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Pacific Grove Inventor Gary Kildall’s Memoirs Published Online

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Tom O'Neil
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Gary Kildall in 1988

While Silicon Valley is seen as the birthplace of computers, the first personal computer operating system was actually born in the Monterey Bay Area.   It was  created by Grove inventor Gary Kildall. 

In his Pacific Grove home, Kildall's pioneering work included the creation of operating systems, computer coding languages, hardware-independent applications, multi-tasking and networking.

The Computer History Museum in Mountain View has just undertaken a huge step to ensure that Kildall's work is not forgotten. 

They've just published online excerpts from his memoir Computer Connections: People, Places and Events in the Evolution of the Personal Computer Industry.

I spoke with David Laws, of the Computer History Museum.

Rick Kleffel (RK): David, when did Gary Kildall start working on his memoirs?

David Laws (DL): Gary attended the University of Washington as a graduate student, and was a graduate of the first class.  And on the 25th anniversary of the school's opening of this class,   he was invited as an honored guest to group and join the celebrations.  On his return from that conference, he decided to write down the story of how he had got started in the computer industry and the developments that had come forth and everything he had learned along the way.  

RK: Did he finish the book? 

DL: He had a rough draft that he distributed to family and friends for feedback, but unfortunately, he died before it could be edited and turned into a book form. 

RK: Ten years after Gary's death, his manuscript did come to the attention of the publishing world, but not in the manner one might expect. 

DL: The new interest in the document came about when Harold Evans decided to write his book, They made America. He was allowed access to the book by the family, he told Gary's story in that book, and I think the family believed that was all that needed to be released at that point. 

RK: In the twenty years following his death, the world began to live in the future that he helped create.  What brought this unknown manuscript by a little-known innovator back into focus?

DL: In 2014, the IEEE Institution of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, decided to honor the work that Gary had done with a plaque in Pacific Grove outside the offices where his company was.  At that point, a lot of Gary's friends and co-workers and his family also came along to the unveiling, and at this point  discussion started about perhaps it might be appropriate to release some more information from the book. 

RK: The Computer History Museum seemed like a good match.

DL: Well the Computer History Museum has a major exhibit, Revolution, it's called. The First 2,000 years of computing, so the modest title embraces a vast amount of technology over a very long period of time.  We felt that Gary's memoir was a critical document in terms of telling the story in the words of one of the pioneers of the industry. 

RK: Versions of the memoir were preserved in hardcopy printouts and on floppy diskettes.  The Computer History Museum made a surprising choice as to which version they would present to the public.

DL: The decision we made was to scan the hardcopy document, so that people could see physically what this looked like and how Gary had chosen to lay it out, and how he had worked. 

The publication of Gary Kildall's memoirs Computer Connections online by the Computer History Museum is a perfect example of history as written by those who made it published on a platform they had a hand in creating.  

About the Interviewer: Rick Kleffel’s work has been broadcast NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered.  His latest book reviews and podcasts can be found at NarrativeSpecies.com.  You can find more podcasts on iTunes under The Agony Column and The Transformational Wellness Network.  Kleffel lives in Aptos.

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