Bill Hill

“I always talk about this to folks at Microsoft, especially to developers. What’s the most important operating system you’ll write applications for? Ain’t Windows, or the Macintosh, or Linux. It’s Homo Sapiens Version 1.0. It shipped about a hundred thousand years ago. There’s no upgrade in sight. But it’s the one that runs everything.”

That was Bill Hill, a digital typography pioneer and one of the inventors of Microsoft’s ClearType font display technology, in a 2004 interview with the company’s Channel 9 developer site.

Hill, a native of Scotland who left Microsoft in 2009, has passed away, according to several of his former colleagues and associates.

Here’s how Hill told his story on his blog, after leaving Microsoft …

I was a professional newspaper writer back in Scotland for almost 20 years. In the early 1980s I saw the oncoming wave of desktop publishing just before it hit and changed the publishing industry forever. In 1986 I helped set up the European operations of Aldus Corporation (PageMaker) in Edinburgh, Scotland. In 1994, Microsoft approached me out of the blue and asked me to run its Typography group, based in Redmond, WA. I took the job because I believed Microsoft, with its installed base of Windows and Office, was the company most likely to lead the transition from reading on paper to reading on screen. When I first started talking about reading on screen for sustained periods, people thought I was mad. I’ve worked on reading research, helped to invent ClearType (with my good friend Bert Keely), and been involved in many projects related to reading on a screen. I am inventor or co-inventor on 21 granted US patents, with several more still in the pipeline. I left Microsoft on May 5, 2009, and am now on the next stage of my journey.

Hill was a charmingly candid guy, whose interests ranged from technology to music and art.

He seemed unafraid to speak his mind on any topic, including Microsoft. After watching Microsoft struggle for years to figure out the Tablet PC market, he saw the Apple iPad and Amazon Kindle rise to dominance. In a 2010 post anticipating the unveiling of the iPad, he predicted that the new Apple device would spell trouble for the Kindle and for Microsoft.

“The trouble is trying to innovate at Microsoft, which is a company of geeks, run by geeks, and dominated by Windows,” he wrote.

Robert Scoble, who interviewed Hill multiple times, says in an audio message that Hill was “one of the greats” — an example of someone who played a key behind-the-scenes role in the advancement of technology, whose contributions deserve to be recognized and celebrated on a wider scale.

Here’s a clip from the Channel 9 interview with Hill explaining the concept of “Homo Sapiens 1.0.”

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Comments

  • http://twitter.com/enriquegodreau Enrique Godreau III

    This is sad news as Bill Hill was a catalyst for change. In 1993, a few of us at Aldus believed that interactive publishing was the next growth wave in IT. Going from designing marks on paper to designing interactive documents for the screen. The story took some selling, but when the Class 5 tornado that was Bill Hill blew into town, he always stopped by, was “all in” on the strategy, and helped get it done. He was a good man.

  • John Beezer

    There may not be any plans to upgrade homo sapiens 1.0, but I know first hand that every now and then they’ll release a test build packed with amazing advanced features and a bold new UI paradigm. We’re going to miss you Bill.

  • http://www.facebook.com/arc.company.7 Arç Companÿ

    I had the pleasure to work with Bill when developing ClearType for the MS Reader project. He taught me the beauty of fonts and how the brain recognizes words as shapes, and how he came up with the ClearType idea. Bill was such an interesting, funny and wonderful human spirit. I will miss him.
    - David Prokop

  • Curt Arbtin

    Bill was an amazing fellow. I believe his true passion was the user. The software is just a mechanism to enable the us to reach our goals.

  • MJ Nalebuff

    So sorry to hear this sad news. It was a pleasure to have known and worked with Bill, he will be missed by many. My condolences to his family and friends.
    Bill you’ve left a lasting legacy, RIP.

  • Jeff Ramos

    The opportunity to meet and become a friend of Bill Hill is one of the greatest treasures of my career. I learned so much from Bill. Bill’s passion and brilliance was remarkable. I had the pleasure to travel the world with Bill and witness how he could invite people into a complex yet incredibly simple discussion about people and technology. Microsoft and the world truly lost a great person. Rest in peace my friend.

  • Kim

    I was lucky to spend a few years working in Bill’s group. He changed the way I look at computers, software and UI. His view was always how these tools can serve us better, and that is a view that is too frequently overlooked. Too often these days people are required to serve the cool new device.
    A good guy, a passionate communicator, and always interesting to talk with. My standards for on screen readability are much higher for having known Bill.

  • Teddy B

    Bill, whatever I can say it is all too late. Still, it was a true pleasure to have been a friend and colleague in those Aldusian years in wonderful Edinburgh. Hard to find words to describe you, but “brilliantly unconventional” somehow spring to mind. Heartfelt commiserations to all those close to you.

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