Bill Gates


I was one of the first programmers to benefit from Microsoft's early recognition of computer programming as a form of writing similar to creating novels, plays, and poetry. While Bill is known for building personal wealth, his paving the way for me and others to become career authors of computer programs was equally significant. Software designers and authors were recognized and retained all rights to our designs.

Once we could profit by owning and selling our software, the entire personal computer revolution was off and running. I translated my original Typing Tutor design for Radio Shack, Atari, and others.

Bill's recognition of authorship was not the first significant social change resulting from a paradigm shift. Before Gutenberg and movable type, mass distribution of any manuscript was effectively prevented because of the expense. When per-copy cost dropped, authors could market their work to a significant audience, permanently altering society's structure.

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Great Records and Tapes

I first met Bill at the GRT (Great Records and Tapes) studio, where we were each duplicating software for distribution via cassette tape to the fledgling personal computer market. My cassettes would accompany my Bally Arcade book. Bill was making tapes for distributing Microsoft BASIC.

When I mentioned that I was a science writer, Bill asked if I would be interested in the Microsoft BASIC manual. I accepted immediately, eager to learn the finer points of programming. Bill agreed to teach me if I came to Albuquerque, New Mexico, for a few days. Our relationship eventually led to my favorite remark, "Learning to program with Bill and Paul was like learning to fly with Wilbur and Orville."

Bill and Paul's Albeqjerque office was nothing like the Microsoft we see today. Instead, a two-bedroom apartment housed the two of them and a secretary. Bill cheerfully announced the State Fair was in full swing just a couple of blocks away, and a table at the back of their local taco pavilion would be our conference room.


Bill ordered tacos and endless cups of Mexican chocolate, tipped the waitress most liberally, and spewed out computer jargon as fast as I could keep up. It was wonderful. After a couple of hours, we adjourned to watch the pig races.

A dozen pigs, actually piglets, were in an enclosed racetrack reminiscent of Watgens Glenn or Seibring, with a fixed fence blocking the path. The operator waves an Oreo cookie above the pigs, then conspicuously drops it on the other side of the fence. They immediately turn 180 and race the entire track length to get to the Oreo. Then the operator repeats the process, depositing a fresh Oreo away from the pigs who gleefully repeat the process. The pigs were having as much fun as we were. 

Over dinner, Bill, Paul, and I waxed somewhat poetic. "And what," I asked my Type A friends, "is the Oreo cookie keeping you busy?"

A programmer?

I returned a few weeks later with the completed manual. They were delighted with the result.

          "Now that I'm a programmer," I offered, "perhaps I should write something."

My observation in the midst of guru-level programming talent was a joke they both enjoyed. Knowing a programming language does not equate to writing powerful software; more than just knowing how to type makes a novelist. But I continued...

          "I'm excited by the prospect of writing software that creates beyond what is possible without a computer. For example, we could build an interactive typing program, creating lessons as fast as you learn instead of repeating canned exercises in a book."

I expanded my concepts: response timing to differentiating learned and not-learned keys, prescription drills focusing on specific letter/word combinations, and more.

          "Dick Ainsworth Microsoft Typing Tutor, we'll buy it!"

And so they did, publishing my program, allowing me to retain all design rights, making me one of the first in a new industry standard recognizing authorship.

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