Looking through my old email – it was apparently 13 years ago this week that I first exchanged email with Bill Hill. We had been working on making all of our content on Slate into a neutral format so we could output it into multiple types of content (Word, Word two-column, text-to-speech) – and when I first read Bill Hill’s writing on reading, he captured my imagination about it – when few around him really believed that eBooks could happen, Bill beat that drum with a passion. A man more passionate about reading and typography than anyone else you’re likely to ever know, Bill was one of the inventors behind ClearType, and was working on the team creating what would become Microsoft Reader.
I described to Bill what we had to work with, told him I didn’t have the blessing of management yet, and asked if he could help see if we could get our content in Reader format. He never hesitated to help throughout the process, and we did get Slate to eventually output into the Microsoft Reader format – and though Slate’s output to Microsoft Reader format came and went, Bill answered every email I sent… about fonts, displays, Reader’s struggle to take a hold in the young, turbulent work of eBooks in the early 2000’s – and ultimately in Reader’s discontinuation last year.
I have a fond memory of the first time that Jack Shafer, myself, our graphic designer, and several other Slate staffers went over to meet him for the first time. You knew he was the real deal. His wonderful Scottish accent became something that I never forgot – to this day when I read his writing I hear it in his voice, though I hadn’t worked with him in over a decade. When he first walked us through the Microsoft Reader software running on Pocket PC 2000 (Rapier), he enthusiastically described how the black text on white pages of Windows CE and Pocket PC devices was so much easier to read than the “green on green” of Palm at that time.
Bill, to me, represents what I loved most about working at Microsoft. Working with someone who simply loved what he did, spoke his mind, and did amazing things with the unique opportunities he had in order to try and make the world a better place.
Recently, Bill and I had exchanged messages more and more about Apple – how they had done with the iPad what Microsoft had failed to do with Microsoft Reader or Tablet PC, and how Apple had truly changed how we interact with technology. I know in the last several years Bill had done some work for Apple – and you could see his passion there as he would talk about it. He didn’t care what the technology was – as long as the user experience kept getting better.
I’ll miss Bill. He was authentic. He was passionate. He dented the universe.
Goodbye, my friend. My sincerest condolences go out to his family.