Artifact Details


Cooper, Alan oral history

Catalog Number



Moving image


2017 CHM Fellow Alan Cooper is best known as the “Father of Visual Basic,” possibly the most widely used visual programming environment in the software industry. But Cooper had significant accomplishments both before and after independently developing and selling what became Visual Basic to Microsoft in 1988.
In 1976 Cooper founded Structured Systems Group, one of three early PC software companies, alongside Microsoft and Gary Kildall's Digital Research. SSG released General Ledger, an accounting package, and other business applications, and later published Gordon Eubanks' CBASIC compiler. Cooper joined Digital Research's R&D division in 1981 but left after a year and a half, to develop several applications that would be distributed by larger publishers, including SuperProject, a project management application, and Microphone II, a serial communications program.

In 1985, after seeing a demonstration of a Xerox Star workstation, Cooper began to investigate writing a replacement for Microsoft Windows’ graphical user interface (GUI) shell, which evolved into a custom shell construction kit that would let developers write graphical interface applications quickly. This became the core of what Cooper called Ruby, which he sold to Microsoft in 1988. Microsoft, after pairing Ruby with its languishing QBasic language, released the product to the world in 1990 as Visual Basic. Key to Visual Basic’s success was the VBX interface, which allowed developers to write their own custom “controls,” such as buttons and other widgets, and sell them as plug-ins to other developers, creating a vibrant aftermarket for user interface controls.

In the third stage of his career, Cooper would stop coding altogether and focus on what is now known as “interaction design,” the design of the way the user interacts with a software application, starting the Cooper design consultancy with his wife Sue in 1992. Cooper would codify his firm’s key design processes in two books, About Face: The Essentials of User Interface Design (1995) and The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Why High-Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity (1995). Cooper's work and writings have blazed a trail for the user experience designers who help make our apps easier to use today.




Cooper, Alan, Interviewee
Hsu, Hansen, Interviewer


Computer History Museum

Place of Publication

Petaluma, CA






Oral history


Visual Basic; Microsoft; Windows; Graphical User Interface (GUI); Shell Construction Kit; Structured Systems Group; General Ledger; Gordon Eubanks; Gary Kildall; Digital Research; Interaction Design

Collection Title

Oral History


Computer History Museum

Lot Number


Related Records

102738215 Cooper, Alan oral history