Tuesday, May 5, 2009

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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