Peter Norton (born November 14, 1943) is an American programmer, software publisher, author, and philanthropist. He is best known for the computer programs and books that bear his name and portrait. Norton sold his PC software business to Symantec Corporation in 1990.
Norton was born in Aberdeen, Washington and raised in Seattle. He attended Reed College in Portland, Oregon, graduating in 1965. Before discovering microcomputers, he spent a dozen years working on mainframes and minicomputers for companies including Boeing and Jet Propulsion Laboratory. His earliest low-level system utilities were designed to allow mainframe programmers access to some previous RAM that IBM normally reserved for diagnostics. This foreshadowed his personal computer work, where he became known as a savvy author of low-level system utilities and reference books.
When the IBM PC made its debut in 1981, Norton was among the first to buy one. After he was laid off during an aerospace industry cutback, he took up microcomputer programming to make ends meet. One day he accidentally erased a file. Rather than re-enter the data, as most would have, he decided to write a program to recover the information from the disk. His friends were delighted with the program and he developed a group of utility programs that he sold – one at a time – to user groups. In 1982, he founded Peter Norton Computing with $30,000 and an IBM computer.
The company was a pioneer in DOS-based utilities software. Its 1982 introduction of the Norton Utilities included Norton's popular UNERASE tool to retrieve erased data from DOS disks. Norton marketed the program (primarily on foot) through his one-man software publishing company, leaving behind little pamphlets with technical notes at users group meetings and computer stores. A publisher saw his pamphlets, and saw that he could write about a technical subject. The publisher called him and asked him if he wanted to write a book. Norton's first computer book, Inside the IBM PC: Access to Advanced Features & Programming (Techniques), was published in 1983. Eight editions of this bestseller were published, the last in 1999. Norton wrote several other technical manuals and introductory computing books. He began writing monthly columns in 1983 for PC Magazine and later PC Week magazine as well, which he wrote until 1987. He soon became recognized as a principal authority on IBM personal computer technology.
In 1984, Norton Computing reached $1 million in revenue, and version 3.0 of the Norton Utilities was released. Norton had three clerical people working for him. He was doing all of the software development, all of the book writing, all of the manual writing and running the business. The only thing he wasn't doing was stuffing the packages. He hired his fourth employee and first programmer, Brad Kingsbury, in July 1985. In late 1985, Norton hired a business manager to take care of the day-to-day operations.
In 1985, Norton Computing produced the Norton Editor, a programmer's text editor created by Stanley Reifel, and Norton Guides, a TSR program which showed reference information for assembly language and other IBM PC internals, but could also display other reference information compiled into the appropriate file format. Norton Commander, a file managing tool for DOS, was introduced in 1986.
In September 1983, Norton started work on The Peter Norton Programmer's Guide to the IBM PC. The book was a popular and comprehensive guide to low-level programming on the original PC platform (covering BIOS and MS-DOS system calls in great detail). The first (1985) edition was nicknamed "the pink shirt book", after the pink shirt that Norton wore for the cover photo, and Norton's crossed-arm pose on that cover is a U.S. registered trademark.
The second (1988) edition, renamed The New Peter Norton Programmer's Guide to the IBM PC & PS/2, again featured the crossed arms, pink shirt cover image. Richard Wilton co-authored the second edition. This was followed by the third (1993) edition of "the Norton book", renamed The Peter Norton PC Programmer's Bible, co-authored with Wilton and Peter Aitken. Later editions of Peter Norton's Inside the PC, a broad-brush introduction to personal computer technology, featured Norton in his crossed-arm pose on the cover, wearing a white shirt.
Norton Computing revenue rose to $5 million in 1986, $11 million in 1987, and $15 million in 1988. Its products won several utility awards, and it was ranked 136th on the 1988 Inc. magazine list of the 500 fastest-growing private companies in America, with 38 employees. Norton himself was named "Entrepreneur of the Year" by Arthur Young & Co. (1988 High Technology Award Winner Greater Los Angeles Region) and Venture magazine.
On April 12, 1989, Norton appointed Ron Posner chief executive of Norton Computing. Norton continued as chairman. Posner's goal was to rapidly grow the company into a major software vendor. Soon after his arrival, Posner hired a new president, a new chief financial officer, and added a vice president of sales.
In August 1990, Norton sold his $25 million (1989 sales) Santa Monica, California based company to Symantec for $70 million. Posner orchestrated the merger. Norton was given one-third of Symantec's stock, worth about $60 million, and a seat on Symantec's board of directors. The acquired company became a division of Symantec and was renamed Peter Norton Computing Group. About one-third of Norton Computing's 115 employees were laid off after the merger. The Norton brand name lives on in such Symantec products as Norton AntiVirus, Norton 360, Norton Internet Security, Norton Personal Firewall, Norton SystemWorks (which now contains a current version of the Norton Utilities), Norton AntiBot, Norton AntiSpam, Norton GoBack (formerly Roxio GoBack), Norton PartitionMagic (formerly PowerQuest PartitionMagic), and Norton Ghost. Norton's image was used on the packaging of all Norton-branded products until 2001.
In 1983 Norton married Eileen Harris, who grew up in Watts, California. They had two children, and lived in the Los Angeles area. In the summer of 1990 they enjoyed a visit to Martha's Vineyard and returned the following year with their children, purchasing an 1891, eight bedroom Queen Anne house in Oak Bluffs. They bought and lived in a nearby home while initiating redesign of the main house. "My children are half black, and we thought Oak Bluffs would give them an opportunity to summer around other kids like them," Norton said in a 2007 interview with Laura D. Roosevelt for Martha's Vineyard Magazine, alluding to Oak Bluff's reputation as a popular summer spot among black people.
In 2000, the couple divorced. Norton henceforth lived much of the time in New York. In February 2001, a fire caused by faulty wiring destroyed the Martha's Vineyard home, which had been restored in 1994 under the direction of the Cambridge and Nantucket architectural firm of Design Associates. Norton decided to have it rebuilt, again working with Design Associates on the reconstruction, to almost exactly as it was before the fire. Meanwhile, he began a relationship with New York financier Gwen Adams who, being an "Islander" in origin herself, also liked the area. Since then, the couple spend ten weeks of summer in the Corbin-Norton House annually, usually hosting several guests. In May of 2007  they were married in a church in nearby Edgartown; the ceremony was performed on the island by their neighbor, author and scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr..
Peter and Eileen founded the Peter Norton Family Foundation in 1989, which gives financial support to visual and contemporary non-profit arts organizations, as well as human social services organizations. Norton also serves on the boards of the California Institute of the Arts, Reed College, Crossroads School (Santa Monica, California), and the Museum of Modern Art in New York (since 1999). In 2003, Norton became the chairman of the board of MoMA PS1, which he also joined in 1999. In 2004, he re-joined the Whitney Museum of American Art's board after leaving it in 1998. He also serves on the executive committee of the Guggenheim Museum’s International Directors’ Council, that museum's primary acquisition committee, and on the board of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
With his first wife, Norton accumulated one of the largest modern contemporary art collections in the United States. Many of the pieces are on loan all over the world at any given time, and many were on view at Symantec Corporation. The foundation and the Norton Family Office are located in Santa Monica. ARTnews magazine regularly lists Norton among the world's top 200 collectors.
In 1999, Norton purchased letters written to Joyce Maynard by reclusive author J.D. Salinger for US$156,500. (Salinger had a year-long affair with Maynard in 1972 when she was 18.) Maynard said she was forced to auction the letters for financial reasons. Norton announced that his intention was to return the letters to Salinger.
- Software pioneer's fortune at stake in divorce litigation, Los Angeles Business Journal, May 19, 2003
- The subtitle on the front cover omits the word Techniques; the back cover includes it.
- The third and fourth editions were renamed Inside the IBM PC and PS/2. From the 5th edition onward, Peter Norton's Inside the PC.
- Introducing ... The Norton Chronicles, PC Magazine, September 1983
- Investigating The Lost Files Of Peter Norton, PC Pioneer, Computers & Electronics, May 1992
- Symantec Corporation Legal Notices: Third Party Trademarks—Peter Norton, Peter Norton’s stylized signature, and Peter Norton’s crossed-arm pose are U.S. registered trademarks of Peter Norton. web.archive.org
- Inc. profile, December 1, 1988
- Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Hall of Fame
- Peter Norton Names Chief, The New York Times, April 13, 1989
- Posner's Goal: Make Norton a Major Software Vendor,InfoWorld, July 17, 1989
- Norton Delivers a Reliable, Fast Disk Backup Program, InfoWorld,March 26, 1990
- Norton Utilities for the Mac Ships, InfoWorld, July 30, 1990
- Peter Norton Computing agrees to be sold to Symantec in deal valued at $70 million; 'we had to get larger,' says software wiz Norton., Los Angeles Business Journal, May 21, 1990
- Acorn Technologies
- Commercialization venture proved tempting for Norton, Los Angeles Business Journal, March 11, 2002
- Life Imitates Art, Forbes, September 16, 2002
- eChinaCash Appoints Technology Industry Veteran Ron Posner as CEO to Accelerate Growth in Hot China Market, Marketwire, January 8, 2008
- eChinaCash hopes deals will take it to $100 mln rev., Reuters, March 26, 2008
- At Home With Peter Norton and Gwen Adams, Martha's Vineyard Magazine, Summer 2007
- "Oak Bluffs, Mass., Is Where the Black Elite Is at Home in the Summer". DeNeen L. Brown, Washington Post, August 20, 2009.
- "Just Like Me Couples: Peter North and Gwen Allen".
- CalArts trustees
- Reed College trustees
- Crossroads School board of trustees
- MoMA Trustees
- Rachel Donadio (March 15, 2004), Norton Two-Times Whitney, MoMA New York Observer.