John Walker, the renowned software and hardware developer, accomplished writer, and innovative hacker, has passed away, leaving behind a legacy of groundbreaking work and achievements. The sad news was confirmed in a personal obituary posted on SCANALYST, a discussion forum hosted on his own website, Fourmilab. The website, which features a wide array of topics and content, served as a testament to Walker’s diverse range of interests and expertise.
Walker is well-known for his role as the founder of Autodesk, the company that revolutionized Computer-Aided Design (CAD) by making it accessible on mass-market microcomputers with the introduction of the AutoCAD software in 1982. This move brought CAD out of the realm of expensive minicomputers and into the hands of a much wider audience, marking a significant milestone in the industry. Despite stepping down as president of Autodesk in 1986, Walker continued to contribute to the company as a programmer, displaying his unorthodox and deeply rooted commitment to his creations.
Prior to his involvement with Autodesk, Walker gained recognition for ANIMAL, a self-replicating computer game that was considered to be one of the earliest proto-viruses. His expertise and innovation were further evidenced when Autodesk acquired Project Xanadu, a pre-WorldWideWeb distributed hyper-media system designed by Ted Nelson, in which Walker played a significant role. Although the Xanadu project eventually took a different direction, Walker’s involvement in its development showcased his forward-thinking approach to technology and information systems.
Walker’s impact went beyond the software realm, as he authored several books on a wide range of topics, from science and technology to health and literature. His free e-book, “the Hacker’s Diet,” humorously subtitled “How to lose weight and hair through stress and poor nutrition,” exemplified his diverse interests and innovative thinking. Additionally, his controversial viewpoints on language, government, and various other fields contributed to his reputation as a thought-provoking and unconventional figure.
His passing has prompted an outpouring of tributes from colleagues and admirers, including a heartfelt tribute from Steven Sinofsky, the former head of the Windows division at Microsoft. His website, Fourmilab, has been described as a “treasure trove” by Sinofsky, reflecting the wealth of knowledge and content that Walker shared with his audience.
Born in Maryland in 1949, John Walker leaves behind his wife of 51 years, Roxie, and his brother Bill. His impact on the world of software and technology, as well as his contributions to various other fields, has left an indelible mark that will continue to inspire and influence future generations. Walker’s multifaceted legacy serves as a tribute to his innovative spirit and unwavering dedication to the pursuit of knowledge and creativity.