Best of BillP: The BillP Story
Recently, I had someone ask me how I started in the computer industry. Well, in 2009 just before my birthday I wrote up the following for BitsFromBill. If you're curious about my background and missed this here's another opportunity to feed my ego.
Originally published: April 23rd, 2009
I was asked recently about my history in the computer industry so I thought today was a good day to share some personal information. I’m sure many of my readers will be surprised by some of the fun projects I’ve been involved with. If you’re interested, I created self indulgent and gratuitous post but it’s all part of the BillP WinPatrol Story. I don’t have enough to write a book but here’s a summary of some highlights.
I have had the good fortune to pick some real winners but I’ve also been extremely lucky to be in the right place at the right time. When I graduated from college my first job was programming employee payroll for Schenectady County, NY in a language called COBOL. After work, I discovered the bliss of a “personal” computer, the Commodore Vic-20 which would eventually change my life.
The more interesting part of the story begins in 1985 at a Commodore trade show when I was introduced to Marc Seriff and Steve Case. We shared a vision of a large online service that would be easy enough, even our mothers could use it. I joined their company in Virginia which at the time was known as Quantum Computer Services. It was later renamed America Online.
I was one of the 30-35 employees original AOL employees, half of which were devoted to customer service. In the book, “Stealing Time” the author includes the true story of my first week when I was given a hammer and screw driver so I could put my desk together. During my time at AOL I managed the software development and user experience for our C64 service; Q-Link, AppleLink Personal Edition for the Apple II and Mac, PC-Link and Promenade for the PC and lastly the prototype of our first version of Windows based software. I left in the early 90's but continued to work as a consultant for many years.
My main interests at the time and role with AOL was creating synergy between content on TV and the online world. ABC and CBS both hired me to help get their content online. One of my applications was used to take closed captioning from news events and stream it to a specialized AOL rooms. I was the first to create a tool that over layed online content to a live broadcast via something called a Chyron machine. One of our big events was a live simul-chat with Michael Jackson and AOL members. MTV was the first to adopt the technology for video chats and called it MTV’s Yak Chat.
In the winter of 1995-96 I was invited to Redmond to work on a secret joint Microsoft/Gateway project called the Information Highway PC. This was a large screen TV/PC combining the TV and Internet with content provided by a satellite link from DirecTV. This was the same time Microsoft was trying to conquer the online world with their first version of MSN. It was before they realized the key was just to own the browser and not the portal. Meanwhile AOL had declared war on Microsoft so some of my friends were a little suspicious but my focus was completely on the TV/PC and not MSN.
Our project was a little ahead of its time and our group was gobbled up so I headed back home to upstate NY. It wasn’t long before Gateway asked me to be part of their own PC/TV initiative called the Gateway Destination. This 30 and 36 in PC/TV was still a little ahead of its time. This was before cheap memory, fast hard drives and lighter flat screen monitors. Nobody really wanted to share a single PC/TV device in their living room.
In 1997 my old friends at ABC asked me come to Maryland part time and help in the creation of a joint venture between games developer MicroProse and Capital Cities/ABC. Our goal was the creation of ABC Sports themed games(Indy Racing and Monday Night Football).
Soon afterwards came an exciting merger of Walt Disney Co and ABC. I joined Disney’s Buena Vista Internet Group and worked with a brilliant team of innovators to launch ABC's Enhanced TV.
My role was to quickly put together PrimeTime Player™ the first game which combined real-time game play on the Internet in sync with broadcasts of Sunday/Monday Night Football as well as College Bowl games.
In the midst of my fun and exciting projects in 1997 I was caught off guard by a password surfing program. This annoyed me but not as much as when AOL support suggested the only solution was to reformat my entire hard drive. That’s when I created my own personal project called WinPatrol. This program was originally designed to help my family and friends prevent programs from taking over their computers.
I soon specialized in small utilities and created a number of useful programs for my friends at Gateway and new friends at Epson America. Both were pleased with my Ink Monitor program which detected when your ink was low and immediately connected users to an online store for ink purchase.
As the threat of spyware grew the distribution of WinPatrol expanded and soon became my prime focus. WinPatrol grew from word of mouth and slowly developed its own cult following. In winter of 2002 I first launched the premium version, WinPatrol PLUS. Since 2004 WinPatrol and internet safety has become my passion.
As a member of the security community I’ve had the honor to work with volunteers who spend countless hours helping users decipher hijack logs. I’ve as the pleasure of sharing data with AntiSpyware crusaders who pour over millions of bytes of captured data proving how reputable companies were encouraging invasive adware popups. I’ve reverse engineered malware attacks tracing their roots to countries whose governments turn a blind eye to criminal activities. I’ve been threaten, received cease & desist orders from lawyers and offered big bucks to join the dark side.
I’m now happy to write and share my experience with others. I hope that my insights into the ever changing consumer technology industry may be valuable to others and encourage their thoughts and imagination. I don’t expect everyone to agree with everything I write, but I continue to consider myself lucky if I can spark new innovative thoughts from my readers.
On the personal note, I’m married with four grown children and four grand kids. Tomorrow, I’ll be celebrating my 54th birthday and in the BillP WinPatrol tradition I’ll be offering something special for Fans of WinPatrol.