a story lives forever
Sign in
Form submission failed!

Stay signed in

Recover your password?
Form submission failed!

Web of Stories Ltd would like to keep you informed about our products and services.

Please tick here if you would like us to keep you informed about our products and services.

I have read and accepted the Terms & Conditions.

Please note: Your email and any private information provided at registration will not be passed on to other individuals or organisations without your specific approval.

Video URL

You must be registered to use this feature. Sign in or register.


Tuning up my fonts and getting funding for TeX


Why I chose not to retain any rights to TeX and transcribed it to Pascal
Donald Knuth Scientist
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

From the beginning I decided that I wasn't going to retain any rights to this system, except the right of... of nobody should, should... should with it. The... if... anybody could use my system free of charge as long as they didn't make any changes whatsoever. It had to be entirely compatible with the... with the system that I had, and... and I wanted, so I... I didn't want to charge for anything. If I had... if this had been the only thing I had worked on in my life, I would have probably, I would certainly had a... had a different... different idea, but I... but I had seen the way proprietary things had been holding back the printing industry for years and years. There were... there were five or six different commercial systems for describing pages of text, and they were... everybody thought they were the system that everybody in the world would use, and they... and they were totally incompatible with each other and they... and you couldn't use different fonts with different systems. It was all... it was all a mess. So, I was thinking that in... in the earlier days of computer programming languages, IBM did not keep FORTRAN as a... as something that was an IBM-only language, they allowed... they allowed dozens of other manufacturers to make their own FORTRAN versions.  And as... and that was... that was a big boon to the... to... to use of computers. I... I could see that the same would happen in... in the printing industry if... if I didn't retain proprietary rights to... to the use of this system.  And I also made all my code available so people... people could read it and see what... what I had done and find mistakes for it, and I paid people if they found an error. So, thousands of volunteers sprung up all over the world, helping me get this... get this system better.

[Q] Is this when you invented the Weave and Tangle?

So, the literate programming idea - the Weave and Tangle - came about shortly afterwards... 1982. First of all, I had written my program in a... in a Stanford-only language. It was called SAIL, Stanford Artificial Intelligence Language. It's... it's something that not many people could do, but I, you know, so... so in order to run at first on... on other machines, it was... it was difficult unless they'd happen to have a PDP-10 Computer which is... with a SAIL compiler. So, in the early days that's why MIT was... were one of the first users, and there were... there were quite a few installations of this computering system, but not... but it was... it wasn't on very many different machines, so I don't think on IBM mainframe you could run... you could run it. So then a student transcribed my code. This was Ignacio Zabala, transcribed my code into Pascal. I think David Fuchs and Art Samuel also worked with him on this. Anyway, we... lots of people were working on this, I didn't do it myself, but they... they transcribed my... my program from the... from the SAIL language into Pascal language and then that would run on... on every computer and that's... that's where we had hundreds of... of different... different users.  And... and then we started having a... having annual meetings of the... of people who were from around the world to trade information.

Born in 1938, American computing pioneer Donald Knuth is known for his greatly influential multi-volume work, 'The Art of Computer Programming', his novel 'Surreal Numbers', his invention of TeX and METAFONT electronic publishing tools and his quirky sense of humor.

Listeners: Dikran Karagueuzian

Trained as a journalist, Dikran Karagueuzian is the director of CSLI Publications, publisher of seven books by Donald Knuth. He has known Knuth since the late seventies when Knuth was developing TeX and Metafont, the typesetting and type designing computer programs, respectively.

Tags: IBM, FORTRAN, Weave and Tangle, SAIL compiler, PDP-10 Computer, Ignacio Zabala, David Fuchs, Art Samuel

Duration: 4 minutes

Date story recorded: April 2006

Date story went live: 24 January 2008