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IT greats: Top 10 greatest IT people

Computer Weekly Staff

26 Oct 2006 5:00

For every world-famous name with a world famous fortune,

such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Michael Dell, there are
hundreds of other individuals who have moved the IT
industry and its technology inexorably forward.
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are hundreds of other individuals who have moved the IT industry and its technology inexorably

Fame and fortune has rarely been their immediate spur. A passion for changing the world
through technology is the hallmark of the IT Greats. Sometimes they have changed technology,
sometimes they have transformed the way technology is marketed or radically altered the way IT
is perceived by society.
Some have been involved in great leaps forward, some have made incremental changes that have
stood the test of time.
Whatever the case, our industry is truly one where we all stand on the shoulders of giants, and
we are proud to pay tribute to some of them in the results of our IT Greats poll.
Top 10 greatest IT people
1. Steve Jobs
2. Tim Berners-Lee
3. Bill Gates
4. James Gosling
5. Linus Torvalds
6. Richard Stallman
7. Arthur C Clark
8. Ted Codd
9. Steve Shirley
10. Martha Lane Fox

1. Steve Jobs: innovator who enjoyed a second bite of the apple

Steve Jobs, the co-founder and chief executive of Apple Computer, topped the Computer Weekly
40th anniversary poll due to the devoted following he has generated through his pioneering work
in personal computing and product design.
Jobs was born in 1955 in San Francisco, and during his high school years he showed his early
enthusiasm for computing by attending after-school lectures at the Hewlett-Packard Company in
Palo Alto, California. He met fellow Apple founder Steve Wozniak during a summer job at HP.

In the autumn of 1974, Jobs, who had dropped out of university after one term, began attending
meetings of the Homebrew Computer Club with Steve Wozniak. He took a job as a technician at
Atari, a manufacturer of popular video games.
At the age of 21 Jobs saw a computer that Wozniak had designed for his own use and convinced
his friend to market the product.
Apple Computer was founded as a partnership on 1 April 1976. Though the initial plan was to
sell just printed circuit boards, Jobs and Wozniak ended up creating a batch of completely
assembled computers, and entered the personal computer business.
Their second machine, the Apple II, was introduced the following year and became a huge
success, turning Apple into an important player in the nascent personal computer industry.
In 1983 Apple launched the Lisa, the first PC with a graphical user interface an essential
element in making computing accessible to the masses. It flopped because of its prohibitive
price, but the next year Apple launched the distinct, lower priced Macintosh and it became the
first commercially successful GUI machine.
Despite his success in founding Apple, Jobs left following a boardroom row in 1985. But his
influence on the computer industry did not end there.
Jobs moved on to found Next Computer, then in 1986 he bought little known The Graphics
Group from Lucasfilm, which achieved global dominance in animated feature films during the
1990s, after being renamed Pixar.
Much of Nexts technology had limited commercial success, but it laid the foundation for future
computing developments. The company pioneered the object-oriented software development
system, Ethernet port connectivity and collaborative software. It was the Next interface builder
that allowed Tim Berners-Lee to develop the original world-wide web system at Cern.
Without Jobs, Apple had stumbled. Market share fell while it struggled to release new operating
systems. Its answer was to buy Jobs company Next, together with its innovative operating
system, and welcome back its charismatic former CEO.
On returning to Apple, Jobs drove the company ever deeper into the consumer electronics and
computing market, launching the iMac and iPod.
Whether Jobs next creation changes the world like the Apple II, or turns out to bomb like the
Apple Lisa, his place in computing history is guaranteed.
2. Tim Berners-Lee: father of the web and champion of IT freedom
Dotcoms, bloggers and Google all have one man to thank for their place in the 21st century
world. In 1990,

Tim Berners-Lee made the imaginative leap to combine the internet with the hypertext concept,
and the worldwide web was born.
Born in 1955 in London, Berners-Lees parents were both mathematicians who were employed
together on the team that built the Manchester Mark I, one of the earliest computers.
After attending school in London, Berners-Lee went on to study physics at Queens College,
Oxford, where he built a computer with a soldering iron, TTL gates, an M6800 processor and an
old television. While at Oxford, he was caught hacking with a friend and was subsequently
banned from using the university computer.
He worked at Plessey Telecommunications from 1976 as a programmer and in 1980 began
working as an independent contractor at the European nuclear research centre Cern.
In December 1980, Berners-Lee proposed a project based on the concept of hypertext, to
facilitate sharing and updating information among researchers. While there, he built a prototype
system called Enquire.
He joined Cern on a full-time basis in 1984 as a fellow. In 1989, Cern was the largest internet
node in Europe, and Berners-Lee saw an opportunity. I just had to take the hypertext idea and
connect it to the TCP and DNS ideas, he said, and the worldwide web was born.
He wrote his initial proposal in March of 1989, and in 1990, with the help of Robert Cailliau,
produced a revision which was accepted by his manager, Mike Sendall.
He used similar ideas to those underlying the Enquire system to create the worldwide web, for
which he designed and built the first web browser and editor (called World-wide Web and
developed on Nextstep) and the first web server called Hypertext Transfer Protocol Daemon
The first website built was at and was put online on 6 August 1991. The URL
is still in use today. It provided an explanation of the worldwide web, how one could own a
browser and how to set up a web server. It was also the worlds first web directory, since
Berners-Lee maintained a list of other websites.
In 1994, Berners-Lee founded the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology. It comprised various companies willing to create standards and
recommendations to improve the quality of the web.
Berners-Lee made his ideas available freely, with no patent and no royalties due. He is now the
director of W3C, a senior researcher at MITs CSail, and professor of computer science at
Southampton University.
3. Bill Gates: mixing maths and money to build microsoft
As joint founder of the worlds biggest software company, Microsoft, Bill Gatess approach to
technology and business was instrumental in making technology available to the masses.

Gates was born in Seattle, Washington in 1955 to a wealthy family: his father was a prominent
lawyer and his mother served on the board of directors for First Interstate Bank and The United
At school Gates excelled in mathematics and the sciences and by the age of 13 he was deeply
engrossed in software programming.
With other school mates he began programming and bug fixing for the Computer Center
Corporation, and in 1970 Gates formed a venture with fellow school student and Microsoft cofounder, Paul Allen, called Traf-O-Data, to make traffic counters using the Intel 8008 processor.
In 1973, Gates enrolled at Harvard University, where he met future business partner Steve
Ballmer. Their first venture was to develop a version of the Basic programming language for the
Altair 8800, one of the first microcomputers.
Soon afterwards Gates left Harvard to found Micro-Soft, which later became Microsoft
Corporation, with Allen. Microsoft took off when Gates began licensing his MS-Dos operating
systems to manufacturers of IBM PC clones. Its drive to global dominance continued with the
development of Windows, its version of the graphical user interface, as an addition to its Dos
command line.
By the early 1990s, Windows had driven other Dos-based GUIs like Gem and Geos out of the
market. It performed a similar feat with the Office productivity suite.
Gates fought hard to establish Microsofts dominant position in the software industry and has
fought even harder to defend it. His ability to get Microsoft software pre-installed on most PCs
shipped in the world made Microsoft the worlds largest software house and Gates one of the
worlds richest men. It also meant Microsoft found itself on the wrong end of anti-trust
legislation in both the US and Europe.
Gates stood down as chief executive of Microsoft in 2000 to focus on software development and
on 16 June 2006, he announced that he would move to a part-time role with Microsoft in 2008 to
focus on his philanthropic work.
Since 2000, Gates has given away about 15.5bn, a third of his wealth, to charity. Such is his
fame in the world outside computing,fictional Gates characters have appeared in cartoons
including the Simpsons, South Park and Family Guy.
4. James Gosling
Of your choice of the most influential people in IT, James Gosling is the true geek. Unlike Bill
Gates and Steve Jobs, neither of whom finished college, Gosling completed a PhD in computer
science and contributed to software innovation at a technical level.

Born in 1955 near Calgary, Canada, Gosling is best known as the father of the Java programming
language, the first programme language designed with the internet in mind and which could
adapt to highly distributed applications.
Gosling received a BSc in computer science from the University of Calgary in 1977, and while
working towards his doctorate he created the original version of the Emacs text editor for Unix
(Gosmacs). He also built a multi-processor version of Unix, as well as several compilers and
mail systems before starting work in the industry.
In 1984, Gosling joined Sun Microsystems, where he is currently chief technology officer in the
developer product group.
In the early 1990s, Gosling initiated and led a project code-named Green that eventually became
Java. Green aimed to develop software that would run on a variety of computing devices without
having to be customised for each one.
Although much of the technology developed as part of Green never saw the light of day, Gosling
realised that some of the underlying principles they had created would be very useful in the
internet age.
Sun formally launched Java in 1995. Gosling did the original design of Java and implemented its
original compiler and virtual machine. For this achievement he was elected to the US National
Academy of Engineering. He has also made major contributions to several other software
systems, such as Newa and Gosling Emacs.
Although some critics say Java has not lived up to its initial "write-once-run-anywhere" claim,
Gosling's success in the Computer Weekly polls is precisely because Java has allowed the
creation of robust, reusable code which runs on devices as diverse at mobile phones, PCs and
5. Linus Torvalds
As the creator of the Linux operating system, Linus Torvalds has been a driving force behind the
whole open source movement, which represents not only an ever increasing challenge to
proprietary software, but is also the inspiration for the industry to move to open standards.
Torvalds remains the ultimate authority on what new code is incorporated into the Linux kernel.
6. Richard Stallman
Richard Stallman is the founder of the GNU Project, an initiative to develop a complete Unixlike operating system which is free software. Stallman has written several popular tools, created
the GNU licence and campaigns against software patents.
7. Arthur C Clarke

2001: A Space Odyssey writer Arthur C Clarke has consistently been ahead of his time in
predicting how technology will change the world. Most notably, in 1945 he suggested that
geostationary satellites would make ideal telecoms relays.
8. Ted Codd
Ted Codd created 12 rules on which every relational database is built - an essential ingredient for
building business computer systems.
9. Steve Shirley
Steve Shirley was an early champion of women in IT. She founded the company now known as
Xansa, pioneered new work practices and in doing so created new opportunities for women in
10. Martha Lane Fox
With Brent Hoberman, Martha Lane Fox created in 1998, and as "the face" of
Lastminute raised the profile of e-commerce ever higher in the public consciousness.
Readers hail Dilbert the guru of corporate culture
According to Computer Weekly readers, Dilbert, which features every week on the back pages of
the magazine, has more insight into corporate life and organisation than any number of highly
paid management consultants could ever achieve.
Written and drawn by Scott Adams, Dilbert portrays corporate culture as a world of bureaucracy
for its own sake, where employees' skills and efforts are not rewarded. Much of the humour
emerges from the characters wrestling with the obviously ridiculous decisions and behaviour of

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How software protects people

This is what we die for

HP plots its next move after split

1955: a good year for computing

The top four people in our poll were all born in 1955, making it a very beneficial year for the
world of computing.
It may have been a good year for computing, but 1955 was a sad year for science, as Albert
Einstein died on 18 April.
It was also the year that the first McDonald's fast food franchise was opened: we'll leave you to
make up you own mind about that one.
Your big names
Outside the main choices for greatest hardware, the most popular readers' suggestions were:
1. Ken Olsen, founder of Dec, who invented the minicomputer
2. Clive Sinclair, home computer visionary
3. Vint Cerf, one of the internet's founding fathers
4. Bill Joy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems
5. Larry Ellison, founder of Oracle
6. Steve Wozniak, Apple co-founder
7. Dennis Ritchie, inventor of the C programming language
8. Donald Davies, co-inventor of packet switching
9. Ken Thompson, co-creator of Unix
10. Grace Hopper, Cobol pioneer
Read article: Journey to the future
Read article: Chips with everything: Hardware top 10
Read article: The soft machine at the heart of IT: Software top 10
Read article: Innovation is the key to greatness: The top 10 organisations

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