Terrence A. Davis: A True Computer Savant

Harley Dixon
November 23, 2020 0 Comment

Not many people outside of the world of IT have heard of Terrence A. Davis, who is considered by many to be one of the greatest programmers of all time. Although he was clearly a creative genius, he also suffered from severe mental disorders that led to him descending into a world of self-created madness.

Davis, who often said that he was the best programmer that ever lived, created a wide variety of software during his lifetime, but perhaps the most well-known is TempleOS, an operating system that Davis created from scratch. Here we will take a look at the unusual life of Terry Davis.

His Early Life

Born in the state of Wisconsin and later moving to Washington, he was one among eight children, and his father was an industrial engineer. He encountered his first computer, the Apple II, while at elementary school, and learned assembly language some years later on the Commodore 64. After he left high school, he earned a masters in electrical engineering from university, after which he worked at Ticketmaster, where he programmed VAX machines.

Sometime in the late 1990s, Davis began to experience severe manic episodes, which included delusions about aliens and secret agents that worked for the government. He told his family that he saw people following him around constantly, and would be around this time that he felt that he was in direct contact with God.

It was also at this time that he left home and began to drive, often for hundreds of miles at a time. His manic episodes often saw him end up in psychiatric wards, and although he was initially diagnosed with bipolar disorder, it was later confirmed to be schizophrenia.

The Invention of TempleOS

TempleOS underwent a series of name changes during its development, originally known as J Operating System, before Davis settled on the name it is now. It’s based on DESQview, which was the operating system used by the Commodore 64, although it had influence from other DOS-based systems.

Davis worked on TempleOS for around a decade, any many programmers have described his work as truly incredible with special attention focussed on the amount of dedication it takes for a single person to build a working operating system, including text, images, and fun games to play. All of the features of TempleOS were, according to Davis, instructed by God, which included the 649×480 resolution, as well as the limit of 16 colours.

His Unfortunate Death

During the last stages of his life, Davis spent many months out on the streets, refusing to take any medication for his mental illnesses because he believed they stunted his creativity. He was able to get by through supplies brought to him by fans, but he was constantly watched by the police, and would often find himself in custody.

He would make one last video before his death, which he uploaded before deleting his previous videos. He was hit by a train some hours later, and while it hasn’t been confirmed as suicide, many felt that he had decided to take his own life after many years of battling his schizophrenia.