e lost Emilio Benito on February 8, 2004. Although his name and work at Atril, the company that developed and supplies DéjàVu, were known to many of us, although many of us admired and loved him, very few suspected how extraordinary a man he was. Neither did I until Daniel Benito, 27, his son and current Atril skipper, kindly answered my request for the information I needed to write this tribute.
Emilio Benito was born on October 3, 1947, in Villarino de los Aires, Spain, a village in the province of Salamanca, near the Portuguese border. His mother was an enterprising dress-maker who owned several sewing machines and once decided she needed a knitting machine too. Emilio, very young at the time and curious about everything, learned that the machine could be programmed. He took upon him to extract from the machine the complicated patterns he was already producing with his own hands, for he already was an expert knitterand a great programmer was born then and there. The family thought the bright boy deserved more education than was available locally and he was sent to high school in Salamanca where he took French as a subject and also learned German and wrote poetry, some of which has been published.
In the early nineteen-seventies, Emilio had studied Telecommunication Engineering and was married to Margaret Catherine ("Cathy") Bodimer, a girl from the U.S. he had met as an exchange student (she had studied Spanish and French at college). Cathy, of course, was an incentive for Emilio to learn English, a language he came to master. Perhaps to maintain some sort of reciprocity, he taught his bride how to cook and even did most of the cooking for a time. But gossip has it that he has always been more interested in the eating than in the cooking.
His first experience with translation for professional purposes came at the same time, and may have been a bit traumatic. Let me explain: he saw an opportunity in publishing Spanish editions of foreign college textbooks and entrusted the translation to college professors. Fortunately, he also decided he had to read the translations before having them printed, and a good thing it was, because he found them seriously wanting in quality. In addition to revising translations done by others, he also engaged in translation and together with Cathy he adapted Marc Défourneaux's "Do you speak science?" for the use of Spanish speakersno small task.
The publishing adventure also forced him to have a closer contact with computers, not only as a typesetting tool of great use for a publisher of technical books, but also as means to manage managerial information. One day he decided to have a look inside a program someone had written for the Company and came to the conclusion that he could do a bit of programming himself.
Later on, he sold his interest in the publishing company and engaged in a new publishing venture, now in connection with manuals for the then popular Amstrad computers and the house gradually got full of them. Emilio was now a full-time professional translator, specializing in computer books. In a process I would call "learn-as-you-translate", he was also becoming a top-notch computer expert.
The late 1980s saw him in two different guises: first he created his first commercial program: an accounting program for the Spanish market. Following this, he started assembling computers with imported parts. The company went out of business when the Spanish economy crashed in 1992.
In 1993, he was distributing imported development tools. This required much translation work and much of the work required was repetitive. So he thought it would be a good idea to engage the help of a computer. Together with Daniel, they tested whatever the market offered-and were not pleased with what they saw. So they decided they should do something about it andwere they aware of the fact at the time?DéjàVu was created.
I don't remember when I bought DV. It was many years ago. At that time, it was distributed by mail: a plain-vanilla envelope with five floppies containing a program protected by a code that did not always work as expected. I confess my first experiences with DV were very unpleasant and I abandoned the program for some timebut Emilio did not abandon me. He was always ready with help and advice and showed more patience than I suspect he in fact had.
Atril has long had an on-line users' group and for a long time Emilio both ran it and answered most of the messages himself, an attitude that caused a strong impact on all of us. There was another users' group for a competing program but was cavalierly ignored by the seller and there were we, talking to the boss himself all the time. And he seemed never to sleep. No matter at what time you wrote, wait for a quarter of an hour and there was the answer. Once I pulled his leg, claiming that "Emilio Benito" was a "nom-de-Web" shared by six different people at Atril and he replied-within the standard 15 minutes-that he wished I was right, but in fact was at home, listening to music and monitoring the list.
We were always asking for improvements and they were implemented with surprising speed. Once I complained that autoassemble, one of the most important DV functions, had limited use when translating, say, from English into Latin languages because in English you have "brown foxes" whereas in Latin languages we have "foxes brown". Two days later an upgraded version contained an additional pair of commands to handle this. Another colleague once complained that it was a shame DV could not deal with PowerPoint files, as a result of which a ppt filter was developed and another version was offered. At that time, no other program could deal with ppts. At this writing, some of them still cannot deal with a ppt in a decent manner.
All of those improvements were made available free of charge. I lost count of how many updates I downloaded for DV2. Surely more than one hundred, each of them with some improvement or another. Then DV2 was renamed DV3, on the grounds that no other CAT tool had had so many changes and maintained the same version number. But development continued and the last DV3 is build 38.
We were a very happy bunch at the list and DV users were always poking fun at their colleagues who used other tools. DV3 was a very mature, feature-laden product and, slowly, most of the traffic in the list became a series of requests for minor bug corrections or unbelievably complex improvements. A group of very advanced users made ever-increasing demands. Most of the other messages was of the "help-a-newbie" sort. We even engaged in purposeless chat and had our share of standing jokes, one of them my constant suggestion that users in trouble should sacrifice a black goat. Everybody was eagerly waiting for DV4 (which eventually materialized as "DVX") and kept prodding Emilio to rush the new program to the market.
Daniel appeared at the list now and then, but he was out at college and was not much seen or noticed, although he was active in the backroom doing a lot of programming. Most of us didn't even know that they were father and son. Elena, the elder sister, showed up a couple times and obviously knew her languages, but was not engaged in developing DV. All considered, we knew very little about the Benitos. It was only after Emilio died that I discovered there was a younger son, Lorenzo, who seems to want to take every college course in the book.
As Daniel began to appear more and more frequently, together with other people of the Atril staff, Emilio's messages were less and less frequent. We did not really notice it, although I once wrote to a colleague privately commenting the fact. But most of us believed Emilio was busy working on DVX or taking a well-earned vacation or something. In addition, Daniel had finished college and it seemed only natural that he should take some of the workload upon himself. We did not suspect Emilio was ill. DVX was going through its growing pains and Daniel, Yves Maurer and Josu Gómez took turns helping us. But Emilio had disappeared: his last message to the list was dated January 28. In fact, he had effectively retired in early 2003 and everything had been in Daniel's hands, but this fact was not disclosed.
I must confess I was among those who did not like DVX in the beginning. Foolish me. There is nothing wrong with DVX but the fact that it replaced the excellent DV3 to which we were so used to. It took me a lot of time to understand this and shortly before the news that Emilio was gone was broken to us, I posted a message to the list about my satisfaction with DVX. It was a sort of apology to the man for some previous harsh criticism. It came too late, though, for he had already left us.
The release signed by Atril does not state the cause of death. It is just as well. The way a man dies is less important than the way he lived is life.
Even if you use a different CAT tool, you should be grateful to Emilio Benito for setting a standard for customer service that influenced the rest of the players in the CAT field. Much of what the others did was motivated by the innovations he pioneered.