Last Saturday I received an email from Tandy Trower, a long time Microsoft employee letting me know that Aaron Reynolds had unexpectedly passed away. It threw me for a loop, Aaron isn’t that much older than I am and I'm not used to hearing about people I knew dying unexpectedly. Even though it’s been over a week, I’m still a bit rocky about it.
Aaron was one of the early MS-DOS and Windows developers, and I looked on him as one of my mentors back when I was a new hire at Microsoft. He was the original author of the MS-NET redirector which I later inherited, so I spent a fair amount of time asking Aaron what this or that mysterious piece of code did.
Aaron was often gruff, it was sometimes an adventure going to his office to ask him a question. You’d knock on the door and if he was busy he would continue to work for as long as 5 to 10 minutes until he had finished whatever it was he was dealing with and only then would he check to see if you were still there. But once you had his attention, he would patiently explain with great detail everything you needed to know about your problem. And he always knew the answer.
He was a font of knowledge about Windows and DOS, as Tandy said in his email: “To this day there is probably code inside Windows that only Aaron really understood why it was there.”
I haven’t seen Aaron in a few years, but my boss tells me that he used to see him every week or so at Seattle Mariners games, Aaron had Diamond Club seats and rarely missed a home game.
He will be missed by all who knew him.
A friend and I were literally just talking about Aaron this last weekend. We were discussing "management challenges", and how some people were simply worth it. "Loose cannons with really good aim" is how I described this class of classic Microsoft developers. They are, as a group, responsible for many of Microsoft's major innovations.
Aaron is one of those folks who quietly changed the world. (OK, or perhaps not so quietly, if you worked around him :-).
I'm sorry to hear that :-(
I didn't know Aaron or anything, but I did know of him via Andrew Schulman's "Unauthorized Windows 95" which explored the largely undocumented VMM layer of Windows 3.x/9.x that I believe Aaron had a large hand in developing. He sounded like an amazing developer.
"he was busy he would continue to work for as long as 5 to 10 minutes until he had finished whatever it was he was dealing with and only then would he check to see if you were still there."
I'll bet it wasn't a matter of whether he was busy or not. I'll bet it was a matter of whether he was concentrating or not. When I was in the middle of analysing some mass of code, interactions among various chains of function calls etc., if I broke my concentration that would be the end of it. Maybe I could start over again the next day but it might be even tougher to get back to the same point where I was.
That's really sad news. I'd always wanted to meet him because of Schulman's books, and now I never will.
I'm just shocked. I worked with Aaron on Win98. I was modifying the boot code to speed things up and altered the delays and pre-boot key handlers to make the boot more responsive. I added a few bytes of code and didn't really think anything of it, I think it was 3 bytes. A few weeks later Karl Tussy ripped into me when a test pass discovered that himem.sys no longer loaded properly. I couldn't figure it out, which meant a trip to Aaron was in order.
Aaron had by that time moved over to NT to work closer to zibo, so I trekked to 2 and knocked. Aaron answered right away.
Aaron patiently explained himem.sys was assembled tiny model, and I'd probably added enough code so that the bootloader had moved into the himem.sys area, which was hard coded to load at the paragraph (16 bytes) above the boot loader. When I went and looked, this was indeed the case, and I simply needed to change himem to load 16 bytes higher.
Such an arcane thing he had written many years earlier, and he knew the problem *instantly*.
I cannot believe he is gone.
Larry, I feel very shocked and upset myself. I worked with Aaron for 3 or 4 years at Microsoft. After I left in 1989 I perhaps hadn't seem him until just 3 or 4 months ago when we bumped into each other in Seattle. I recognized him instantly and we chatted a while about people we knew from the old days; catching up on various people we'd known at Microsoft.
I was having lunch with another friend from the old days just last week who mentioned his death. It was a total shock.
Gruff? Oh, yes, his personality was at times as smooth as sandpaper, but he was Aaron and I liked him the way he was. It was an adventure asking, but you always got the information you needed. He'll definitely be missed.
Wow, I just stumbled upon this, what a shame...
Talking with Aaron was like the free food at the mission.
You kind of got a sermon for about 10 minutes, and
then you'd get the 100 percent accurate, straight to the point answer.
I kinda learned later how to avoid the sermon, by getting
him to talk about his RC helicopters,and then direct
him to the question I had...:)
Aaron was actually my very first interview in the day
at Microsoft. We spent 90% of the interview arguing the
merits of the intel ICE hardware debugger, versus the Atron
ICE debugger... :)
What a truly sad day....(his passing)
One other aaron memory, we had a discussion one day
in the old windows 1.0plus days about what windows
had to do, to be successful.
- overlapped windows
-multiple asynchronous dos boxes.
after win386 came out, we laughed about how many years
it took to get to that point...
ok, silly memory, but it was one that always stood out to me for some odd reason.
"I'd probably added enough code so that the bootloader had moved into the himem.sys area, which was hard coded to load at the paragraph (16 bytes) above the boot loader. When I went and looked, this was indeed the case, and I simply needed to change himem to load 16 bytes higher."
Unfortunately, as I mentioned before, there are many changes in the DOS and Win16 parts of Win9x that are not very well known, including this one. For example, it is actually possible to create 16-bit apps designed for Win95, you just have to have the right libs, headers, and tools (Win9x DDKs was one source).