In 19459004, 1973, Paul Allen was a twenty-year-old technician who, like many famous entrepreneurs, had taken leave of university to…
In 19459004, 1973, Paul Allen was a twenty-year-old technician who, like many famous entrepreneurs, had taken leave of university to work as a programmer. Over plates of pizza on a summer day in Vancouver, Washington, he put a fantasy question to his long classmate and soon businessman Bill Gates: What happens if you can read headlines from a personal computer terminal without having to take care of yourself on a copy of today’s paper ? “Come on, Paul!” Gates replied. “It costs fifty five dollars a month to rent a teletext, and you can get a paper delivered for fifteen cents. How do you compete with it?”
As Allen recounted in his memo, “Idea Man”, from 201
1 it was the initial The mission for his venture with Gates, if simple, still radical: “A computer on every desk and in every home”. The benefits of personal data processing now seem to be obvious. Once upon a time they were almost unimaginable. At Seattle’s Tony Lakeside School, Allen and Gates had learned to encode a municipal terminal connected to a distant main frame that was much larger than today’s refrigerator. As late as 1977, the president of Digital Equipment Corporation, an early giant of computer age, members of the World Future Society told us that there was no reason to ever wish, even less, to use such a device at home.  Had innovators like Allen not fought to turn their hobbyist culture into a mass media, you’re unlikely to read these words on any screen, albeit less alone. “Paul predicted computers would change the world,” wrote Gates, earlier this week, his first business partner, who died on Monday, for eighty-eight years, from complications of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. By the time Allen’s first fight against lymphatic cancer forced him to resign from Microsoft, he had already helped in the 1980s to establish the industry standard for microprocessor speech and began a technical revolution that cemented the company’s reputation – where I detained in the summer of 2017 and 2018-like that largest and most profitable software company in the twentieth century. Allen’s technical expertise and in-depth leadership are partly responsible for many of today’s most basic technological innovations, including point-and-click data processing, word processing and multi-button mice, which Steve Jobs once condemned as an accurate extravagance during a business meeting that The visionaries had arranged in Palo Alto. (“You know Paul, this is about simplicity versus complexity,” said Jobs to Allen, who told the episode of “Idea Man.” “No one needs more than a button.”)
Unlike millennial billions condemns non-technical employment, Allen attributed his entrepreneur’s ambition and imagination to extensive autodidactics and a natural passion for art and literature. From his father, a librarian and his mother, a teacher, he inherited a love to read: in his tall yearbook support lies Allen’s chin on top of a thin plot containing “Dubliners”, a textbook in college physics, a history of Mexican-American the war and the bible. “I read every science book I could find,” wrote Allen, “along with bundled questions about Popular Mechanics who were taken home from the university library to be thrown out ten or twelve in a crumbling.” His inspiration for Microsoft’s initial software product – an interpreter of the BASIC programming language – came from another 1975 edition of Popular Electronics another of the magazines Allen consumed in his youth. After reading a story about the Altair 8800, when the most powerful minicomputer ever presented, he rushed to Gates Harvard dormitory to throw the bet that eventually forced his founder to release. “That moment marked the end of my college career and the start of our new business,” wrote Gates this week. Microsoft was founded in Albuquerque, where the men moved to build software with Altair’s manufacturers, but the men soon moved the company to their native Washington, hoping that Seattle’s rainy days would prevent employees from being distracted. (They neglected to consider the sunny, glorious summers of the city.)
After Allen left Microsoft’s management in 1983, Seattle continued the primary focus on his life’s philanthropy. In 2000, the chairman of the Architecture Department at the University of Washington, where Allen later taught a separate school for computer science and technology, resembled a modern Medici. Allen’s intense investment in Seatles Southern Lake Union neighborhood, home to Amazon’s headquarters, has reworked the city as an increasingly popular travel destination for young technicians. But his most appreciated contribution to the city’s stage and skyline may be the artistic and athletic monuments that Allen spent a remarkable part of his wealth on. He restored the old Cinerama cinema in Bell Town to modern glory and ordered Frank Gehry to design a pop culture museum honoring among other legends, Allen idol Jimi Hendrix. He developed a children‘s center at the Seattle Public Library, financed an off-campus studio for the beloved public radio station KEXP and set up a military history museum outside the city. He also appeared as an avid advocate for environmental protection, computational bioscience and space exploration, which gave millions of dollars to regional nonprofit organizations. Allen used his wealth to acquire Seattle Seahawks, a team that had considered leaving the city before entering. “Sometimes I threw my network too much,” he wrote in his memoir and responded to criticism as his philanthropy lacked focus. “But my choice of efforts was not arbitrary.”
When I arrived at Microsoft, Allen had been absent from the company’s leadership for decades two years ago. But his energetic curiosity remained in the corporate culture, which welcomed rather than rejecting interests beyond technology – including my own, as both a writer and a programmer. (Last summer, I made a job sounding.) I was the first alert to Allen’s death on Monday night with a flood of messages from other former interns who regret the loss of our parent. In one of the many online forums devoted to his legacy, an anonymous engineer wrote: “If he had not financed, I would not have had the technology at my high school that inspired me to take the career path I did.” The technology industry is notorious for its relentless, mercenary and sometimes merciless desire to push forward. All, even as a technician, realized that the products he designed were complemented with previously existing lives, all rich and varied. “It’s a core element of my management philosophy,” he wrote in his memoar. “Find the best people and give them space to work as long as they can accept my periodic high-intensity kibitzing”.