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Jonathan Erickson

Dr. Dobb's Bloggers

Turbo Pascal's Unsung Hero

November 20, 2008


Can that be right? Turbo Pascal is 25 years old? Let's see...that would make me how old? Oh never mind.

What brought this to mind was the note from CodeGear's David Intersimone that he was celebrating the 25th anniversary of the shipping of Turbo Pascal Version 1.0 on his blog.

Anders Hejlsberg, the original author of the Turbo Pascal compiler, was invited to share his recollections, which makes for some really interesting reading. Likewise, long-time Borland R&D engineer Lars Frid-Nielsen (co-author of the Dr. Dobb's article Celestial Programming with Turbo Pascal) added his two cents.

With such august company, you can imagine how flattered I was to be ask to share some of my memories about Turbo Pascal, and here's what I had to say:

When comes time to compile the history of Turbo Pascal--and this appears to be that time--the real hero of the day didn't know a begin from an end. He wasn't a programmer, he didn't work for a software company, and he really disliked having to drive over the hill to Scott's Valley. His name was Bill McAfee, and he put his job and career on the line because he believed in Philippe Kahn and Turbo Pascal before the rest of the world had ever heard of it.

Bill, you see, was the advertising salesperson for BYTE Magazine who against all corporate rules and good business sense accepted on credit a full-page color ad for Turbo Pascal. Let's face it. Giving credit to--instead of taking cash from--a start-up business that resided over an auto repair shop and launched by an emigrant who played a mean saxophone but who didn't have a green card might in some circles be classified as "risky business." By hook or crook, however, Bill sneaked the ad past the BYTE bean counters, the issue hit the newsstand, and orders for the $49.95 package came rolling in.

To his credit (there's that word again), Philippe never forgot about the chance Bill took, and was loyal to him forever after.

As West Coast editor for BYTE, I was lucky enough to witness Philippe's graciousness. I suppose we all owe Bill thanks for taking the chance, although goodness knows he was rewarded enough, thanks to his sales commissions for all kinds of Borland software products over the years.

But if Bill hadn't taken the chance he did, the history of personal computing might have been much different.

But the gratifying part in this stroll down memory lane was hearing from Philippe Kahn himself, who as gracious as ever explained that "Bill is one of my heroes in life. You see, he put his job on the line and I'm happy that someone noticed. I continue giving him credit for all the blessings that we received over time."

Thanks Philippe, and thanks Bill.

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