Leaving Microsoft: The Journey Continues…

Well, it’s official now. I’m leaving Microsoft.

It’s time to begin the next stage of a mission that began for me in the early 1980s – when I realized that computers were about to change the publishing industry radically and forever. I helped to drive the desktop publishing revolution that changed high-quality printing and made it accessible to anyone with a personal computer.

I guess the second stage began when I first saw hypertext in 1985, while writing the user manual for Guide, the first Macintosh hypertext authoring program (those were the days when software needed a thick printed manual).

Hypertext was supposed to replace paper. But everyone promoting it had forgotten the one basic flaw in the reasoning – reading from the screen was so bad that everyone would still print information in order to read it.

The journey brought me from Scotland to the Pacific Northwest, to work at Microsoft, which I believed was the one company in the world best-placed to lead the transition from reading on paper to reading on a screen.

It may sound trite, but so many millions of people worldwide use Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office that it’s a truism: Change Windows and Office, and you change the world.

There are probably a billion people worldwide with ClearType on their PCs and other improvements like the onscreen reading view in Word.

I’ve had the opportunity to work with many clever folks at Microsoft. Together, we have driven a lot of change. I want to publicly thank the ClearType team at Microsoft, most of whom I’ve worked with since I joined the company over 14 years ago. They drank the Kool-Aid before anyone, when they worked for me in Microsoft’s Typography group. Back in 1995, we produced a plan together which focused us on reading from the screen. The Verdana and Georgia fonts were the first fruit of that work. And they’re still believers.

I’d like to thank Charles Torre of Microsoft’s Channel9. It has been a huge success, and it has always been a delight to work with him. If you want to see Bill Hill videos, Channel9 is the place to go. Together, they’ve had hundreds of thousands of views.

It has been a privilege to know and work with all at Channel9, and I hope we’ll stay in contact.

The job of making the screen as comfortable to read as paper is not yet completed. I’ve come to believe that it is the development of Web standards, and standards-based rendering, which will take us the rest of the way.

There’s huge potential. Two trillion pages are still printed in the US alone, every year, and that’s an enormous waste of energy and resources.

For some time, I have been preparing for leaving Microsoft by setting up my network and communications. You’ll find me on FaceBook and LinkedIn, as well as on my website and this blog.

As you all know, I’m a Man With A Mission. I have no intention of becoming a beach bum. I always said that I would probably go back to writing, which I did professionally for almost as long as I worked in the software industry. I’ll continue with my blog and website.
I’ve become convinced over the past couple of years that no one company or browser will make the transition to reading on screen happen. I still believe in eBooks. Amazon has definitely seized the lead there, by providing the two things which were both essential to success – a device and a bookstore.
I have some other ideas I’m not yet ready to talk about. And of course I’m available as a consultant.
I’m facing the future with what is probably the right mix of fear and excitement. It has always felt like this is destined to happen, it’s a lot bigger than me, and I’m not in control.
In the past, what seemed like the worst thing that could happen has often turned out to be the best thing that could have happened.

Reading on Screen IS The Future of Reading. People thought I was mad when I tried to tell them that back in the 1980s and 1990s. Now we all spend hours every day, reading from a screen. We’ve come a long way.

But we still have promises to keep, and miles to go before we sleep.

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16 thoughts on “Leaving Microsoft: The Journey Continues…

  1. Trix

    I absolutely love cleartype. I just wish high DPI monitors would make it on the mainstream so I could read text more comfortably. My laptop is 1680×1050 on a 15.4 inch screen. My desktop is at 1680×1050 on a 22 inch screen. I really notice the larger pixels. It is so much harder to read. The desktop has horrible screen readability.Anyways, I am glad you helped impact on screen readability at Microsoft, hopefully you will continue to in the future.

    Reply
  2. Bill Hill

    Dell has been manaufacturing high-resolution laptop for at least ten years now. I had a 133ppi laptop in about 1997, and a 147ppi laptop (both Dells) in 1998.A computer manufacturer who must remain nameless approached me a number of years ago because they wanted to ship a 178ppi (!) laptop.Windows’ support for high-resolution in those days was not great. You could get such a machine to work just fine, although you had to jump through a lot of hoops to do it.The problem was that the Web – and many, many Line of Business applications built by companies for their own internal use – is not resolution-independent.Everything’s built on the outdated assumption that all screens are around 96ppi.As a result, the Web, for instance, uses pixel dimensions everywhere – and if you try to view them on a higher-resolution display, everything’s too small.A lot of work was done in Vista. Windows Presentation Foundation applications can be written to be resolution-independent.Much more work was done for Windows 7. We’re not there yet – but we’re getting there.I just ordered a new MacBook Pro laptop. It is 133ppi.Problem is that for desktop monitors, especially larger ones, the math will kill you.Take the 204ppi desktop display I used to have at Microsoft. It has 3840 pixels x 2400 pixels. Now do the math. At 32 bits per pixel, and refreshing that screen at 60Hz so it will do fullscreen video, you get 3840 x 2400 x 32 x 60 bits per second you have to process and pass across the graphics bus.Ouch! You need really fast graphics chips and a very, very wide databus. The latest graphics card I had would still only drive that display at 13Hz. Since it was an LCD, that was more or less OK. But in certain light conditions you could definitely see a flicker – and some people were more sensitive than others to it.Early drivers for that display divided the screen into four vertical segments. You used two graphics cards, and each handled two segments.Now you can buy a single card that will drive the whole display.Maybe I’m stupid (I certainly don’t know much about chip architecture), but I think perhaps resolution this high will probably need some kind of multicore graphics chip.That’s why you’re seeing high-resolution make first on to mobile phones (very small screen – 208ppi can be just 800 x 600 pixels), then laptops.My new MacBook has 133ppi on a 17″ display. That promises to be great. But it’s still well short of handlng the number of pixels to do 133ppi on a 22″ display.Of course, if everyone starts buying high-resolution laptops, then manufacturers of desktop displays and graphics cards will feel pressure to increase the resolution of the displays they offer.It’s a good thing for them, since high-resolution takes laptops, displays and graphics cards out of the “commodity” bracket, and they can charge more for top-of-the-line equipment.Apple seems to have found a market that will happily pay for something higher-end.

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  3. Anonymous

    Cleartype, I’m not yet a fan of… not sure if it’s my eyes, my warped brain, or every bit of equipment I’ve tried it with, but I always feel someone just smeared Vaseline on the screen.However, that one I can control… what I find harder to deal with is… the “designer” look blog/website pages, of dark background and light text.Call me a traditionalist, but give me dark text on light background.

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  4. Anonymous

    Hey there Bill, good luck with whatever is next.The only dance there is.andGrist for the mill.Keep reading the trail signs.Denny from C9

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  5. Judah Himango

    (Found this via @shanselman on twitter)Ah, I’ve always loved ClearType. Wonderful technology. Never knew the folks behind it.ClearType is something to be proud of. Thanks for this contribution to computing, Bill, and best of luck in your new ventures.

    Reply
  6. Worachai C.

    Hey Bill, Chai’s here.I just learned this today and just now seeing it in your blog. Please continue to do what you have been telling us for many years. I always love text and reading for as long as I can remember, but you were the one who really helped me realize how much I might be able to do something with it for real! I’ll continue what you’ve started for as much as I am capable of doing. See you around!

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  7. IanET

    Best wishes Bill, it was a true pleasure working with you! We have a long way to go but we’ve come a long way already thanks to your passion.

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  8. Micah Bowers

    Bill, Do you have contact info anywhere on your site or blog? I did not see it. I’d love to hang out some time and kibitz about onscreen reading. I’m designing reading apps these days (e.g. Adobe Digital Editions)and I’m in Seattle. -Micahbluefire.tv

    Reply
  9. Glen

    Read your article in the AGS Newsletter.If only you’d persevered with the clarinet.Your picture appears in photo 31 in the AGS section of Friends Reunited.You’re probably right about Saltcoats but at least you don’t get Willie Nelson driving golf balls into the sea.

    Reply
  10. Bill Hill

    @ Glen. I can't find AGS in Friends Reunited, which is very weird since Glasgow High and Glasgow Academy are there. Do you have a URL?thanks,bill

    Reply
  11. Bill Hill

    I'm running Vista with ClearType using BootCamp.But Apple's font smoothing – which I hate at 96ppi – looks a lot better at the 133ppi on this display. Whether it's good enough, only time will tell.The MacBook Pro is hands-down the best Windows laptop I've ever had (and I've had two of them now – one I had to hand back to Microsoft when I left)

    Reply
  12. Trix

    Interesting. I am too worried to get a Macbook Pro as my main laptop. I am curious though.I do not have to worry about it now anyways. College student, no money 😛

    Reply
  13. dan

    RE:"Reading on Screen IS The Future of Reading. People thought I was mad when I tried to tell them that back in the 1980s and 1990s. Now we all spend hours every day, reading from a screen. We've come a long way.But we still have promises to keep, and miles to go before we sleep."Hear hear!Still, while I agree with you 100000 percent, I also feel that the future of reading must be with the paper book we all grew up with, you too, Bill. I know you read 17 books as a kid in Glasgow and that is what started you off on your life's journey, right? Do you think kids today read 17 books on their computers? No way, they are busy playing online games. This has all backfired, Bill. While I want to see the best reading surface and reading typefaces and fonts and sizes and decks on online screens, I believe deep in my heart, age 60, that we need books more than ever. Books! For the deep reading they afford us. Reading on screens does not do the trick. It's good for info and selling things and marketing and all that, but NOT for deep reading.Still, that said, I agree, make the best of reading on screens that you can, sir. You are a genius, and I for one salute you, from my cave in Taiwan….

    Reply

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