were built to make money, not minds."

These words haunt me as they should haunt you. As providers of cutting edge software, we determine the quality of the product as well as who can afford it. It is our responsibility to keep alive the integrity and pioneering spirit which created this industry. We must remember, as Gary always did, that we have the power to expand minds not simply profits.

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