Jim Warren, Early Influencer in Personal Computing, Dies at 85

Jim Warren, a trade show impresario, editor and activist who personified the blend of technical enthusiasm and counterculture values that shaped the early days of personal computing, died in Silverdale,Wash. He died at the age of 85.

Malee Warren said his death was caused by lung cancer.

Mr. Warren was a leader in the community that was formed around the personal computer industry.

He was a regular at the monthly meetings of the Homebrew Computer Club, a group of people who like to gossip and share ideas. The Journal of Computer Calisthenics and Orthodontia was edited by him.

Computing was still a realm of mainframe machines owned by government agencies, universities and corporations. The development of the computer-on-a-chip microprocessor by Intel in 1971 changed that.

Dozens of companies sought to exploit the opportunity created by low-cost microprocessors. Microsoft was founded in 1975, while Apple was founded in 1976, but their names are long forgotten.

When Mr. Warren staged the West Coast Computer Faire in 1977 it was just beginning to emerge as a computer conference. He calculated that the event could break even if it had 7,000 people attend.

He was surprised by the number of people who showed up, and the lines of people waiting to get in circled the building.

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Steve Jobs manned Apple's booth on the exhibition floor at Mr. Warren's first West Coast Computer Faire.

The Apple II was introduced at the first fair, as was the Commodore PET. Stephen Wozniak worked around the clock to finish the new machine in time. Steve Jobs manned Apple's booth on the exhibition floor.

The largest computer conference in the world for a few years was the West Coast Computer Faire. Mr. Warren was the ringmaster on roller skates.

Dennis Allison, a lecturer at Stanford University and a veteran Silicon Valley computer designer, said that the early fairs Jim Warren organized moved the state of the art forward significantly.

Mr. Warren earned a master's degree in computer engineering. The appeal of personal computing to him and many others was its potential to put information and economic tools in the hands of individuals.

The ethos of the time was to use toys to make society better. Jim was very committed to that.

The first editor of Dr. Dobb's Journal was Mr. Warren. He sold it to the International Data Group. He hosted a PBS program for two seasons.

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The second West Coast Computer Faire was held in 1978, with Mr. Warren, Bob Reiling, and Eric Bakalinsky.

Jim C. Warren Jr. was the only child of Jim and Gladys Warren. The family moved to Texas where his father was a pilot.

Mr. Warren was born in San Antonio. He received a bachelor's degree in mathematics and education from Southwest Texas State University and later a master's degree in mathematics and statistics from the University of Texas.

He told John Markoff, a former reporter for The New York Times and author of "What the Dormouse Said: How the 60s Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry", that he was looking for conservatism in Texas in the early 1960s. He picked up a copy of Look magazine with a story about California.

Mr. Warren arrived in the Bay Area in the summer of 1964. He thought that he was finally home when he encountered the freewheeling culture there.

He supported the Free Speech movement at the University of California at Berkeley, and participated in rallies to protest the war in Vietnam. He was general secretary of the Midpeninsula Free University for two years, which offered free courses in storefront locations and in homes, as well as Be-ins and antiwar demonstrations.

Mr. Warren became chairman of the math department at the College of Notre Dame after he arrived in California.

His personal life was becoming more open, as he tried everything on the counterculture menu. Mr. Warren hosted large parties at his house. A film crew from the British Broadcasting Corporation showed up to shoot a documentary.

Notre Dame administrators learned that Mr. Warren was the professor who hosted the wild parties at his home in the Santa Cruz Mountains and asked for his resignation.

His math skills led him to a job as a computer programmer. He picked up programming on the computers that the medical center used for sorting and analyzing medical information after only doing a little programming on an IBM mainframe.

The traditional programming job paid well. Mr. Warren was one of the first people to use personal computers. Mr. Markoff wrote that Mr. Warren was an example of the cultural, political and technological forces that were colliding in Silicon Valley.

His interest in the social and political impact of computer technology continued after he died. The first Computers, Freedom and Privacy Conference was chaired by Mr. Warren in 1991.

In 1993, he worked on a California law that required most computerized public records to be freely available. He drafted some of the law's language, and was involved in other aspects of the law.

The internet was unknown to most people, so Mr. Warren made sure that the state would not give away government records to a private company.