E-reading pioneer and journalist;
Born: September 16, 1949; Died: October 17, 2012.
BILL Hill, who has died aged 63 of a heart attack, spent the first 18 years of his career as a journalist in his native Glasgow, initially for The Sunday Post, later the Paisley Daily Express and finally in The Scotsman's Glasgow office. But, having visualised in the early 1980s how computers would change his profession and the world, he found a new career, making computer screens as easy to read, if not easier, than books.
Already in his 40s, he was headhunted to work in the US as a digital typography pioneer for Microsoft during that company's rise. Having co-invented the breakthrough ClearType font display technology in Edinburgh, later to be used by Microsoft, he became known among his peers as "the father of e-reading".
In layman's terms, Mr Hill's visionary concepts helped create what most of us now take for granted – reading comfortably on a computer screen. His colleagues say his work was a major factor in the creation of eBooks, including those on Amazon's Kindle or the Apple iPad. "The job of making the screen as comfortable to read as paper is not yet completed," he wrote in a blog shortly before he died.
The boy dreamer from Barlanark, who made new friends in the US with the help of his kilt, Glasgow accent and wild beard, became one of Microsoft's most-respected figures. He was a popular speaker in front of thousands of people, often with Microsoft boss Bill Gates by his side.
Although his work was an integral part of Microsoft's Windows, it had an influential effect on the company's rivals, including Apple. Mr Hill believed the human brain was the greatest computer of all. "I always talk about this to folks at Microsoft, especially to developers. What's the most important operating system you'll write applications for? Ain't Windows, or the Macintosh, or Linux. It's Homo Sapiens Version 1.0. It shipped about 100,000 years ago. There's no upgrade in sight. But it's the one that runs everything."
The son of a steelworker, William Hill was born in Lennox Castle hospital in Campsie Glen, which was actually a psychiatric hospital but had added maternity wards for Glasgow overflow in the post-war baby boom. "I was born in a mental hospital," he liked to tell new friends.
His family home was a working-class housing estate in Barlanark, in the east end of Glasgow, and he went to the local Pendeen Road primary school. His first encounter with the written word was in the Children's Encyclopaedia, when he was three. He recalled: "Books showed me worlds beyond my experience, the importance of knowledge and learning and how you could use that to change the path your life might otherwise take. My father told me to learn to work with my head, not just my hands. One of my few regrets in life is that he died when I was 14. He never saw the results, and I never had the chance to say thanks."
After primary school, the young Hill won a scholarship to Allan Glen's School in Glasgow, where he edited an unofficial school magazine he titled Writer's Cramped. He later went to Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh before deciding to become a reporter and found work with The Sunday Post.
He blogged: "I began my long writing career on an ancient Remington typewriter I rescued from a junk shop in Glasgow. I've never actually learned how to type: I use both index fingers only. But I'm very, very fast. My two-fingered ninja style was so forceful that I had to use two carbons; the top sheet of copy paper was always completely shredded, and there was a layer of confetti constantly swirling around me.
"When I was a wee boy in Glasgow in the 1950s, I had a crazy dream, inspired by the science fiction I devoured. One day I'd have a device that would let me carry every book in the world on it. All the music I loved. I'd be able to view photos and watch movies on it – even make my own. It would have a great screen, that was even better than paper to read on. And I'd be able to use it to make TV calls (we didn't have video then) to anyone in the world. My Universal Communicator wouldn't expect me to type. I'd just speak to it, and it would understand."
By then married to Tanya, an artist, Mr Hill quit journalism in 1986 to work for the software company Aldus. It was there he and a friend invented ClearType, which revolutionised on-screen text and brought him to the attention of Microsoft. In 1994 they lured him to lead their typography group in Seattle, Washington State. He would live in Redmond, outside Seattle, for the rest of his life, although he and Tanya bought a beach home in Hawaii, where, in his 50s, he learned to surf waves instead of just the internet. He was also a gifted songwriter and musician, specialising in guitar and sitar.
Bill Hill is survived by his wife of 35 years, Tanya, and their children Eldon and Yssa.
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