John McAfee had been riddled with allegations all his life. From being caught on a yacht with high-caliber weapons to apparently promoting Bitcoin for value misappropriation, the Virginia techie has been the bad boy of Silicon Valley until he breathed his last on June 23, 2021. Keeping aside the controversies, and the accusations, let’s have a look at McAfee’s contribution to the world of computer science as we know it today.
To Humble Beginnings
Before the larger than life story, the allegations, and his controversial demise inside a prison cell in Spain, McAfee started from the bottom, grinding and hustling his way to the top. He was a talented programmer, who was hopping jobs to find his sweet spot in the tech industry. Starting off his career as a programmer in NASA, a distant dream for many promising programmers even today, McAfee had been a software designer at Univac, an operating system architect at Xerox, before finally making way to Lockheed. This was during the mid-eighties, and while at Lockheed, the tech genius stumbled upon a copy of the Brain Virus, the first known virus for MS DOS computers. It was one of those moments in history, when the seed of intrigue was first planted in the mind of a genius. John McAfee was about to revolutionize the world of computer security by 1987.
The Creation of McAfee Antivirus
The Brain virus was written by two brothers from Pakistan, Basit and Amjad Farooq Alvi, who had developed the virus to protect their software from copyright infringement. However, the virus would replace the boot-sector of an IBM computer with the copy of itself, and it was no more an innocent encryption device developed by two computer store-runners in Lahore, Pakistan. When McAfee first came to know about the virus, he had very little idea of what it was. “It fascinated me,” he was quoted as saying in an interview to BBC in 2013. Upon thorough examination of the boot-sector virus, McAfee reckoned that the best way to counter such programs is to create a program that detects and hunts for the virus. This was the beginning of the antivirus program and a soon-to-be billion dollar company.
Although Brain was the reason behind the inception of the McAfee Antivirus, it was the Michelangelo virus that propelled the company to go public. Michelangelo was another virus that affected MS DOS computers, developed in Australia in 1991. It was also known as the time-bomb as it activated itself on the 6th of March of any year, which is also the birthday of Italian sculptor, Michelangelo. The virus was estimated to affect 5 million systems, but it was checked under a few ten thousands, with the growing installation of the McAfee antivirus by 1992
By 1987, McAfee Associates was one of the pioneers of commercial antivirus development, and in 1994, John McAfee sold his shares in the company for $ 100 million. Intel bought the antivirus program in 2010 for $ 7.6 billion, rebranding with the name Intel Security. Apparently, or at least according to McAfee himself, he was relieved to have sold the company as he said, “I am now everlastingly grateful to Intel for freeing me from this terrible association with the worst software on the planet.” In 2016, Intel rebranded the software once again under the name McAfee.
McAfee Also A Social Media Pioneer?
John McAfee eventually turned to a philosophy where he believed that software shouldn’t be sold but be free for everyone. According to a tech media publication, Red Herring, McAfee was inspired by the shamans (tribal healers or priests of Native American origin) he spent time within Colorado during the mid-nineties and compared the internet to the concept of the “golden thread” of the shamans. The vision of the American Indian tribes inspired McAfee to create an instant messaging software called the Tribal Voice, years ahead of the well-known messaging software such as AOL, ICQ, or Skype. The software was used to create PowWow, a social networking website, and even though the interface was not beyond criticism, it still was one of the first social networking platforms in the world.
John McAfee is considered the godfather of antivirus software and even though he has been embattled, accused of many a crime, he remains one of the top innovators in the world of computer technology, and an inspiration for anyone starting small and aspiring big. While his legend lives on, we wish his soul a peaceful traverse into the outer realms of eternity.