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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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