RIP: Creators of the GIF and TRS-80

Thank you, Stephen E. Wilhite for your seminal image format, and John Roach for your pioneering microcomputer

Two important figures in computing industry have died.

Stephen E. Wilhite will be remembered as the creator of the Graphics Interchange Format – the ubiquitous GIF – and always insisted it be pronounced as "jif" with a soft "g".

Those who pointed out that his preferred pronunciation was inconsistent or illogical were met with a stern: "They are wrong".

Wilhite created the GIF when working at CompuServe – a pioneering online service founded in 1969 and which, by the mid-1980s, had evolved to the point some users expected to see graphics when they dialled in to check their mails or chat in forums.

Wilhite and his colleagues devised the GIF in 1987 to make image display possible on CompuServe. The format became a de facto standard and then enjoyed an enormous revival in the early 2000s thanks to its ability to display animations – a feature greatly appreciated before the widespread advent of streaming video – and later by users of social media.

A family obituary for Wilhite states that he received a Webby Lifetime Achievement Award for the GIF and used his acceptance speech to again restate his preferred pronunciation for the file format he created.

Youtube Video

Wilhite and finished his career as chief architect from America Online (which acquired CompuServe in 1997). He died aged 74 and is survived by his wife Kathaleen, his son David, several stepchildren, 11 grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

Many GIFs almost certainly found their way onto the TRS-80 – an early personal microcomputer sold by Tandy through its network of Radio Shack stores.

The computer was the brainchild of John Roach, who in the mid-1970s saw the growing market for personal computers sold as kits and decided a market existed for a pre-built machine.

That machine was the TRS-80, and its $599.95 price tag (about $1050 in today's money) saw it sell strongly when it reached stores in 1977. And as Tandy ran over 8,000 stores at the time, the TRS-80 brought computers into the suburbs like no other previous machine.

The TRS-80 is also of enormous importance because Tandy hired a pair of chaps named Bill Gates and Paul Allen to write software for the machine. In case you haven't been paying attention, they later founded a little company you may have heard of called "Microsoft".

Roach had a long career at Tandy, becoming CEO in 1983 and holding that position until 1999. He passed at age 83 and is survived by his wife, their two daughters, six grandchildren, and a great-granddaughter.

On behalf of our readers, The Register extends its condolences to Mr Roach's and Mr Wilhite's families. Both men made enormous contributions to our industry, and we feel sure that many readers' first experiences of computers or online communities involved the TRS-80 or CompuServe.

If you'd like to share your CompuServe, TRS-80, or GIF stories, drop me a line and we may give these pioneers a reader-contributed farewell to match the one you helped us write for Sir Clive Sinclair. ®

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