Roger Needham, leading computer academic

Headed up Microsoft Research in Cambridge

Obituary Sadly, we record the death of Roger Needham, computer pioneer...

There isn't much more to say, except that the man who was the reason Microsoft set up its research centre in Cambridge, England, has had to lay down his life's work. Cancer ended a legend.

He once told me that it was his idea that Microsoft stopped spending money on patenting its research ideas, and instead, to make the results available to other researchers. I wish I'd known him long enough to have some other stories to pass on myself; he left a long legacy of people who attributed their inspiration to having worked with him.

Here's what his CV at Microsoft Research says:

Roger M Needham, born 1935, was in computing at Cambridge since 1956. His 1961 PhD thesis was on the application of digital computers to problems of classification and grouping. In 1962 he joined the Computer Laboratory, then called the Mathematical Laboratory, and has been on the faculty since 1963. He took a leading role in Cambridge projects in operating systems, time sharing systems, memory protection, local area networks, and distributed systems over the next twenty years.

Roger worked at intervals on a variety of topics in security, (his main research interest while with Microsoft) being particularly known for work with Schroeder on authentication protocols (1978) and with Burrows and Abadi on formalism for reasoning about them (1989).

Roger graduated from the University of Cambridge in Mathematics and Philosophy in 1956, and then took the Diploma in Numerical Analysis and Automatic Computing in 1957. He had been in computing at Cambridge ever since. He succeeded Maurice Wilkes as Head of the Computer Laboratory from 1980 to 1995, was promoted Professor in 1981, elected to the Royal Society in 1985 and the Royal Academy of Engineering in 1993. He was appointed Pro-Vice-Chancellor in 1996.

I only met him a couple of times, both times when Microsoft was doing corporate hospitality to publicise the work it was doing in the Cambridge research facility. He was as knowledgeable as any rumour could have suggested; and as tolerant of an ignorant journalist as any academic could ever be. And I shall never get to know him, now.

Guy Kewney is the editor/publisher of Newswireless.Net

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