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March 20, 2019

Celebrating a Software Salvation

Winston Kriger
The 3000 community in Austin laid an icon to rest last weekend, and Winston Kriger was well-remembered. The chapel at Cook-Walden on Lamar Boulevard, deep in the center of a busy city, was full of friends from as far back as his childhood, his family including his wife Ruth of 52 years, and more than a few colleagues from a 3000 company once called Tymlabs.

Beyond the 35 minutes of tender memories from Winston's best boyhood friend — they flew wire-controlled model airplanes together, experimented with making nitro, and worked as teenagers at the TV and radio stations of Baton Rouge — someone spoke about salvation. Morgan Jones wasn't talking about the grace that Winston had earned after a full life full of curiousity. Jones talked about the time that Winston saved Tymlabs.

It was a splashy company in the 1980s of Austin. I came to know it as a lynchpin of a software vendor down on Seventh Street, full of incredibly bright people and building stout and innovative products. Tymlabs was the first and only place I ever saw an Apple Lisa, the Mac's predecessor. Tymlabs employed Marion Winik, who was wearing purple hair when I first saw her, developing marketing copy before she became a celebrated memoirist with eight books. Tymlabs employed Denise Girard, a woman of endless cheer who had a Patsy Cline impression she sang at user group meetings. The punch line on Denise's performance once included pulling a golf putter out of her dress at the end of a song.

Gifted, unique people worked there. Winston Kriger kept those doors open, said Jones, by saving the future for the software that butressed the company. Backpack was invented by Jeorg Groessler at Tymlabs, and the backup software saved untold companies' data. Then Groessler left Tymlabs and there was no one to keep Backpack in good health. When things got dire at Tymlabs in 1985, only "one really smart guy at Houston Instruments" could save the company. "He was supremely confident he could find and fix the problems" with Backpack, Jones said. 

Jones and Tymlabs needed Winston. It took some coaxing to get someone that brilliant to come to a software company with less than five years of existence on the books. Tymlabs started out like a lot of MPE software companies, built around the work to create custom software, then developing products for sale in the 3000 market. The products made the company a keystone advertiser for the HP Chronicle where I was editor in the 1980s. They built a 3000 emulator that ran on the Macintosh just a few years after Apple launched the Mac. 

Jones said he began to hire Winston's colleagues to work at Tymlabs, hoping it would convince him the vendor was real. Winston was 45 when he joined the company, a man already ensconced in a successful career for Houston Instruments. "He basically saved our company," Jones said at the ceremony last weekend. "He was a force of nature, and I don't mean like a tsunami or fusion. He was like gravity. When we'd be running around frantic, he kept us all grounded."

People in the room at Cook-Walden were nodding. This was the Winston they all knew, steady and with a dry wit. Jones said that Winston was "an intellectual giant and a gentleman who was always at his best — and who had a slight, wry smile at parties." Jones' co-founder Teresa Norman sent regards that said she gave thanks "for having the confidence to join us. We've always respected the courage that took."

In these waning years of the Teens, it can be hard to imagine a time when MPE and the 3000 were a calculated business risk. Backup software made the servers a bona fide choice for what the industry called data processing in the 80s. When it came to saving an innovative company making bedrock software, a fellow who was "genetically inclined to always tell the truth and do the right thing" was the right person for the job.

08:08 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink

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