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Bob Wallace, Software Pioneer, Dies at 53
by John Markoff
Sep 26, 2002
New York Times
Citation:   Markoff J. "Bob Wallace, Software Pioneer, Dies at 53". New York Times. Sep 26 2002.
Bob Wallace, a pioneering programmer of the personal computer era who helped invent "shareware" software marketing , died on Friday at his home in San Rafael, Calif. He was 53.

The cause was not immediately known and the results of an autopsy are not yet available, said his wife, Megan Dana-Wallace.

When Mr. Wallace joined the Microsoft Corporation in 1978, he became its ninth employee. At the time, the company was known as Micro Soft and was based in Albuquerque. He developed an early version of the Pascal programming language. He left the company in 1983 to found Quicksoft, a software company that sold a word processor called PC-Write using a marketing plan that Mr. Wallace initially called commission shareware.

The term shareware had already been coined by Jay Lucas, writing in the personal computer newspaper InfoWorld to describe the software that was being distributed free or for a nominal copying charge.

At the time, the personal computer business was in the throes of a transition from a passionate hobby to an industry that would eventually create several of the world's largest fortunes. Mr. Wallace's personal style best represented the original hacker spirit, which was emblematic of a group of programmers and hardware designers who thought information should be shared freely.

He copyrighted his PC-Write program and sold the diskette for $10, at the same time giving users permission to share the program. Customers who found value in the software were able to register the program for $75 and obtain a printed copy of the manual.

Initially, he was uncertain about whether his strategy would work.

"If I make enough money to live on, I will continue the experiment," he said in an interview in September 1983, when he introduced the program. "If not, I will approach software publishers to see if they are interested in marketing a PC-Write II version of the program for me commercially."

Within several years, Quicksoft had 32 employees and annual revenue of more than $2 million.

Mr. Wallace was also the first Microsoft employee to leave the company with stock. At one point, his original 400 shares were worth as much as $15 million, his wife said.

But Mr. Wallace, who was influenced by the counterculture of the 1960's and early 70's, was never comfortable with the industry he helped create. He would later say in an interview, "My philosophy is that I want to make a living, not a killing."

As a student at Brown University in the 1960's, he worked with a group of researchers led by Andries van Dam and Ted Nelson on a pioneering information age tool known as the file retrieval and editing system, or Fress. Although it was designed on a mainframe I.B.M. 360 computer, it would shape personal computing in the next three decades.

"He was one of the key designers of Fress," said Dr. Van Dam, who is now vice president for research at Brown. "We would have these long arguments about what was good for the user. He had this very gentle flower child demeanor and philosophy."

Many ideas that would become commonplace in personal computing and that would later lead to the development of the World Wide Web were invented by the Fress group at Brown and, separately, by researchers led by Douglas Engelbart at Stanford Research Institute, now SRI International, in Menlo Park, Calif.

The Fress group designed early text editing and word processing systems. But its members also had a deeper vision of linked documents that would permit a computer user to move through a new kind of information space, dubbed hypertext by Mr. Nelson.

Both Bill Gates and Paul G. Allen, who founded Microsoft, remembered Mr. Wallace fondly.

"I remember Bob as a gentle soul who was soft-spoken, but creative, persistent and meticulous in his programming and thinking," Mr. Allen said.

Before joining Microsoft, Mr. Wallace worked at the Retail Computer Store in Seattle, where he learned about the tiny software company after Mr. Gates put up a sign advertising for programmers.

His first project at Microsoft was to connect a computer to an I.B.M. Selectric typewriter so the company could print its software manuals.

Mr. Wallace was involved in some legendary high jinks with Mr. Gates in the late 1970's, including their breaking into a construction site and driving bulldozers, at one point almost running over Mr. Gates's Porsche.

Mr. Wallace had a long interest in psychedelic drugs, which he thought were misunderstood in the United States. In 1996, he started Mind Books, a source for books about psychedelics. In 1998, he founded the Promind Foundation to support scientific research and public education about psychedelics.

In addition to his wife, who lives in Sebastopol, Calif., he is survived by his mother, Luna, of Tucson; a brother, Douglas, of Seattle; and a sister, Wendy, of Tucson.