May 9, 2003 6:05 AM PDT

Computer visionary George Morrow dies

George Morrow, a mathematician and programmer who was a member of a group of unorthodox hobbyists who were instrumental in creating the personal computer industry, died at his home in San Mateo, Calif., on Wednesday.

He was 69 and had suffered from aplastic anemia for the last year, his wife said.

Mr. Morrow was born in Detroit. He dropped out of high school, but at the age of 28 decided to return to school and received a bachelor's degree in physics from Stanford University and a master's degree in mathematics from the University of Oklahoma. He entered a Ph.D. program in mathematics at the University of California at Berkeley, but was sidetracked by his passion for computers.

He started working as a programmer in the computer laboratory at Berkeley in the early 1970s and began attending meetings of the Homebrew Computer Club, an informal group of engineers, programmers, experimenters and entrepreneurs that ultimately spun off dozens of companies that formed the core of the personal computer industry in the 1970s.

Forms Microstuf
Initially, most personal computers were sold as kits. Mr. Morrow formed Microstuf, a company in Berkeley, Calif., to sell expansion cards and other computer add-on products to the first generation of personal computer enthusiasts. He would later change the name of the company, first to Thinker Toys and later to Morrow Designs.


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A self-taught computer designer, Mr. Morrow was involved in the efforts to create and standardize the S100 bus, a hardware design that made it possible for early PC makers to share expansion cards.

Morrow Designs thrived when the personal computer became an important tool for small businesses. The first machines ran the Digital Research CP/M operating system. Later, Mr. Morrow introduced a portable computer intended to compete head-to-head with the popular Osborne 1 computer. The Morrow machine matched the Osborne's $1,795 price but offered more bundled software.

Mr. Morrow was well-known for his enthusiasm and his sense of humor within the computer industry. Lee Felsenstein, who was one of the original members of the Homebrew club and the designer of the Osborne 1, recalled that Mr. Morrow was usually dressed in jeans and tennis shoes.

When IBM began to dominate the PC market, Mr. Morrow was forced to shift to the industry standard. In 1985, his company introduced a popular portable design known as the Pivot and sold the design to Zenith Data Systems. But with the industry becoming increasingly dominated by large electronics companies, Morrow Designs filed for bankruptcy in 1986.

In recent years, Mr. Morrow spent his time maintaining a collection of 70,000 78rpm recordings, with much of the collection being dance and jazz music of the 1920s and 1930s. He had developed an advanced electronic system for digitizing and remastering the recordings, and he was distributing them on compact disc on his own label, the Old Masters.

He is survived by his wife, Michiko Jean, of San Mateo; two sons, John, of San Mateo, and William, of New York; and a daughter, Kelly, of San Jose, Calif.

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