Tag Archives | Paul Allen

Paul Allen’s Microsoft Memoir Isn’t a Lovefest

Paul Allen, cofounder of Microsoft, has written a memoir, Idea Man, which is excerpted on Vanity Fair‘s site. His fellow founder Bill Gates doesn’t come off well in the excerpt–Allen says he pushed and pushed to reduce Allen’s ownership in the company–and the Wall Street Journal says that the book has caused a “rift” between Allen and Gates and may include some inaccuracies.

I’m looking forward to reading the book, which goes on sale on April 19th–not because of any juicy stuff it may contain, or because I relish the thought of Microsoft’s creators being at odds with each other in public. (That’s kind of sad whether Allen has a point or not.) Whatever you think of Microsoft, the founding of the company is one of the most visionary things that’s ever happened in the history of personal technology, and it’ll be interesting to hear the tale told by one of the two guys who know it all.

(Fuzzy-but-evocative 1983 photo of Paul Allen and Bill Gates borrowed from a 1983 issue of InfoWorld.)


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The Newsstand That Spawned Microsoft is Set to Close

Out of Town NewsOut of Town News, the iconic newsstand smack in the middle of Cambridge, Mass.’s Harvard Square, is within a month of shutting down after 54 years in business. It’s one of the most famous meeting points in the Boston area, since it’s so impossible to miss. But as the Boston Globe reports today, it also played a supporting role in one of the most famous moments in computer history.

It was at Out of Town that a young computer nerd named Paul Allen bought the January 1975 issue of Popular Electronics–the one with a cover story on a built-it-yourself personal computer called the Altair 8800. Allen got really, really excited–and showed the issue to his buddy, Harvard student Bill Gates. Gates got equally excited. The two decided to develop a version of the BASIC programming language for the Altair–and that programming language was the first product of the company called, originally, Micro-Soft.

Allen and Gates were deeply into computers, and had already formed one software company together, Traf-O-Data. You gotta assume they would have heard about the Altair one way or another, and it’s therefore silly to posit that if Allen hadn’t stopped to to browse at Out of Town, there would have been no Microsoft, no DOS, no Windows, no Microsoft Mouse, no Microsoft Office, no Microsoft Bob, no MSN, no Clippy, no MSNBC, no Xbox, no Zune, no Gates Foundation, and not a single Blue Screen of Death. But it is Twilight Zone-ish fun to toy with that notion.

Within about five years of Allen’s purchase, incidentally, Out of Town played a major role in my own obsession with PCs–for many years, it had the best selection of computer magazines in the Boston area, and I bought countless copies of magazines such as Creative Computing, BYTE, and Popular Computing there. Given its proximity to Harvard, MIT, and other universities, Over the years, I’m sure many thousands of other people who were fixated on computers got most of their information on the subject from Out of Town. It may be a quaint relic of the pre-Web age, but the memories will live forever.

Cambridge city officials are trying to find another company to operate a newsstand in Out of Town’s hut-like building. (Which, incidentally, isn’t the one that Allen bought his magazine at–the newsstand moved a few yards into a new structure years later when the Harvard Square subway stop received a major makeover.) I wish them luck–for one thing, it’s going to be a tad disorienting if I ever visit a Harvard Square without Out of Town.

If it does close, I hope that Cambridge erects some sort of plaque in its honor, and that that plaque mentions Paul Allen’s purchase…

(Photo by Flickr user afagen)


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