The timing couldn't be more ironic. The day before Amazon announced its latest eReader, one of Microsoft's foremost champions of screen-based reading revealed he'd be leaving the company.
Bill Hill, the kilt-wearing Scotsman known as the driving force behind Microsoft ClearType, seemingly is another casualty of Microsoft's latest round of layoffs.
Hill joined Microsoft in 1994. In 1998, he joined a new electronic books project in Microsoft Research, run by then-vice-president Dick Brass. Hill ended up running the Microsoft team that developed ClearType, a font-display technology for computer screens.
In a May 5 post on his personal blog, Hill acknowledged he was leaving Microsoft. He also reflected on the screen-based reading world:
"I’ve become convinced over the past couple of years that no one company or browser will make the transition to reading on screen happen. I still believe in eBooks. Amazon has definitely seized the lead there, by providing the two things which were both essential to success – a device and a bookstore.
"I have some other ideas I’m not yet ready to talk about. And of course I'm available as a consultant."
Hill blogged about his belief that standards will be key to eBooks' future:
"The job of making the screen as comfortable to read as paper is not yet completed. I've come to believe that it is the development of Web standards, and standards-based rendering, which will take us the rest of the way.
"There’s huge potential. Two trillion pages are still printed in the US alone, every year, and that’s an enormous waste of energy and resources."
I keep thinking Microsoft must be going to jump into the eBook/reader market in some way, but so far haven't heard anything that would back my intuition. As an avid Kindle user, I have to say I'll be surprised if the Softies steer clear of this space....
By the way, Hill is may be just one of several surprising casualties of Microsoft's Round 2 of layoffs. Trustworthy Computing expert Steve Riley is another (who was definitely cut in the layoff round this week).