Alan Boyd (computer engineer)
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Education and early career
Leaving Scotland in 1968, Boyd studied Physics and Mathematics at the University of Bath in England and later Columbia University in the USA. In the mid-1970s he hand-built one of the earliest personal computers and taught himself how to program microprocessors, writing machine code to do complex mathematics in a very limited memory space (256 bytes). After a spell working as a professional audio engineer, Boyd befriended Bill Gates and Paul Allen and moved to Seattle to become Manager of Product Development at Microsoft in 1980.
One of the first Microsoft management team in 1980, Boyd was one of a small handful of people who reported directly to Bill Gates and alongside Microsoft Japan President (Kay) Kazuhiko Nishi was an early influence on Microsoft’s product strategy. As Manager of Product Development his remit was to identify, develop and, where necessary, acquire products that complemented Microsoft's internally developed products.
Boyd set up several of the company’s core groups, including Product Marketing, responsible for bringing all the company’s products to market, and the Acquisitions Group, responsible for all licensing and acquisition. When Microsoft incorporated in 1981, Boyd was one of a small number of people who received "founders shares". In that same year Boyd was sent to Europe to prepare the way for the opening of the first Microsoft Europe offices in London, Frankfurt, and Paris, the first Microsoft offices outside the USA.
While he was at Microsoft, Boyd led or was involved in a large number of software products that have since become household names and are amongst the world’s best-selling, including MS-DOS, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Works and Microsoft Windows. He also led the development of the first Microsoft Flight Simulator in 1981 and marked Microsoft’s entry into the home/entertainment market. A software tool he designed to help control the huge number of projects he managed later became Microsoft Project.
Boyd suggested as early as 1986 that Microsoft should incorporate a hypertext browser as its user interface instead of a 'desktop' but was rebuffed by Gates. Over 25 years since Boyd first suggested it, Microsoft are finally moving their products to a browser interface in an effort to keep them up-to-date.
For many years Boyd was the "Macintosh Champion" inside Microsoft and encouraged the company to support the Macintosh in addition to their own Windows system. He set up a new Microsoft product line called Mac Library to encourage software developers to support the (then) struggling Macintosh. When Gates decided to end Macintosh development in 1986 Boyd soon left in search of more interesting ventures.
Early Asian involvement
Boyd's early involvement with Asia is evidenced by an article he wrote in Personal Computing magazine in January 1981 giving the first complete hands-on evaluation of Nippon Electric's NEC PC-8000, the first commercially produced Japanese PC. Although it was a year before these computers started to appear in North America, Boyd pronounced, "the Japanese invasion has indeed begun".
In Asia, Boyd also worked closely with Nishi on the development of the MSX home computer architecture in the mid-1980s. Designed specifically for the home and gaming markets, MSX became quite popular in Japan, where it still has a cult following.
Books and magazines
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Boyd was a prolific writer for many magazines including Personal Computing, PC Magazine, PC World, Macworld, and Softalk (where he wrote the System Notebook monthly column) and his books were published by Bantam. and by Softalk.
Later, Boyd was instrumental in setting up Microsoft Press, where he inspired and encouraged Peter Norton to quit his job and write his first book. This was one of the first pair of books published by Microsoft Press.
In 1986, Body was invited to the People’s Republic of China by Deputy Prime Minister Wu Yi as advisor to the Chinese government on the development of their technology industries and is now recognised as one of the ‘founding fathers’ of the burgeoning Chinese software industry. Settled in China, Boyd is now a prominent member of the Chinese venture capital community and he is also very active in promoting young Chinese to start their own technology companies.
In 2008, Boyd was one of the founders of YõULíNG, a group set up specifically to encourage young Chinese companies to innovate, create their own intellectual properties and eventually export them to the rest of the world.
- "Distinguished Speaker Series by Mr Alan M Boyd". Singapore Management University. 24 October 2013. Retrieved 1 November 2014.
- Manes, Stephen and Paul Andrews (1993). Gates. Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-42075-7.
- Microsoft Office365.
- InfoWorld, 8 Jul 1985
- Data processing digest, Volume 27, 1981
- The MSX Resource Centre.
- Boyd, Alan M. PC-DOS/MS-DOS: User's Guide to the Most Popular Operating System for Personal Computer. Bantam Books. ISBN 978-0-553-34231-4.
- Boyd, Alan M. (1984). Things That IBM Never Told You: Unveiling the Mysteries of PC DOS 1.1 and 2.0. Softalk Publishing. ISBN 0-88701-001-6, ISBN 978-0-88701-001-9.
- Norton, Peter. (1984) MS-DOS and PC-DOS: User's Guide. R.J. Brady Co. p. viii.