Microsoft buys TeX! Knuth sells out! (fwd)
Did anybody else see this news item today? Thought it might be of
---------- Forwarded message ----------
MICROSOFT BUYS TEX, PLANS NEW PRODUCTS
STANFORD PROFESSOR REAPS WINDFALL
PALO ALTO, CALIFORNIA, USA (CNEWS/MSNBC) --- In a major move into the
scientific publishing market, Microsoft Corporation announced today that it
has purchased all rights to the computer language and document compiler known
as TeX (pronounced, "tech"), and plans a major new product line based on the
Stanford Professor Donald Knuth (pronounced, "kah-nooth"), the author of the
widely-used TeX software, in a joint press conference at the university campus
with Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, acknowledged that the two had been
negotiating for some months. "I felt that two decades of TeX in the public
domain was enough. I am reasserting the copyright to my original work in TeX.
Microsoft will carry the ball now, and I can get back to my computer science
research." Knuth acknowledged he was paid a "seven-figure sum" from
Microsoft, which he will use to finance his work on a project he has
code-named "Volume 4".
At the press conference, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates said the acquisition
was "the kind of cooperation between academia and industry that builds
prosperity for both." He added that TeX would "finally give Microsoft a
foothold in mathematical desktop publishing" that has eluded the software
giant since its founding. Drawing gasps of surprise from the college
audience, Gates asserted that "TeX will soon be biggest jewel in the Microsoft
Apparently the jewel metaphor will include a hefty, unavoidable price tag for
future TeX users. Gates outlined plans whereby all existing TeX compilers
would be phased out, to be replaced by a new Microsoft master implementation
written in C++. Beta versions for public testing on Windows 95 and NT
platforms are expected in late 1998, issuing from a new 205-programmer project
laboratory at Microsoft's Redmond campus. Microsoft TeX for other platforms,
such as Unix workstations, will follow at an as-yet unspecified date.
According to Gates, "the master TeX from Microsoft will ensure that the
incompatibilities across platforms are once and for all eliminated." TeX
software is widely used due its portability, although variations among
operating systems have been troublesome due to uncoordinated development.
Unlike the technical aspects of the project, Gates explained that pricing for
Microsoft TeX has already been firmly set. The single-user retail product is
expected to have a street price of about $600 and consist of three CDs. When
heckled by an graduate student complaining about a high price for a formerly
free product, Gates seemed startled, explaining that a "student edition at
$299 is likely" and that "Microsoft will use the revenue to make TeX better."
Most current users of TeX have paid nothing for their implementations, derived
from Professor Knuth's formerly-free work. Before leaving the podium, Gates
made a final comment that "TeX hasn't changed in years. What kind of a
product can that be?", and then handed the microphone to an assistant,
introduced only as the project leader for Microsoft TeX.
The assistant displayed an overhead presentation using the current test
version of Microsoft TeX. Equations and tables could be seen dissolving into
each other in a morphing action between frames. "No one has ever done that
with TeX," Gates announced from an audience seat at one point. "It's the kind
of sizzle that can really enliven a dull paper at an academic conference."
Some onlookers were not convinced, especially when the program crashed midway
through the demonstration, resulting in a five-minute delay while Windows 95
was restarted. Microsoft technicians later blamed a third-party display
The impact on the large base of existing TeX users was unclear. During a
question-and-answer period, Gates said that the "TeX" trademark would be
registered as the exclusive property of Microsoft, and could not appear in any
competitive or free software. "We are granting of our own good will until the
3rd quarter of 1998, free use to any existing TeX vendors or public-domain
authors. That's plenty of time for an orderly phase-out and change-over to
Microsoft TeX, or no TeX at all. After that, our legal department will be
A Microsoft attorney added that some of the project personnel would be
dedicated to searching the Internet to find non-Microsoft TeX software.
"Archives and collections of TeX-related programs will not be permitted. The
standards must be enforced, or they become meaningless. We are rescuing a
fine piece of work from being diluted into worthlessness. You would not
believe the number of programs that have been based on TeX without any
central, controlling authority. We will stop this infringement."
Some large organizations dependent on TeX were stunned by the announcment
and had not yet formed plans for dealing with the change. At the American
Mathematical Society, whose publications largely depend on TeX for
typesetting, editor Barbara Beeton was incensed. "I can't believe Don
[Professor Donald Knuth] sold us out like this. We should have never
based a publishing enterprise of this scope on so-called public-domain
software. What were we thinking?" Publication schedules for the rest of
1998 were on hold, and journal editors scrambled to reassure their authors
that deadlines would not slip more than a few months.
Certain small businesses are also expected to feel the impact of the Microsoft
ownership of TeX. Palo Alto restaurant owner Wu Chen appeared unhappy at the
news, stating that "for ten year I print new menu every day with TeX, now I
will pay big time." He displayed a crumpled, grease-spotted take-out flyer,
and with tears in his eyes explained how multiple columns, exotic typefaces,
and daily price changes could all be printed by TeX in a multi-lingual format.
"In Wordperfect this would be a long journey."
Commercial vendors of TeX software stand to lose everything in the face of the
new Microsoft monopoly. While most derivatives of TeX were freely published,
several companies had made a business of publishing proprietary versions. One
anonymous source from a leading TeX firm said that "publishing TeX was a gold
mine while it lasted, and the Internet let us mine it deeper and deeper. Now
this is a cave-in right on our heads. TeX was a monumental work of beauty
and utility, freely given to the world by one of the finest and most generous
minds of the 20th century. Now it belongs to a lucky dropout. We're finished."
Date of Publication 04/01/98
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