Briggs’ work can be found on an iPhone
For Blacksburg, a legacy of computer expertise is as close as the nearest iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.
Five individuals named in the credits and copyrights of those devices — Allen Briggs, Chris Caputo, Michael Finch, Bradley Grantham and Lawrence Kesteloot — collaborated at Virginia Tech 20 years ago.
The five men, who copyrighted important work on operating systems in 1993, later parted close company as several left Blacksburg but kept in touch by e-mail.
Monday, the group received distressing news out of Blacksburg.
Briggs’ wife, Elizabeth, e-mailed the group to say her husband died at home of a heart attack last weekend.
Briggs, 41, lived with his wife and their two sons in Ellett Valley.
His loss is being felt by those in his industry and in his spiritual community of Quakers.
The passing away of Briggs, who was not thought to be ill, “is a real shock to all of his friends and family,” said Chris Thompson, a colleague and former employer. “Allen was also just an amazing person. A more gentle person you will never meet. “
His Facebook page contains remembrances that he was “kind,” “gentle,” “brilliant” and “inspiring,” Thompson said.
Briggs was born in 1970 in Oak Ridge, Tenn. His dad was a research meteorologist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. He went to high school at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham. At Tech, he majored in computer science. He met Elizabeth in an English class. At the time of his death, they had been married 17 years.
After college, he worked at Recognition Research Inc. in Blacksburg. He was a home-based software engineer for Apple at the time of his death. On a personal level, he cultivated a personal passion for peace, social justice and the environment, his wife said.
Briggs belonged to the Blacksburg Friends Meeting for years, a 30- to 40-person congregation of area Quakers. His memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. April 14 at the Quaker Meeting House on Mount Tabor Road, Steve Hulburt said.
Briggs’ death is bringing to light the contributions of him and others to computer software at Tech during the early 1990s — a story not well-known in the Roanoke-Blacksburg tech community.
Briggs, Caputo, Finch, Grantham and Kesteloot met in computer science class and belonged to the same campus computer organization, said Finch, 42, of Floyd County.
“Allen was extremely technically capable, very kind, and always had a smile to give,” Grantham recalled.
Working in their homes on the Macintosh computers the university required them to own, the five took the University of California at Berkeley’s UNIX software and made it run on a Mac II “mostly to see if it could be done,” Finch said. “Sometimes we’d get together in one big room at Brad and Lawrence’s house and code together.”
The collaboration, called the Alice Group or Alice Project, was what Grantham called “just the dream of a handful of college students near graduation who wanted to make our mark, build the next big thing. We planned to build a new computer.”
Grantham continued: “We realized over time that we weren’t likely to build the computer we had dreamed about, so [we] decided to release the software for free. We called it MacBSD at first, and then joined with the open-source NetBSD project and called ours NetBSD/Mac.”
Grantham said theirs was the only open-source competitor to Apple’s UNIX, called A/UX, in the ’90s, and thousands of people used it for more than a decade.
Finch said it’s possible that none of the code is today used in the Apple product lineup and that Apple’s crediting of the men is a legal precaution by the Cupertino, Calif., company, which grossed $108 billion last year. They were not paid by Apple.
“There’s kind of a celebrity value in it,” Finch said. “My name’s in the legal credits.”
To see the names, pick up an Apple device, click “settings,” “general” and then “legal” or “about.”
The Roanoke Times | 381-1661
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